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Old abuse charges have been disproven, says West Virginia bishop [Updated]

Catholic World News - July 25, 2012

Responding to reports that Philadelphia prosecutors are reopening an investigation of old sex-abuse charges, Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia has pointed out that “this allegation has been put to rest.”

At the trial of Msgr. William Lynn, one victim of another priest said that he had heard a report that the future bishop—then a young priest—was involved with a young man. That young man “has now publicly confirmed that his allegation is completely false,” Bishop Bransfield wrote in a July 23 statement.

“There was no inappropriate anything,” said Ron Rock, the alleged victim, who is now a Philadelphia business executive. Another man who was present at the time testified that the bishop’s relations with the younger men was “completely innocent and proper.” These statements, Bishop Bransfield said in his July 23 letter, “provide tangible proof that the hearsay allegation made at the trial is false.”

During the trial, a prosecutor mentioned that Bishop Bransfield had already been investigated on another abuse complaint. In 2007, a man charged that the future bishop had repeatedly fondled him during the 1970s. The charges were passed along to local prosecutors, who declined to pursue the matter, saying that the alleged victim declined to cooperate. Cardinal Justin Rigali hired a private investigator, who concluded that the charges were unfounded. In his July 23 letter the bishop reports: “At the conclusion of the investigation, I was formally notified that the allegation had not been substantiated and that steps were to be taken to restore my good reputation.”

However, the archdiocese apparently bypassed its own review board in investigating this charge, and this year Church officials referred the case back to the district attorney. Prosecutors report that they have now re-opened their investigation of that allegation, although it remains unlikely that any charges will be filed.

“I can only repeat what I have stated before publicly,” Bishop Bransfield wrote. “I have never abused anyone.”

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