BALTIMORE (ChurchMilitant.com) - A bishop with close ties to laicized Theodore McCarrick has been barred from priestly ministry over abuse allegations.
Bishop Michael J. Bransfield resigned from his post in the Wheeling-Charleston diocese in West Virginia in September 2018. He submitted his resignation when he turned 75, as is policy for Catholic bishops. Just a few days after, the Vatican appointed Abp. William Lori of Baltimore to oversee the Wheeling-Charleston diocese temporarily and to investigate the allegations that have been made about Bp. Bransfield accusing him of abuse, abuse cover-up and financial mismanagement.
Following an investigation, Abp. Lori announced Monday that Bp. Bransfield is banned from public ministry in the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which encompasses the entire state of West Virginia, as well as the archdiocese of Baltimore.
Archbishop Lori said in Monday's statement, "Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bp. Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the archdiocese of Baltimore."
Archbishop Lori also announced similar restrictions for retired Bp. Gordon Bennett, a former auxiliary bishop in the Baltimore archdiocese who has been accused of sexual abuse. Bishop Bennett was auxiliary in Baltimore 1998–2004, then he was appointed to the diocese of Mandeville, Jamaica. A Jesuit, Bp. Bennett resigned in 2006 after the Baltimore archdiocese received an allegation that he sexually abused a minor, and the archdiocese reported the allegation to the Holy See.
The Baltimore archbishop says he is imposing these restrictions with approval from the Holy See. The findings from the investigation into Bp. Bransfield have been sent to Rome, where a final decision will be made.
These new restrictions on Bp. Bransfield come after a five-month investigation. The archdiocese stated, "The preliminary investigation, which took place over five months, was conducted by Abp. Lori with the assistance of a team of five lay experts. The investigative team examined multiple allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties. It involved interviews with more than 40 individuals, including Bp. Bransfield."
Bishop Bransfield has close ties to McCarrick. He was formerly president of the Papal Foundation's board of trustees.
In 2012, Bransfield was accused of enabling a priest to rape underage boys in the 1980s. He was also accused of having sexually abused minors himself as well as financial impropriety.
The accusation against Bp. Bransfield was brought up by a witness in the trial of Msgr. William Lynn, an official of the Philadelphia archdiocese accused of covering up clerical sex abuse. In 2012 court proceedings, that witness claimed he was sexually abused as a minor by Fr. Stanley Gana, a Philadelphia priest, in the 1980s.
He testified that Fr. Gana abused minors at a beach house in New Jersey owned by Bransfield, a priest of the Philadelphia archdiocese at the time. He further claimed that Bransfield knew about Fr. Gana's abuse and committed similar crimes himself.
Bishop Bransfield firmly denied the allegations, writing in an April 2012 statement, "I have never sexually abused anyone."
He went on to state, "I understand that I am a public figure and therefore subject to public criticism. The nature of these statements and the manner in which they were released, however, go way beyond any sense of fairness and propriety."
Bransfield said it was possible that Fr. Gana had used his beach house as a place to groom and abuse minors but maintained that he had no knowledge of the abusive activity.
The bishop argued:
The statement that a former seminarian of mine, Stanley Gana, abused a minor at a home which I owned on the shore and at which I permitted numerous friends and priests to use is misleading. What did not get released was additional information available to the Prosecutor that I was not aware of the incident and was not present at the house at the time.