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Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston WV 2005-2018. Resigned 9/13/2018, five days after 75th birthday.

Alleged abuser of adults and minors. As Wheeling-Charleston WV bishop, Bransfield subjected eight young seminarians and priests to “unwanted sexual overtures, sexual harassment and sexual contact” and used diocesan monies to fund “an extravagant and lavish lifestyle,” according to a church-ordered investigation overseen by his metropolitan, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. [See the church investigators’ February 2019 report, which was made public in December 2019 by the Washington Post.]

The first public notice of an allegation against Bransfield occurred in April 2012, when a victim of ex-priest Stanley Gana testified in a Philadelphia court that Gana had told him that his friend Bransfield was having sex with teen boys. In July 2012, media reported that a victim had notified the Philadelphia archdiocese in 2007 of his sexual abuse by then-Father Bransfield during the 1970s, at Lansdale Catholic High School in Lansdale PA. Bransfield denied all abuse. [See his statement.]            

In August 2018, three WV priests notified church authorities that they had been subjected to unwanted sexual overtures by Bransfield [see page 6 of the internal investigative report.] Two of the priests had served as Bransfield’s Priest-Secretary and a third had been offered the position.

On 9/13/2018, the Vatican announced that the Pope had accepted Bransfield’s resignation. The announcement came five days after Bransfield turned 75, the age at which every bishop must submit his letter of resignation to the Pope. On the same day, U.S. papal nuncio Christoph Pierre announced that the Pope had appointed Baltimore archbishop William Lori as Wheeling-Charleston’s apostolic administrator and instructed Lori to investigate Bransfield’s alleged sexual harassment of adults. By November 2018, a church hotline had received complaints of the bishop’s alleged misconduct occurring in WV, PA and Washington DC. In March 2019, Archbishop Lori announced Bransfield’s suspension from priestly and episcopal ministry in the Baltimore and Wheeling-Charleston dioceses. On 3/19/2019, the WV attorney general filed suit against Bransfield and the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, accusing it of violating consumer protection laws by falsely advertising that its schools and camps were safe. [See the AG’s original complaint and its May 2019 motion to amend the complaint.] Also in March, Bransfield’s former personal altar server and secretary filed a lawsuit against the bishop and the W-C diocese, alleging sexual harassment and a 2014 sexual assault.

On 6/5/2019, Lori publicly reported that the allegations against Bransfield of sexual harassment and of financial misconduct had been found credible. A Washington Post exposé in July 2019 revealed that top church officials in the U.S. and the Vatican had received warnings about Bransfield as early as 2012, and that the bishop had doled out cash gifts to many senior Catholic officials, including Lori. In a 7/19/2019 communique, the apostolic nuncio announced the Pope’s disciplinary measures against Bransfield, which included a prohibition from all public ministry and the requirement to “make personal amends.”

The sexual harassment lawsuit against Bransfield filed in March 2019 settled in August 2019. Another former seminarian alleged sexual harassment in a suit filed in September 2019. In October 2019, Bransfield was accused of molesting a nine-year-old girl in 2012 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C..

WaPo investigation in late November 2019 revealed details of how the authorities handled the 2007 child sexual abuse complaint against Bransfield. As detailed in the church’s own internal report [see page 31], the victim was a ninth-grader at Lansdale Catholic H.S. in Lansdale PA in 1977, when then-Father Bransfield began molesting him.

The victim first went to Philly’s then-archbishop Rigali in 2007. Rigali did not notify the public or even his review board of the allegation, but he did send a report to the local district attorney, who did not pursue the case. In October 2009, Rigali closed the case internally, ruling the allegation “unsubstantiated.” In 2012, the same victim contacted the archdiocese again. Rigali notified the apostolic nuncio, who forwarded the report to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect for the Congregation for Bishops. Neither Rigali nor Ouellet took action against Bransfield, who continued to lead the Wheeling-Charleston diocese for six more years.

In November 2019, Bransfield’s W-C successor Bishop Mark Brennan published the “plan of amends” he was rrecommending for Bransfield. It stipulated that Bransfield must issue several apologies: to the people he had sexually harassed, the faithful of the diocese, and the diocesan employees who “suffered from a culture of intimidation and retribution” that Bransfield created. The plan also reduced Bransfield’s monthly compensation from $6,200 to $736, and required him to reimburse the diocese $792,638.00 of diocesan funds that Bransfield used for personal expenses.

On 8/20/2020, W-C bishop Brennan announced the Congregation for Bishops’ revision of his plan of amends issued the previous November . The Congregation significantly weakened the sanctions that Brennan had proposed. Bransfield was required to repay only $441,000 of the money he had misused; his monthly compensation was set at $2,250 instead of $736; and his apology to the faithful included no admission of wrongdoing. Bransfield remains Wheeling-Charleston’s bishop emeritus.