Bishop Brennan faces a stern challenge

Catholic Herald

August 1, 2019

By Jordan Bloom

Trust is easily broken and repaired only with difficulty in a place like West Virginia, whose south-west corner is most closely associated with the notoriously grudge-prone Hatfield clan. (The Hatfield–McCoy feud, a bloody land dispute between two rural families, raged from 1863 to 1891.) The incoming Bishop Mark Brennan (pictured) of West Virginia – or of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which is coterminous with the state – will have his work cut out repairing the damage done by his predecessor.

Bishop Michael Bransfield, it is alleged, used his position as shepherd of one of the most economically distressed parts of the country to live not like a successor to the Apostles but as an orange liqueur-swilling sybarite – doling out patronage money to his episcopal allies when he wasn’t making sexual advances towards seminarians. Bransfield, who protests his innocence, was once head of the board of trustees of the Papal Foundation, Theodore McCarrick’s slush fund.

One detail that has emerged during the scandal is the diocese’s possession of land in Texas from a bequest decades ago, which has become a significant source of revenue from oil leases. The $15 million figure cited as its annual revenue could do a lot of good in a place like West Virginia.

The revelations of Bransfield’s extraordinary spending habit – $4.6 million to renovate his house, more than $2 million on travel – are all the more incredible for having happened in a place where a dollar goes much further than in New York or Washington.

Bransfield was reportedly fond of pointing at diocesan property and saying, “I own this.” Well, not any more.

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