Attorney Robert Warner calls this a “classic grooming situation”.
He claims Bishop Bransfield abused his power to get close to his client, who is referred to as J.E. in the lawsuit.
Warner also told us his client had planned to have a career within the church but left the faith after his experiences.
“It’s a classic case of someone of power that’s just using that position inappropriately in a sexual nature towards the young men that they’re around,” he said.
In this case, the suit alleges that Bishop Bransfield used that power to sexually assault the plaintiff, who was previously an altar server at the Cathedral of St. Joseph and interim secretary to the Bishop.
“It was multiple years,” Warner explained. “It started in 2008 and it’s kind of the classic grooming situation, which escalated to the point in 2014 of a sexual assault a true criminal sexual assault in my opinion.”
Warner says this type of behavior allegedly occurred with other adolescent and adult males, describing Bransfield in the complaint as a “sexual predator.”
“There were multiple allegations in the past,” he continued. “It appears there were inadequate investigations and certainly nothing was ever done to the bishop. And according to my client what happened to him was observed by other senior members of the church and he observed the Bishop do things inappropriately to other young men.”
It wasn’t until the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston asked for people to come forward as part of its investigations that Warner says his client reached out to tell his story.
“He had seen the church cover up other allegations before,” Warner said. “He wasn’t confident they would do anything.”
The Diocese said that no criminal activity was found in its investigation into Bishop Bransfield, but Warner says they found his client’s story to be credible.
“They released the names of all these individuals that have been known to have committed inappropriate acts and somehow the bishop’s name is not included,” he explained.
Now he hopes his client’s strength encourages others to come forward and says there’s power in numbers.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “because it was his dream to be a priest and for many years that was his plan and he as you can imagine his faith was shaken deeply.”