‘He hurt people’: West Virginia’s long-faithful Catholics grapple with news of bishop’s misconduct


June 19, 2019

By Julie Zauzmer

Nancy Ostrowski knows this state. And she thought she knew her bishop.

Her family has been attending St. Joseph Catholic Church since the Romanesque Revival building was dedicated in 1860, just before West Virginia broke away from Virginia to support the Union. Her ancestors saw the heady years of Martinsburg’s heyday, when the mills running day and night here supplied clothing to the world, and the heavy decades of struggle when those mills closed down.

Ostrowski knows West Virginia’s isolated Appalachian crannies, pockets of desperate poverty where people like her, people who’ve kept their Catholic faith for generations, might drive all the way across their county to attend the one shrinking Catholic church around.

She thought Bishop Michael Bransfield, who led the statewide Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston from 2005 until his abrupt retirement under church investigation last year, held those places in his heart. He visited those mountain hamlets. He wrote about their needs in the diocesan newsletter that she always read.

“He seemed to have a real sense of duty and caring to the people of the state. That made it doubly shocking,” Ostrowski said on Sunday, as she left Mass at that brick Romanesque temple her forefathers helped build. “For all intents and purposes, he seemed to be a very good bishop. But he was leading a double life.”

Rumors had circulated for years about Bransfield. But Ostrowski and many fellow parishioners first learned that he was suspected of misconduct when he retired suddenly last fall, and Pope Francis asked Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori to conduct an investigation. Details were elusive, until a Washington Post investigation earlier this month.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.