Priest trial witness cites report on W.Va. bishop

The name of Michael J. Bransfield , left, a bishop in West Virginia, came up in testimony in connection with the Rev. Stanley Gana, top, who has been accused.
The name of Michael J. Bransfield , left, a bishop in West Virginia, came up in testimony in connection with the Rev. Stanley Gana, top, who has been accused. (DALE SPARKS / Associated Press, file)
Posted: April 19, 2012

A Philadelphia man testified Wednesday that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest who allegedly sexually abused him for years starting the late 1970s had said a colleague - now a bishop in West Virginia - also had sex with teenage boys.

The 48-year-old witness, identified only as "John" in the 2005 report of the Philadelphia County grand jury, described a meeting one summer while in high school when he spent summers at the Rev. Stanley Gana's 110-acre farm in northeastern Pennsylvania.

He said he was building a flagstone wall when a car pulled up driven by then-Rev. Michael J. Bransfield and containing several teenage boys.

Bransfield is now bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

"They're his fair-haired boys," the witness said Gana told him after the brief visit ended. "The one in the front seat he is having sex with."

The witness said that Gana and Bransfield were close friends and that he had been sexually abused by Gana during a visit to Bransfield's beach house in Brigantine, N.J.

The witness was the second this week to suggest Bransfield knew about Gana's abuse of minors.

On Monday, another accuser told jurors that once, after abusing him, Gana put him on the phone with Bransfield, who was then in Washington. 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.

Bransfield, 68, a native of Philadelphia, was ordained about the same time as Gana by then-Cardinal John Krol. He was appointed bishop of Wheeling-Charleston in December 2004.

Gana, 69, was removed from the ministry in 2002 and two years later began living under church supervision in "prayer and penance."

Peter F. Vaira, a veteran Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer who represents the West Virginia diocese, said he could not comment about the trial testimony involving Bransfield.

Bryan Minor, spokesman for Bransfield, said he also could not comment: "We're getting testimony from the media. Until we get the facts, it's impossible for us to deal with rumors."

The testimony quickly drew a demand from SNAP - the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - for Bransfield to respond to the witness' testimony.

"We believe that Bransfield - not his lawyer or his PR man - should address these allegations, immediately and directly, and take questions about them," said Judy Jones, SNAP's Midwest associate director.

Jones' statement called on Bransfield to clarify his relationship with Gana, whether any boys were molested on his properties, and whether he ever sexually abused a minor.

The testimony about the friendship between Gana and Bransfield came a day after city prosecutors told Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that a West Virginia judge had balked at honoring a "material-witness petition" from the District Attorney's Office.

According to Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, the unnamed West Virginia judge is preventing his office from calling to the stand Msgr. Kevin Michael Quirk, one of three church judges who heard the 2008 canonical trial of the Rev. James J. Brennan on child sex-abuse charges.

Brennan, 48, is a defendant in the Philadelphia criminal trial for the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996, an assault he has denied.

On trial with Brennan is Msgr. William J. Lynn, 61, who, as secretary for clergy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was responsible for investigating allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests. Lynn is the first church official to be criminally charged with enabling or covering up the allegations.

The prosecution, now in its fourth week, maintains that the Philadelphia Catholic Church had a long-standing pattern of trying to avoid scandal at the expense of the priests' past and future victims.

As part of the trial, Blessington has said he wants to present testimony from Quirk about Brennan's testimony at the 2008 canonical trial.

Although the canonical trial was in Philadelphia, Quirk is now assigned to the West Virginia diocese, where he is judicial vicar and assistant to Bishop Bransfield.

A week ago, prosecutors approached Sarmina at the end of a trial session and asked her to write asking the West Virginia judge to honor the petition from the Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court.

Although state court subpoenas usually have no effect on other state's courts, they are often honored as a matter of courtesy among judges.

But the West Virginia judge has apparently decided that Quirk's testimony would not rise to the level of being a "material witness" and has not honored the petition.

SNAP's Jones said Bransfield should allow Quirk to testify at the Philadelphia trial.

"Regardless of whether or not a West Virginia judge honors the Philly prosecutors' warrant . . . Quirk has sworn obedience to Bransfield," Jones said. "Bransfield can order Quirk to appear in court. Bransfield should do that immediately. If he doesn't, that will only add to the doubts about Bransfield."

The testimony about Bransfield overshadowed the witness' testimony - by turns emotional and angry - about the history of his alleged relationship with Gana.

The man said he had been raped and sodomized by a family friend beginning in the sixth grade.

When his mother learned what happened, the witness testified, she took him for counseling to Gana, who then led a group of "charismatic Catholics" that met at the Ascension of Our Lord parish in Kensington.

Gana's counseling quickly evolved into a sexual relationship under the pretext of desensitizing him to accepting love from a man, the witness said.

That relationship lasted through high school and into his time in nursing school, encounters in which the witness said the priest would rotate him and two other boys through evenings of sex in his bed.

Jealousy ultimately destroyed the relationship, the witness testified, and his time in nursing school "made me realize that something was wrong about how I grew up."

The experience, the man told the jury, almost destroyed him emotionally, led him into eight years of heavy drug and alcohol use, and left him with "an emptiness where my soul should be."


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writer John P. Martin contributed to this article.

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