WHEELING - Following the landmark guilty verdict against a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia charged with endangering children, the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia continues to deal with the fallout of accusations.
Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, whose name was brought up by prosecutors in the Philadelphia case, steadfastly denies any wrongdoing. Bransfield has never been charged with any crime.
The Philadelphia case stems from a 2011 grand jury investigation into allegations that two priests and a teacher sexually abused a 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome Parish in Philadelphia, and that another priest assigned to St. Jerome sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy.
The grand jury presentment recommended criminal charges, including for rape and indecent sexual assault, against the three priests - Edward Avery, Charles Engelhardt and James Brennan - and the teacher, Bernard Shero. The grand jury also recommended charging Monsignor William J. Lynn, secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Avery pleaded guilty to sexual assault before the trial and is in prison. Engelhardt and Shero will go on trial Sept. 3 in Philadelphia. Lynn was found guilty of child endangering and faces sentencing later this month.
Officials from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said Tuesday: "There was no testimony at the trial from any witness who claimed to have been abused by Bishop Bransfield. Nor has there ever been any allegation that Bishop Bransfield abused anyone at (the Rev. Stanley) Gana's farm or at his beach house. One witness was permitted to offer hearsay testimony that (Father) Gana, an admitted abuser, had said that then-(Father) Bransfield had engaged in improper conduct with a high school student, but that alleged victim has denied that he was ever abused and Gana has denied making the accusation.
"The prosecutor made reference during the trial to another allegation that then-(Father) Bransfield had fondled a student. That allegation was investigated by the District Attorney in Montgomery County, Pa., who declined to bring charges, and by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which found that the allegation was not substantiated."