West Virginia’s top Catholic official is rejecting a plea from clergy sex abuse victims for a public meeting about child sex abuse allegations against him. Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield said, through his spokesman, that he will not hold a question and answer session to discuss the accusations, first disclosed six months ago in a Philadelphia courtroom.
On Wednesday, the director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, hand delivered a letter with the request to diocesan communications director Bryan Minor, who promised to give it to the bishop.
Hours later, in an e mail, Minor said “the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston disagree(s) with SNAP’s assessment of how our Bishop handled the allegations” and “I know that you believe more live media and Q and A should have been offered, and we will not reach common ground on that matter, unfortunately.”
A second request by SNAP – that Bransfield post the names, photos and whereabouts of all predator priests in the state – has brought no response yet from anyone at the diocese.
“It’s disappointing that Bransfield apparently didn’t even give our request for an open public meeting any serious consideration,” said Barbara Dorris, SNAP’s outreach director. “If he has nothing to hide, he’d welcome such an event. But he evidently prefers to sit behind his desk, let his defense lawyers carefully craft a written response and let his public relations staff do his talking for him.”
In April, Bransfield was named as an alleged abuser during the trial of Msgr. William Lynn and Fr. James Brennan by a man who had taken the witness stand to testify about another child molesting Philly cleric (Fr. Stanley Gana). Another man testified that Bransfield had a lewd conversation with him. Both men were testifying about abuse by Stanley Gana. And the prosecutor also said that Bransfield had been accused, in a separate instance, of fondling a minor in 1970s.
Philly law enforcement officials have opened an investigation into the allegations against Bransfield.
“Months ago, Bransfield sent a denial of the allegations to his flock and posted it on his website. He’s been silent ever since,” said SNAP director David Clohessy. “But sincere, effective communications must be two-way. Citizens and Catholics deserve a chance to question him about these serious allegations, especially since he refuses to step aside while the police investigation continues. We think that serious accusations such as these demand a more serious – and thorough - response.”
At a sidewalk news conference outside the diocesan headquarters at Byron and 13th in Wheeling, Clohessy urged Bransfield to hold the open meeting.
He also stressed that posting information about proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics” would “both help protect vulnerable, innocent kids and help heal wounded, suffering adult victims.”
The group is particularly disappointed with Bransfield’s silence since a decade ago, America’s bishops pledged to be “open and transparent” in clergy child sex cases.
“For the past decade, church officials have repeatedly claimed that they fully cooperate with law enforcement, and we want Bishop Bransfield to demonstrate his commitment to this claim,” Clohessy said.
SNAP is also calling on Bransfield to post the names of all credibly accused priests within his diocese on his website, in his diocesan newspaper, and in parish bulletins. SNAP says that is “one of the simplest, quickest and cheapest ways to keep kids safe.”
Roughly 30 US bishops have posted the names of their predators priests, usually after considerable public pressure.