August 20, 2020
By Michelle Boorstein
The Vatican has approved much-reduced reparations, including an apology letter that takes no direct responsibility, for a former West Virginia bishop accused of misusing millions in church money and sexually harassing fellow clerics.
Bishop Michael J. Bransfield stepped down in September 2018 as leader of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese amid allegations that he spent millions on personal extravagances and gifts to fellow clerics and that he harassed seminarians and young priests who worked for him.
After an internal Vatican investigation concluded that the allegations were true, Bishop Mark Brennan, Bransfield’s successor in West Virginia, drew up a restitution plan in November that he said would be “an act of restorative justice” for Bransfield to accept.
“It is also for his own spiritual good and his own healing as a man who professes to follow Christ,” Brennan Brennan wrote when announcing the plan last fall.
Some canon law experts said it was the first case they’d heard of involving a bishop being made to pay restitution — publicly or privately. In addition to calling for Bransfield’s replacement to come up with a restitution plan, the Vatican also prohibited Bransfield from public ministry and from residing in the West Virginia diocese.”
But on Thursday, Brennan’s office announced the final plan approved by the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops, which sharply reduces the money Bransfield was supposed to pay the diocese — money that was to be set aside for victims of abuse. The initial plan called for him to pay $792,638; the Vatican deal agreed to $441,000, according to a letter Brennan wrote to the diocese.
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