Lawsuit Against Bp. Michael Bransfield Abruptly Reaches Settlement

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by William Mahoney, Ph.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 21, 2019   

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A lawsuit against Bp. Michael Bransfield for sexual assault has been settled quickly for unknown reasons. 

A lawsuit against Bp. Michael Bransfield, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 20 "John Does" ― 10 employees of the USCCB and 10 employees of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston ― has been settled outside of court for unknown reasons.

Filed in the Ohio County Circuit Court, Warner Law Offices of Charleston represented the accuser, who goes by "J.E.," in the lawsuit alleging that Bransfield, the former bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, was a heavy drinker of Cointreau, an orange liqueur, who would drink to excess and then behave in inappropriate ways such as hugging, kissing and fondling seminarians.

The details of the settlement are unknown. 

J.E. worked for Bransfield's interim personal secretary in May 2014. On a trip to Charleston, J.E. claims that, one night, Bransfield was drunk and locked himself out of the parish. After J.E. let Bransfield inside, he "grabbed J.E. from behind, pulled J.E. against him, running his hands down J.E.'s chest and over his genitals."

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Bp. Michael Bransfield

The diocese, with Bransfield signed on, tried to have the suit dismissed by saying that the two-year statute of limitations had expired.

The USCCB also tried to have the suit dismissed, saying that, while Bransfield was a member and general secretary of their national conference of bishops, the conference only has an advisory role with no authority to hire, terminate, direct, supervise or oversee any individual priests. 

J.E. responded to both motions at the end of May. Then, the case was suddenly settled.

The details of the settlement are unknown. 

The spokesperson for the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Tim Bishop, said: "The Diocese can confirm that the case has been dismissed. The case was settled by agreement of the parties. At the request of the plaintiff, the terms of the settlement are confidential. The Diocese will have no further comment regarding the case."

Neither Warner Law Offices nor the diocese have publicized any details of the settlement.

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Bransfield's disreputable history

For almost 14 years as the bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bransfield spent millions of parishioner dollars to live a luxurious lifestyle and give cash gifts to fellow clergy in one of the nation's most indigent areas.

Bransfield would spend $100 daily on flowers and $1,000 monthly on booze. He also used diocesan funds to employ a personal chef and a personal chauffeur.

Bransfield spent $2.4 million on an admixture of work-related and personal travel.

A bathroom in his chancery was once damaged by a small fire. Bransfield used the opportunity to renovate his dwellings for $4.6 million.

Bransfield also covered up clergy sex abuse cases.

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Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia attorney general

Archbishop William Lori removed Bransfield from ministry in March during a Vatican investigation: "Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bp. Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the archdiocese of Baltimore."

The Vatican concluded that Bransfield was guilty and placed sanctions on him. They announced July 19 that he was removed from public ministry with Pope Francis saying Bransfield also needed to make some personal amends to victims; however, he was not defrocked.

After the Vatican's announcement, Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia attorney general, said the diocese refused to comply with two subpoenas for the files from the Vatican's 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."

The public shouldn't have to wait any longer for transparency.

Morrisey's office sued the diocese and Bransfield in March for "deceiving consumers and claiming their schools were safe when they were employing credibly accused pedophiles."

Morrisey amended the suit in May, saying: "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."

In an interview with Italian journalist Marco Tosatti, Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò implicated Bransfield as an associate of notorious sex predator and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick:

It appears from what has emerged that Bishop Bransfield is a perfect example of what I was referring to [the gay mafia]. It is important to note that, before being appointed bishop, he was rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC and was president of the Foundation Council of the Papal Foundation, both linked to McCarrick and Cardinal Wuerl. In fact, his successor as rector of the Basilica, Msgr. Walter Rossi, was named there by McCarrick the same year that Bransfield was appointed bishop.

David Bailey, a Catholic from West Virginia, thinks one of two things has caused this case to settle quickly:

One of two things transpired here to settle this quickly; one Bransfield knew or knows he did the things asserted in the lawsuit and the Church ordered a settlement, or the plaintiff was believable to an extent that could have resulted in others being named which also could have resulted in the Church ordering a settlement quickly.

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