‘They looked the other way’: Sexual abuse claim dismissed by church foreshadowed years of allegations against Catholic bishop

Michael J. Bransfield was just a couple of years into his tenure as West Virginia’s bishop in 2007 when one of his former students called a church sexual abuse hotline. Decades earlier, at a Catholic high school, Bransfield had repeatedly summoned him from class, escorted him to a private room and fondled his buttocks and genitals, the caller said.

The former student said he was a freshman when the unwanted touching began.

It was a stark warning about a cleric who allegedly went on in the next decade to grope and sexually harass seminarians and young priests in West Virginia.

The former student’s allegation, first reported to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where Bransfield taught, was eventually referred to the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church and the Vatican, as well as to the police, according to the findings of a recent church investigation obtained by The Washington Post.

But no action was taken against Bransfield — and the church’s own investigators now say the allegation may warrant further examination.

The former student, speaking to reporters for the first time, told The Post that church officials might have prevented Bransfield’s alleged wrongdoing in the years since if they had taken his claim more seriously.

“They looked the other way,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he has not told his family about his experience. “More people got victimized.”

Bransfield had close ties to two high-ranking clerics in Philadelphia who had responsibility for assessing sexual abuse claims at the time, a Post examination found. The cardinal in Philadelphia and one of his top aides received thousands of d...

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