COMPLAINING that he was blindsided while on church business at the Vatican, the bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday angrily denied trial testimony in Philadelphia alleging that he sexually abused a child during the late 1970s.
"I have never sexually abused anyone," said Bishop Michael J. Bransfield in a statement released by the diocese.
The statement by Bransfield, 68, a native of Roxborough ordained in 1971 by the late Cardinal John Krol, came one day after testimony referring to him in the Philadelphia trial of two clerics in the church sex-abuse scandal involving the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
On Wednesday, a 48-year-old man, identified only as "John" in the 2005 report of the Philadelphia County grand jury, told a Common Pleas Court jury how he was molested for more than six years beginning in eighth grade by the Rev. Stanley Gana, a priest in his Kensington parish.
The man described meeting Bransfield one summer in the late 1970s or early '80s when he lived on Gana's remote 110-acre farm in northeastern Pennsylvania. The witness said he was building a flagstone wall when a car pulled up driven by then-Father Bransfield that contained several teenage boys.
"They're his fair-haired boys," the witness said Gana told him after Bransfield drove away. "The one in the front seat he is having sex with."
The witness said Gana and Bransfield were close friends and added that he once was sexually abused by Gana during a visit to Bransfield's Shore house in Brigantine, N.J.
The man was the second witness this week to name Bransfield in testimony. On Monday, another accuser told jurors that once, after abusing him, Gana put him on the phone with Bransfield, who was then in Washington, D.C. He said Bransfield told him: "I'm going to have Stanley put you on a train and come down and see me sometime."
Bransfield has never been charged with sexually assaulting any children, although his friendship with Gana is mentioned in the 2005 grand jury report of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese.
In his statement, Bransfield, the West Virginia bishop since 2004, said he was "deeply saddened by the priest child-abuse scandal that has been connected to a handful of my former colleagues and friends from St. Charles Seminary.
"Over the years, I have felt devastation for both the victims and the church as I learned about the terrible actions they took with innocent victims."
Bransfield categorically denied the trial testimony, saying: "To now be unfairly included in that group and to hear the horrific allegations that are being made of me is unbelievable and shocking.
"I consider Philadelphia my home," the statement continued. "I have openly been an advocate for the eradication of the abusive behavior of priests in every diocese, and have demonstrated this in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston."