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Allegation

Man’s story of abuse needs investigated

A man’s allegation that he was sexually molested as a child by former Roman Catholic bishop Michael Bransfield needs to be investigated again, by both church and law enforcement authorities.

Bransfield, who headed the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston for 13 years, dismisses the story as coming from “a wack job.” Church officials point out it was investigated twice previously. Evidence to support the allegation was lacking, they say.

But one fact argues strongly in favor of taking another look into the matter: Bransfield got away with so much, for so long, while he was bishop. Is the old child sex abuse accusation part of his record?

It stems from Bransfield’s time as chaplain at Lansdale Catholic High School, in Philadelphia, during the 1970s.

In 2007, a former student called church authorities, telling them that Bransfield on several occasions touched him inappropriately. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia told the Post, “I can say with certainty that this matter was not only investigated internally. It was reviewed by law enforcement on two occasions and no criminal charges were filed.”

Church officials dismissed the complaint because of inconsistencies in the man’s story. The former student said law enforcement investigations were hindered and ultimately dropped because he could not be guaranteed his identity would be kept secret. The first church investigation concluded in 2009, in a report that was kept confidential. It was looked into a second time in 2012, with similar results.

Now, however, we know Bransfield was guilty of multiple misdeeds. After his retirement last year, church officials found credible evidence he had sexually abused eight young priests and seminarians, while bishop. In addition, he was spending lavishly out of church funds to further his own high-living habits. Finally, Bransfield was handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts to others in the church.

And, a report issued earlier this year addressed the former student’s story, noting inconsistencies in victims’ accounts are not uncommon in such cases.

Bransfield’s alleged misconduct during the 1970s came at a time when it was common for the Catholic church to cover up sexual offenses by clerics. Failure to come clean entirely remained a factor for many years — and some critics say it persists to this day.

The former student’s story should be investigated again, by both church and civil authorities, without delay.

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