New lawsuit claims Bishop Bransfield sexually abused seminarians

Bishop Michael Bransfield CNA file photo Bishop Michael Bransfield.

A new lawsuit against the former bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, claims that the prelate sexually assaulted seminarians, a claim that he has denied.

A former seminarian filed the lawsuit against Bishop Michael Bransfield last week. The plaintiff, who is identified as J.E., said the bishop had harassed him for years prior to a case of sexual assault.

"Bishop Bransfield was a sexual predator with a lustful disposition," states the lawsuit, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "After being placed in a position of trust by [the Church, he] sexually abused, molested, fondled and assaulted J.E. and other adolescent and 'adult' males."

J.E. said Bransfield would often become drunk from orange liqueur and make sexual advances toward seminarians. He said the bishop, after returning home intoxicated one night, had exposed himself and groped J.E. while the two men were on a church trip in 2014.

The plaintiff says he had been the bishop's altar server and personal secretary. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the lawsuit seeks compensation for psychological injuries and loss of employment, claiming the diocese, the U.S. bishops' conference, and other unnamed church leaders were also responsible for the damages.

In 2012, Bransfield was accused of covering up sexual misconduct by other priests, as well as molesting a minor. Bransfield denied these allegations, calling them "completely false," and the alleged victim came forward to say that he was never abused by Bransfield.

Bransfield's resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope.

In accepting his resignation, Pope Francis named Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to be apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston and asked him to launch an investigation into allegations of "sexual harassment of adults" against Bransfield.

On March 11, Archbishop Lori announced restrictions on the ministry of Bransfield, forbidding him from priestly or episcopal ministries in the dioceses of Wheeling-Charleston or Baltimore. The results of Lori's investigation have been sent to the Holy See, where a final decision about Bransfield will be made.

Bransfield has consistently denied all accusations, claiming them to be "completely false." He told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday that the allegations are part of a conspiracy against him, seeking financial gain.

"They're all out to destroy me," Bransfield said. "I wasn't even that friendly with this person."

Another lawsuit, filed earlier this month, claims that the diocese and former bishop had knowingly placed sex abusers in roles that work with children, without disclosing their background to parents. It also says the diocese failed to conduct thorough background checks before hiring employees.

The diocese said some of the allegations in the lawsuit involved misconduct that took place half a century ago and other cases had not been described accurately.

It argued that the suit did not justly represent the overall contribution of Catholic schools and their employees "who work every day to deliver quality education in West Virginia."

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