Police in Washington are investigating an allegation that former West Virginia bishop Michael J. Bransfield inappropriately touched a 9-year-old girl during a church trip to the nation’s capital in 2012, according to a subpoena and a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena, delivered Tuesday to church officials in West Virginia, seeks any abuse complaints against Bransfield as well as documents related to the September 2012 pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a copy reviewed by The Washington Post shows. The trip was led by Bransfield and attended by parishioners from across West Virginia, church documents show.

Bransfield’s accuser, now 16, told authorities in July that the incident occurred when they were alone in a room at the National Shrine during the pilgrimage, according to the person familiar with the matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. The subpoena indicates that police are investigating potential child sex abuse but provides no details of the alleged encounter.

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The subpoena, signed by a Superior Court judge, also asks for Bransfield’s personnel file and for records related to his travel around the time of the pilgrimage.

The criminal investigation adds new gravity to a scandal that has roiled the Catholic Church in recent months. 

Bransfield was a bishop with strong ties to Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican before he was ousted last September over allegations that he sexually harassed and touched young priests and spent millions of dollars in church money to maintain an extravagant lifestyle. Bransfield has denied those allegations.

On Thursday, he also denied the sexual abuse allegation.

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“Oh my God. Oh no, that’s horrible,” he said by phone. “That did not happen. Somebody has imagined this. I can’t believe it.”

“I’m getting attacked from people I don’t know,” he said.

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Lisa Manning, an attorney for Bransfield, said: “The allegations against him are not true. Bishop Bransfield has full faith that the investigation will conclude that the claim against him is unfounded.”

A lawyer representing the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said it was cooperating. “The Diocese was made aware of a complaint against former Bishop Bransfield of an incident alleged to have occurred in Washington, D.C. some years ago, involving a minor and it promptly reported the matter to the appropriate civil authorities in Washington, D.C.,” James C. Gardill said in a statement. “As is the Diocese’s policy, it has deferred to such authorities to pursue their investigation before invoking its own process. The Diocese is cooperating with the investigation.”

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Asked about the investigation of Bransfield’s actions during the National Shrine trip, D.C. police spokeswoman Kristen Metzger said, “At this time the case is still under active investigation and we don’t have any further details to release.”

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In June, The Post reported that a confidential investigation commissioned by the Vatican found that Bransfield engaged in years of predatory behavior with young seminarians and priests. A report of the investigation’s findings, which church officials have not released, expressed concern that Bransfield might also have behaved improperly with children.

“We did not find conclusive evidence that Bishop Bransfield committed sexual misconduct with minors; however, there is significant reason for concern that this occurred,” the report stated, citing “several troubling incidents” involving altar servers.

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A lay assistant to Bransfield told investigators that he had recommended that church officials warn parents not to allow their children to serve as altar servers, the report said. A top aide, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, told investigators that Bransfield “did not want female servers assisting him,” according to the report.

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Bransfield allegedly exposed his erect penis to a young man who was about to enter the seminary, the young man told lay investigators. Assistants to Bransfield told the investigators that he also touched them in inappropriate ways and sometimes kissed them on the mouth or neck, the report says. 

Two former seminarians have sued the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, claiming they were harassed by Bransfield.

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In 2018, Quirk wrote in a letter to Baltimore Archbishop William Lori that Bransfield’s “inappropriate touches” had become “commonplace,” according to a letter obtained by The Post. 

Quirk wrote that Bransfield often caressed the faces of young seminarians or priests as they received Communion.

“This action is so remarkable and disturbing that priests usually remark upon it among themselves and I personally have found it unsettling each time I have seen it,” Quirk wrote.

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Bransfield has denied misconduct, telling The Post in June that people were trying to destroy his reputation. “None of it is true,” he said about the investigative report.

Bransfield faced a public allegation of abuse during his tenure in West Virginia. He vehemently denied ever abusing anyone, and nothing came of the case.

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In 2007, a student at a Catholic high school near Philadelphia where Bransfield taught in the 1970s accused the cleric of fondling him. At the time, church officials said the claim was not credible.

During his tenure in West Virginia, Bransfield regularly called on the state’s parishioners to travel on a pilgrimage to worship at the National Shrine, where he formerly served as rector and finance director.

During the September 2012 trip, organizers arranged bus rides for parishioners who paid $30. Bransfield did not ride on the buses. Instead, as he did in at least one other instance, he charted a private jet and took a limousine from Dulles International Airport to the shrine, according to internal church records obtained by The Post.

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