Retired West Virginia bishop accused of drunken sexual assault

Retired West Virginia bishop accused of drunken sexual assault

Retired West Virginia bishop accused of drunken sexual assault

In this 2017 file photo, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, then head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., is seen at Wheeling Hospital. (Credit: Colleen Rowan/The Catholic Spirit via CNS.)

A new lawsuit accuses the former bishop of a Catholic diocese in West Virginia of molesting adolescent and adult males.

WHEELING, West Virginia — A new lawsuit accuses the former bishop of a Catholic diocese in West Virginia of molesting adolescent and adult males.

Bishop Michael Bransfield’s former personal altar server sued the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and its former leader last week, saying he was sexually assaulted in 2014 and harassed for years prior.

The filing asserts Bransfield would consume nightly at least a half-bottle of Cointreau liqueur and drunkenly assault or harass seminarians.

“Bransfield was a sexual predator with lustful disposition toward adolescent males,” the 21-page complaint said. “After being placed in a position of trust by defendants, Bishop Bransfield sexually abused, molested, fondled and assaulted [the complainant] and other adolescent and ‘adult’ males by, through and during his employment as bishop with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.”

It said the complainant was “subjected to sexually suggestive gestures, hugging, kissing, inappropriate touching and fondling by Bishop Bransfield with the full knowledge of other employees, agents and servants of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.”

The document asserts the bishop was a binge drinker.

“Bransfield was known to defendants to drink until he was intoxicated at which point he would engage in grossly inappropriate behavior, including but not limited to making sexually suggestive gestures, hugging, kissing, inappropriately touching and fondling seminarians,” the document said.

“The complaint is very specific and lays out the details,” attorney Bobby Warner of Warner Law Offices in Charleston told The West Virginia Record. “I find it troubling that while we continue to hear Bishop Bransfield’s name and alleged allegations, no one has stepped forward as an individual.”

He said his client was the first person with “the strength and courage” to step forward.

“It’s very troubling to me that while they’ve released names of individuals within the Church in the press, Bishop Bransfield’s name wasn’t on the list. When, as you can see in our complaint, there have been prior allegations and investigations about him,” Warner told the newspaper.

Last year, the diocese released a list of 31 priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct since the 1950s. Bransfield was not included.

Earlier this month, the state’s attorney general sued the diocese and Bransfield, saying they covered up criminal behavior.

Bransfield resigned in September amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Crux staff contributed to this report.

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