CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bishop Michael Bransfield, the highest-ranking Catholic official in West Virginia, strongly denied allegations he sexually abused a young boy more than 30 years ago.
The denial came one day after a witness in a clergy sex-abuse trial in Philadelphia testified that he was sexually assaulted in a home owned by Bransfield, and that his abuser also told him Bransfield was abusing another boy.
"I have never sexually abused anyone," Bransfield said in a statement released by the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese Thursday morning.
Bransfield is not charged with any crimes.
The statement was the bishop's first chance to address the allegations. Bransfield, 68, said he was out of the country and unreachable for comment when the story broke Wednesday.
"I was in Rome attending meetings at the Vatican when this false story about me was publicly released by the media without my knowledge or input," Bransfield said. "To say I was shocked and saddened would be an understatement."
The 48-year-old witness -- identified only as "John" in grand jury records -- was testifying in a criminal trial against Monsignor William Lynn and Rev. James Brennan.
Lynn is accused of covering up sex abuse allegations for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He is the first U.S. church official charged with child abuse and endangerment for allegedly protecting predators in the church.
Brennan is facing charges related to a 1996 child-sex assault.
Bransfield said he has been "deeply saddened" by the priest child abuse scandal involving his former colleagues from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, the seminary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
"Over the years, I have felt devastation for both the victims and the church as I learned about the terrible actions they took with innocent victims," Bransfield said. "To now be unfairly included in that group and to hear the horrific allegations that are being made of me is unbelievable and shocking."
The witness in the Philadelphia trial told the jury he saw Bransfield bring several boys to a Scranton, Pa., farm owned by former diocese priest Stanley Gana more than 30 years ago.
The man said Gana told him Bransfield was having sex with one of the boys.
The witness told the jury Gana raped him for years and that Gana and Bransfield were close friends. He said Gana once sexually abused him during a visit to Bransfield's New Jersey beach house.
Another witness testified that Bransfield had a lewd conversation with him.
Details of the testimony were circulated in various media reports Wednesday.
Bransfield, who was in Rome attending meetings at the Vatican when the story broke, challenged the witness account and the way information came out in various published reports.
"I understand that I am a public figure and therefore subject to public criticism," he said. "The nature of these statements and the manner in which they were released however go way beyond any sense of fairness and propriety."
He also said the detail about Gana sexually abusing someone at his New Jersey beach home was misleading.
"What did not get released was additional information available to the Prosecutor that I was not aware of the incident and was not present at the house at the time," Bransfield said. "Gana has confirmed those facts in prior reports."