Philly Inquirer Rebroadcasts Wholly Discredited Claim of Abuse Against Bishop

John P. Martin Philadelphia Inquirer

Negligent journalism: John Martin at the Philadelphia Inquirer

Witnesses have now come forward to thoroughly discredit a specious claim that Wheeling, West Virginia, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield committed abuse decades ago, yet one would hardly know this from reading the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has rebroadcast the charge.

Last April, during the Philadelphia abuse trial, media outlets fell over themselves to trumpet a double hearsay allegation from a witness in the trial. The witness claimed on the stand that 40 years ago in the 1970s that an admittedly abusive priest motioned to a car carrying Bransfield and some boys and told him that Bransfield was abusing "the one in the front seat."

Well, two grown men who were actually in the car years ago with Bransfield at the time, including the alleged "victim" of Bransfield, have now come forward to flatly refute the decades-old hearsay claim.

It didn't happen

Ron Rock has been identified as the alleged "victim" who was in the car with Bransfield and whom the abusive priest allegedly identified as being abused.

However, Rock asserts that no wrongdoing ever occurred. A statement from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston explains:

Rock has confirmed that he was the boy in the front seat of the car and that Bransfield never engaged in any improper conduct of any kind. Rock has explained that his family owned a cabin near [an abusive priest's] farm, that he invited then-Fr. Bransfield, a teacher at Lansdale Catholic, to accompany him and a group of his friends to the cabin on one weekend, and that they had visited [the abusive priest's] farm that weekend.

According to Rock, Bransfield was "a guy's guy … There was no inappropriate anything." Rock currently lives in the Philadelphia area, is married, and has children. Another former student who accompanied Rock and Bransfield that weekend, Tim Love, has also confirmed that there was no inappropriate conduct.

Meanwhile, even the witness on the stand who originally aired the bogus hearsay allegation has admitted that that he does not have any personal knowledge of any abuse by Bishop Bransfield, and the abusive priest has since said that he has no information that Bransfield has ever acted inappropriately in any way towards anyone.

Not willing to acknowledge the facts

With the news that witnesses have now refuted the claim that Bransfield committed abuse, one would think that it would only be fair to report that the bishop was a cruel victim of outrageous slander.

But John P. Martin at the Philadelphia Inquirer did not see it that way. Even with the undisputed information that the alleged "victim" (Rock) denied anything inappropriate ever happened to him, Martin nonetheless published an article under the title, "Abuse probe dogs bishop, despite Rigali's unorthodox role."

In his lengthy piece, Martin repeats the hearsay allegation and gives the false impression that the claim against Bransfield still bears some legitimacy.

Most notably, Martin dishonestly waits until the very last paragraphs of his article to provide Rock's exculpatory remarks and report that Rock's statement have solid corroboration.

The real story here is how such a flimsy, hearsay allegation can result in having one's good name plastered across the media landscape as an accused child molester and badly tarnishing a reputation that one has spent a lifetime to establish. (For example, the highly viewed site Huffington Post has run two stories about the original allegation, but it has since not published the fact that the abuse claim has been discredited.)

Martin and the Inquirer not only did not choose to publish such a story, but they re-aired the calumny under the headline that the abuse charges somehow still "dog" the bishop.

Where is the outrage? It seems there is none, and it is open season on Catholic priests in the media.


  1. Ken W. says:

    What is even more outrageous is that SNAP is REJECTING Rock's exhoneration of Bishop Mansfield! Yes, that is correct, the one and only person that can say with any authority that the abuse did or did not happen, says it did not happen, and SNAP states that the testimony of the alleged victim himself is not "proof" of Mansfield's innocence. It is time to start suing SNAP for slander and libel.

  2. kmc says:

    I was surprised to see this entry today.  I was expecting the editorial in the WSJ by
    Campbell Brown.

  3. mary says:

    Could the diagnosis be "Knowledge Deficit"?  
    Do you think deep down some journalists wished they studied history instead of the required social studies?  —-Still trying to figure out what that was:)
    Could this possiblly explain the confusion between factual history versus fantasy?
    Is this a cry for help?

  4. Karen says:

    Don't confiuse these haters with the facts.
    Martin should be sued for defamation.

  5. uh-oh says:

    We now are faced with both doctor and priest shortages…….hmmmm?
    What kind of society would take delight in bashing, litigating and eliminating professionals,
    who while not infallible, are attempting to serve and heal society?

  6. M.MacD says:

    An Irish priest who was likewise defamed by 'journalists' sucessfully sued the Irish National TV station (RTE) for a 6 figure sum. It's shameful how innocent priests are targeted! :(
    The bishop should do the same!

    • josie says:

      IN would surprise me if didn't sue the Inquirer..This has been a disgraceful reporting job and ruined his reputation. And he should also sue SNAP JUDY for defamation/repeating ad nauseum for anyone to report abuse by Bishop Bransfield or anyone, blah, blah, blah 

  7. Publion says:

    Once again, huge thanks to TMR/DP for keeping track of all these vital bits and putting them up for public review.
    From what I have read in victim-type advocacy statements over time, the 'theory' that covers this situation is this: having finally come up with the 'courage' to report the abuse, the 'victims' have now been intimidated by the fear of not-being-believed and/or are experiencing a regrettably misplaced concern for their 'victimizer'. This is an adaptation, as best I can make out, of the classic Domestic-Violence scenario in which the (most-often) female partner recants after she realizes that her partner is now in the clutches of the legal system.
    As you can see, it's a neat way to avoid inconvenient realities and still Keep The Ball Rolling.
    And, of course, there is always the old fall-back position: it's not about 'this' case, but rather it simpily 'proves' that a) there's a lot more clerical abuse out there and b) these stories and the 'cases' they generate are really all about 'sending a message' – which explains to great extent, I would say, the Philadelphia trial, where – by the way – the defense has announced it will appeal Msgr. Lynn's conviction.

  8. Rondre says:

    You would think Mediareports would show more intelligence that this. Who is to say that Rock and his companion are honest and that was one incident. Where there is smoke there isw fire. What the hell is Brandfileld doing hangining with these perverts? Gee good question. What did we always hear growing up you are what your friends are.

    • josie says:

      Your logic is faulty and your spelling is poor. Your simple phrases/sayings are boring additions to serious discussion. How can you expect belief that you are a professor at any college as you claim below? Please spare us this silliness.  

  9. Publion says:

    If I recall correctly, ‘Rondre’ self-identified in a comment on this site as somehow being a teacher or professor of media.
    For a number of reasons I am finding that claim increasingly difficult to credit.
    Notice what happens to a ‘victim’ (defined by any reigning standards) who won’t follow the Script: his honesty is impugned. Which, I would say, is a clear give-away as to the real operative goal of many (but not all) self-styled ‘advocates’: you’re only a Victim if you go along with us and follow the Script we’ve prepared for this type of situation – otherwise, you’re a liar. Isn’t this a variant of ‘blaming the victim’?
    As best I can infer from what we have been given in the comment, there is also a possibility that the which Mr. Rock (and other direct – not hearsay – witnesses) denies ever happened is perhaps only one incident in a hypothetical series of abuse-incidents: in other words, maybe he’s telling the truth about this one particular incident but maybe there were lots of other incidents involving Rock and Bransfield.
    We see here the problem with all of these abuse-type incidents: without actual evidence there is no way to know, and you have to make a shortcut for yourself by either ‘believing’ the allegator or believing whomever is allegated-against. (Unless the allegator-victim doesn’t follow the Script, which apparently in the Playbook calls for believing nobody, and impugning the veracity of the allegator, but imagining all the Maybe’s that could possibly be possible.)
    And lastly, you can impugn the allegated-against person in a general sort of way: what was Bransfield doing keeping company with an abusive priest in the first place? (From the article here, it appears that that abusive priest. Fr. Stanley Gana, was the one who identified Bransfield as having had abused Rock. If that is true, then I raise the hardly improbable possibility that Gana, facing legal process himself, was inveigled to involve a Bishop, perhaps in exchange for some consideration by the prosecution.)
    I don’t know and don’t consider myself competent to gauge friendships or acquaintances that people now almost 70 conducted 35 or 40 years ago.
    And ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ is a conventionally-accepted rule of thumb that people can use, if they wish. But it’s hardly sufficient for formal legal process, which requires more stringent evidence. And for that matter – as anybody living downwind of a brush-fire knows – you can have a houseful of smoke and yet no fire in your house at all.
    So what we have right now is this: an accusation was tangentially made in a trial in Philadelphia, on the basis of double-hearsay; both the claimed abuser and abused have been identified, and not only the claimed abuser but also the claimed abused – buttressed by other direct witnesses – deny that the incident that came up in the trial testimony ever took place.  TMR here reports those facts.
    I can’t see how TMR has failed the standards of journalistic integrity that ‘Rondre’ has claimed to teach.
    And let’s imagine that Mr. Rock confirmed the accusation. What would ‘Rondre’ think then? That clearly Rock is an upstanding and heroic victim – on the basis of nothing more than whether he said No or Yes to the report of the accusation. And what is a journalism teacher-professor to do with that?

  10. Rondre says:

    Let me make it clear I have no need to defend my tenure at a prestigeous university. Maybe you do?

  11. Publion says:

    I am really beginning to get the strong impression that this is a put-on.
    First, it's 'prestigious'.
    Second, I have never claimed to be a teacher or professor. I let my comments stand on the thoughts and discussion I present.
    And this being the Web, let me 'share' my creds: I am the last of the Romanovs, educated in all the great European and American universities, with doctorates and post-doctoral work in both Arts and Sciences. And I would be deeply shocked and outraged if I am not believed.
    Seriously – the above paragraph is, of course, not accurate and I put it up only to demonstrate this point: this is the Web and one can spin any story one wants. Only the quality of ideas and discussion counts for anything because ideas and discussion remain 'real' even on the Web. Prestidigitatious university credentials and other heroic self-attributions do not.
    I am always happy to engage serious ideas rationally presented. Points will not be taken off for spelling. What more can I do?

  12. Andy says:

    The on-going abuse probe is about a fondling complaint.  It is not centered on the hearsay accusations  of abuse made in the court room in April.  Bransfield and supporters have successful distracted attention from this by focussing on disproving the hearsay accusations.
    There's no proof of innocence or on-going public discussion for the fondling charge that is being probed.

    • says:

      “There’s no proof of innocence”?

      Hold on. Isn’t it the duty of law enforcement and/or an accuser to prove guilt?

      How have we reached a stage where a person – merely accused – has to “prove innocence”?