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Witness: Priest said bishop had abused teen

April 19, 2012
By HEATHER ZIEGLER - For The Weirton Daily Times , Weirton Daily Times

PHILADELPHIA - A man testified Wednesday in a clergy abuse trial that a priest raped him in the 1970s at a beach house owned by the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield and that he was told that Bransfield, who currently serves as bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, also sexually abused a boy.

The 48-year-old man also testified that he saw Bransfield with a car full of boys at a farm owned by his abuser, the Rev. Stanley Gana. The witness said that Gana told him Bransfield was having sex with the boy who was in the front seat.

Another man has testified that Bransfield had a lewd conversation with him.

The testimony came at the trial of the Rev. James Brennan, who's accused in a 1996 child-sex assault. Brennan has denied those charges.

Bransfield is not charged with any crimes in the case and has never been charged with sexually abusing children.

"The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is learning of media reports originating from legal proceedings under way in Philadelphia, and Bishop Michael Bransfield's name was brought up in court today. Until such time that the facts and issues surrounding this testimony are made fully known to the Diocese, we cannot comment at this time," Diocesan spokesman Bryan Minor said Wednesday.

"However, this is certainly an opportunity for us - as a church - to remember all victims of sexual abuse and to pray for them and their families."

The local diocese called the trial "a circus" and said Philadelphia prosecutors are trying to smear people never charged with a crime.

"They seem to want to bludgeon witnesses, smear individuals not on trial, anything to bolster their persecution of the church," the diocese said in a separate statement. "The trial appears to be evolving into a circus with no rules and boundaries."

The Wheeling-Charleston Diocese issued that statement Tuesday, after a prosecutor complained of problems getting Msgr. Kevin Quirk of Wheeling to testify. Quirk is an aide to Bransfield. An unnamed Wheeling judge now wants proof he's a material witness, the prosecutor said.

Representatives at the offices of 1st Judicial Circuit judges Ronald Wilson, James Mazzone and Arthur Recht on Wednesday stated they had no knowledge of those judges being involved with the material witness order.

Quirk served as a canonical judge at a church trial of Brennan.

The case in Philadelphia also centers around Monsignor William Lynn who is the first U.S. church official charged with child abuse and endangerment for allegedly protecting predators in the clergy. Lynn served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

The prosecution in the trial, now in its fourth week, maintains that the Philadelphia Catholic Church had a long-standing pattern of trying to avoid scandal at the expense of the priests' past and future victims.

Bransfield, who once taught at Lansdale Catholic High School outside Philadelphia, has been bishop of the Wheeling diocese since 2005. He graduated from St. Charles Borromeo seminary in 1971, a year after Gana.

A colleague of Bransfield called the accusations Wednesday "beyond belief."

"I find that impossible to believe. Everything I know about him, he's a perfect gentlemen and he's been very thorough in seeing to it that we observe all the (child protection) procedures that come up," said Monsignor Edward Sadie, rector of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston.

Calls to several clergy members in Wheeling were not immediately returned Wednesday.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's office also was contacted concerning the allegations against Bransfield. When asked if an investigation was either under way against Bransfield or would soon begin, a representative of that office noted that a judge has issued a "strict gag order" in the case and that she could not make any statement.

The witness who gave the testimony Wednesday also told jurors that Gana rotated teen victims at his farmhouse, and abused him throughout high school on trips to Walt Disney World, Niagara Falls and Bransfield's beach house in Brigantine, N.J.

The man went to the Philadelphia archdiocese in his 30s to seek counseling, money and a meeting with Bevilacqua. He thought the cardinal should know what was going on.

He said he didn't get his meeting for five years. And he came to believe "the cardinal himself was the ringleader of the whole damn thing."

Bevilacqua retired in 2003, and died this year.

The witness told of weekly abuse that allegedly started when his mother sent the eighth-grader to Gana for counseling in the late 1970s because he'd been raped by a family friend.

By ninth grade, Gana was molesting him, while inviting his large family to spend the summer at his farm in Friendsville, Pa., the witness said.

The boy ran the farm each summer during high school, returning one fall with a car Gana had given him to drive to Northeast Catholic High School - an education also arranged by the priest.

The witness said he realized only in nursing school that he had missed out on proms, parties and other teen rituals because of the control Gana had on him. He became depressed and suicidal. He abused alcohol and drugs.

He never got the settlement he sought from the Philadelphia archdiocese, which, unlike other U.S. dioceses, has not paid out millions of dollars to abuse victims. Pennsylvania courts have dismissed scores of lawsuits on grounds they were filed too late.

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