CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The attorney representing a former alter server and secretary in West Virginia’s Catholic Church says his client came forward with allegations against retired Bishop Michael Bransfield to seek an avenue that would encourage others to come forward.

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Former Bishop Michael Bransfield

The man, identified only as J.E. in the lawsuit, claims he was a victim of sexual harassment for years at the hands of Bransfield and was the victim of an alleged sexual assault that took place five years ago.

Charleston attorney Bobby Warner, who represents J.E., said Wednesday on MetroNews “Talkline” the case is about “a typical culture of cover-up” by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

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“They continued to protect him (Bransfield) and didn’t look out for the young men that he was working with on a daily basis,” Warner said. “It was apparent to him and based on my investigation through him that clearly other people of the church had knowledge.”

Warner said knows of at least two other allegations against Bransfield that were not properly handled or fully investigated by the Diocese.

The 25-page lawsuit gives details about Bransfield’s alleged drinking problem, his alleged inappropriate comments of a sexual nature and an alleged 2014 incident in Charleston when he allegedly sexually assaulted J.E.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston isn’t commenting on the specifics of the lawsuit. When contacted by MetroNews Wednesday it released a statement.

“The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston cannot comment on pending litigation. The Diocese will answer the filing in the proper forum,” the statement said.

There have been no criminal charges filed against Bransfield. J.E. decided not to go to authorities for a variety of reasons, Warner said Wednesday.

Warner said J.E. was studying to be a priest but after the situation with Bransfield he became withdrawn eventually deciding to no longer to pursue the ministry. He chose not to initially report the behavior fearing retribution for himself and his family. Warner said there eventually came a “breaking point” for his client and that came when the Diocese released information last year about credible sexual allegations that had been reported against priests who at one time had worked for the Diocese. Bransfield’s name was not listed.

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Bobby Warner

“When they acted like they want to do the right thing and they post the names and guess whose name wasn’t on there? The Bishop’s,” Warner said. “Was he involved in generating the list? We’ll find out when we take depositions in this case. It’s easy to say we want to make changes but it has to start at the top.”

The Diocese has been investigating sexual harassment claims against Bransfield. A report was recently completed and sent to the Vatican for review and a final decision. Bransfield has been banned for doing any kind of ministry in the Diocese. Warner said that helps prove his point.

“Obviously there are allegations. His name is being taken down from the church, from the school from the medical facility,” Warner said. “Why are they doing that if he’s done nothing wrong? If this investigation that recently took place–why has his name not been added to that?”

Warner said his client hopes other victims come forward but understands it’s a difficult decision to make. Warner said in his experience with these type of cases there’s a much higher percentage of people who don’t come forward. He said it often takes a lot of time to make that decision.

Bransfield is mentioned in recent civil lawsuit having to do with the operation of Wheeling Hospital. That lawsuit, in which the U.S.
Department of Justice intervened this week, alleges he retained a management company that put into place illegal practices meant to help sure up the hospital’s finances. The lawsuit alleges Medicare fraud.