W.Va. diocese settles lawsuit over former bishop’s conduct
WHEELING — A settlement has been reached in a civil suit filed by a former secretary to former Bishop Michael Bransfield against the Diocese of Wheeling -Charleston.
The suit initially was filed in Ohio County Circuit Court in March on behalf of “J.E.,” identified only as a personal altar server and secretary to Bransfield. It alleges the plaintiff was sexually assaulted by Bransfield in 2014, and was a victim of sexual harassment by him prior to that incident.
Charleston attorney Robert Warner — who represents J.E. — filed a motion dated July 15 asking the case be dismissed. It states a compromise was reached between the parties and “confidentially settled.” The filing asked the court to dismiss the matter with prejudice, and the request was granted by Ohio County Circuit Judge David Sims.
“The diocese can confirm the case has been dismissed and a settlement has been reached by agreement of both parties,” said Tim Bishop, spokesman for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. At the request of the plaintiff, the terms of the agreement are confidential.”
The diocese had no further comment, Bishop said.
Calls to Warner seeking comment on behalf of J.E. were not immediately returned Wednesday.
The original court filing alleged Bransfield to be “a binge-drinker of alcohol, nightly consuming one-half to one whole bottle of Cointreau liquor, an 80-proof orange-flavored alcohol costing well over $20 a bottle.”
In 2008, J.E. became part of the pontifical crew servicing Bransfield during Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling. At Bransfield’s request, J.E. eventually became the personal altar server to Bransfield.
The suit alleges that during his tenure on the pontifical crew and while a seminarian, J.E. was subjected to sexually suggestive gestures, including hugging, kissing and “inappropriate touching and fondling by Bishop Bransfield, with the full knowledge of other employees, agents and servants of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.”
Bransfield later chose J.E. to be his interim secretary, and it was customary for the bishop’s secretary to move into the bishop’s home and to live full-time there.
As Bransfield’s secretary, J.E. was required to travel with him around the diocese. During a May 2014 trip to Charleston to conduct Mass, Bransfield was “heavily drinking and inadvertently locked himself out of the parish,” according to the suit.
J.E. went to the doors to allow Bransfield inside. Once inside, the suit alleges, Bransfield allegedly exposed himself to J.E., grabbed him and began to sexually abuse him, the suit states.
The suit contended the diocese owed J.E. a “duty of care to effectively screen, monitor and supervise its clergy,” and that it had a special duty to act appropriately upon complaints.
Counsel had sought for J.E. a settlement in “an amount exceeding the minimum jurisdictional requirements of this court” to compensate him “for his losses, injuries and damages.”
J.E. is listed as a current resident of Pocahontas County, but was a resident of St. Clairsville when the alleged incidents took place between 2008 and 2014.