CHARLESTON, W.Va. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Amid an ongoing inquiry into financial malfeasance and sex abuse cover-up in West Virginia, the Vatican is imposing sanctions on Bp. Michael Bransfield, former head of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
In a July 19 communiqué, Wheeling-Charleston announced that based on the investigation's findings, Pope Francis has decreed that Bp. Emeritus Bransfield is prohibited from residing in the diocese; is banned from presiding or participating in any public celebration of the Liturgy; and is obliged to "make personal amends for some of the harm he caused," with "the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston."
"In taking these concrete actions," the announcement added, "the Holy See expresses its sincere concern for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston."
But critics argue that in light of Bransfield's history of financial and sexual corruption, the penalties amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
In a bombshell exposé last month, the Washington Post reported that in his nearly 14 years as head of Wheeling-Charleston, Bransfield misappropriated millions of parishioner dollars on personal luxuries and showered fellow clergy with hundreds of thousands in cash gifts.
West Virginia Catholics were shocked to learn that Bransfield spent $100 a day on flowers and $1,000 a month on alcohol, and that he employed a personal chef and chauffeur using diocesan funds. The cumulative totals were staggering: from 2005-2018 for instance, Bransfield spent $2.4 million on travel — much of it personal. After a small fire damaged a single bathroom inside his chancery, he spent $4.6 million on a top-to-bottom renovation of his quarters. All this in one of the nation's most impoverished regions.
Even worse, observers say, is the bishop's personal record of sexual misconduct.
In September, Bransfield resigned in disgrace amid allegations that as bishop he sexually abused seminarians and young priests in his charge. According to last months' Washington Post report:
[A] succession of younger male clerical assistants complained to church officials in West Virginia that Bransfield was sexually harassing them. Similar concerns were raised about Bransfield's conduct in Philadelphia, where he taught at a Catholic high school, and in the District of Columbia, where he was head of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception from 1990 to 2005. ...
At least six of Bransfield's clerical assistants in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston "were broken by the experience," Vicar for Clergy Anthony Cincinnati told investigators. "Seminarians or young priests appealed to leaders in the diocese, to no avail," the report says. They were instructed to "make your boundaries clear," it says, or told they had no choice to join Bransfield in such activities as sleepovers at his residence and on trips.
A protégé of serial homosexual predator Theodore McCarrick, Bransfield has been described by whistleblower Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò as a "perfect example" of the "corrupt gay mafia" running the Church.
West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrissey said the pope's sanctions were "only one step" in cleaning up the diocese.
On Friday, he issued a statement making clear the diocese has refused to comply with two separate subpoenas to hand over the files regarding the Bransfield investigation.
"After decades of covering up and concealing the behavior of priests as it relates to sexual abuse, it is time for the Diocese to come clean with what it knows and release the Bransfield report and any other relevant materials," said Morrisey. "None of the allegations of financial improprieties and sexual abuse may have been revealed if not for our investigation — the public shouldn't have to wait any longer for transparency."
In March, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced his office was filing suit against the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, and against Bransfield himself, for "deceiving consumers and claiming their schools were safe when they were employing credibly accused pedophiles."
Morrisey's lawsuit accused diocesan officials of violating West Virginia consumer protection laws by marketing Catholic schools as safe for children even as they "chose to cover up and conceal arguably criminal behavior of child sexual abuse."
On May 21, Morrisey announced he was amending the suit, alleging that Bransfield was told personally that between 2007 and 2008, a Catholic elementary school in Charleston failed to perform more than 20 background checks on prospective employees, and of covering up a 2006 report on sexual abuse allegations involving a Kanawha County teacher.
"There are many, many wonderful people in the Church. I know many of them. I'm a practicing Catholic," Morrisey said at a press conference announcing the action. "And I can say to you that a lot of people have been deeply disturbed by the activities and the cover-up here. The most important thing everyone can do now is to come clean, to be transparent, acknowledge the mistakes and move forward."
But as Morrisey has noted, diocesan officials — led by Abp. William Lori, apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston — are dragging their feet, ignoring two subpoenas and refusing to turn over all documents related to the Vatican's Bransfield investigation.