Published April 18, 2012
PHILADELPHIA – A man who spoke of "an emptiness where my soul should be" following years of sexual abuse testified Wednesday that a priest raped him at a home owned by the current West Virginia bishop and that he was told the bishop also sexually abused a boy.
The 48-year-old man also testified in a clergy-abuse trial that he saw the bishop, Michael Bransfield, with a car full of "fair-haired" boys. He said that his abuser told him Bransfield was having sex with the boy in the front seat.
Another man has testified that Bransfield had a lewd conversation with him.
Bransfield's diocese called the trial "a circus" and said Philadelphia prosecutors are trying to smear people never charged with a crime.
"They seem to want to bludgeon witnesses, smear individuals not on trial, anything to bolster their persecution of the church," the Wheeling-Charleston diocese said in a statement. "The trial appears to be evolving into a circus with no rules and boundaries."
The diocese issued the statement Tuesday, after a prosecutor complained of problems getting a Wheeling priest to come testify. The would-be witness, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, is an aide to Bransfield. A Wheeling judge now wants proof he's a material witness.
The diocese was simply asking prosecutors "to comply with the law in requiring his appearance," the statement said.
Quirk served as a canonical judge at a church trial of the Rev. James Brennan, who's on trial in Philadelphia for an alleged 1996 child-sex assault.
His co-defendant, Monsignor William Lynn, is the first U.S. church official charged with child abuse and endangerment for allegedly protecting predators in clerical collars. Lynn served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Bransfield, who once taught at Lansdale Catholic High School outside Philadelphia, became a bishop in 2004. He graduated from St. Charles Borromeo seminary in 1971, a year after Stanley Gana.
The witness Wednesday told jurors that Gana rotated teen victims at his Scranton-area farmhouse, and abused him throughout high school on trips to Disney World, Niagara Falls and Bransfield's beach house in Brigantine, N.J.
The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they have been sexually abused.
The man went to the Philadelphia archdiocese in his 30s to seek counseling, money and a meeting with Bevilacqua. He thought the cardinal should know what was going on.
He said he didn't get his meeting for five years. And he came to believe "the cardinal himself was the ringleader of the whole damn thing."
Bevilacqua retired in 2003, and died this year.
The witness told a harrowing tale of weekly abuse that started when his mother sent the eighth-grader to Gana for counseling in the late 1970s because he'd been raped by a family friend.
"I can't explain the pain, because I'm still trying to figure it out today, but I have an emptiness where my soul should be," he said.
By ninth grade, Gana was molesting him, while inviting his large family to spend the summer at his farm in bucolic Friendsville, the witness said. His father was an unemployed maintenance worker, and the family lived in the city's gritty Kensington neighborhood.
The abuse continued in Gana's bed even with his parents downstairs, the witness said.
The boy ran the farm each summer during high school, returning one fall with a car Gana had given him to drive to Northeast Catholic High School — an education also arranged by the priest. The witness broke down only once — not when describing the sodomy he said he endured, but the angst he felt when Gana reclaimed the car after the boy's father began using it.
"My father ended up having to (walk) to work all winter in the snow and the rain because of that," the distraught man said.
The Associated Press could not locate a phone listing for Gana.
The witness said he realized only in nursing school that he had missed out on proms, parties and other teen rituals because of the control Gana had on him. He became depressed and suicidal. He abused alcohol and drugs.
A teacher helped him get counseling, and the counselor led him to the archdiocese to report the abuse. The witness said he's been sober since 1995. But he remains on disability.
He never got the settlement he sought from the Philadelphia archdiocese, which, unlike other U.S. dioceses, has not paid out millions of dollars to abuse victims. Pennsylvania courts have dismissed scores of lawsuits on grounds they were filed too late.
Lynn's lawyers, on cross-examination, have pointed out that Lynn quickly met with those who filed complaints, confronted the alleged abuser and typically recommended the priest be sent for evaluation or treatment. In Gana's case, a church-run treatment center near Toronto deemed him an alcoholic, not a pedophile, even though the witness said Gana had only been drunk once in the years he knew him.
According to the witness, Gana once told him that Gana's brother had called the archdiocese to raise suspicions about all the boys at the farm. Gana told the teen he "deflected the investigation, because his pastor was having an affair with the (rectory) housekeeper."
A colleague of Bransfield called the accusations Wednesday "beyond belief."
"I find that impossible to believe. Everything I know about him, he's a perfect gentlemen and he's been very thorough in seeing to it that we observe all the (child protection) procedures that come up," said from Monsignor Edward Sadie, rector of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston.
Advocates for abuse victims criticized the Wheeling-Charleston diocese for not making its priest readily available to testify in Philadelphia.
"Remember this situation when you next hear bishops, in child sex cases, pledging that they've 'learned' and are 'reforming,'" said David Clohessy, St. Louis director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "A sitting U.S. bishop is arrogantly rebuffing efforts by a judge and prosecutors to resolve a pending criminal trial."
Associated Press writers Vicki Smith in Morgantown, W.Va., and John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., contributed to this report.