Catholic Church investigation concludes Bransfield sexually harassed younger priests, misused church money
By Jeff Jenkins
June 5, 2019
|Pope Benedict and Bishop Bransfield in a 2013 visit.|
|Former Bishop Michael Bransfield|
|Archbishop William Lori|
Former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield regularly sexually harassed young priests he oversaw and committed financial improprieties during his 13 years of leading the Catholic Church in West Virginia.
The findings come from an investigation commissioned by the apostolic administrator of the Diocese and released in a letter to Catholic Church priests and church members Wednesday afternoon.
The letter written by Rev. William E. Lori, the Archbishop of Baltimore, who has served as Wheeling-Charleston Diocese apostolic administrator since Bransfield’s resignation last September, details the results of a five-month investigation by a five-member lay investigative team made up of both Catholics and non-Catholics.
Lori said after dozens of interviews with those who worked closely with Bransfield it was determined the allegations of sexual harassment of adults were credible.
“The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority,” Lori said in Wednesday’s letter.
Lori said there was no conclusive evidence that Bransfield, 75, participated in sexual misconduct with minors.
According to Lori, the investigation also found Bransfield engaged in excessive and inappropriate spending including expensive renovations to residences in Wheeling and Charleston.
“The investigation further found that Bishop Bransfield misused Church funds for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items,” Lori said.
A report published Wednesday afternoon in the Washington Post, 18 minutes after Lori released the letter to the church community, provides additional details about the investigation saying Bransfield gave cash gifts totaling more than $350,000 to fellow clergymen including those he was allegedly mistreating.
According to The Post, which was able to obtain the full investigative report, the cash gifts followed sexual harassment complaints from “younger male clerical assistants.”
Archbishop Lori was one of higher ranking members of the church to receive money from Bransfield. He disclosed that in Wednesday’s letter.
“In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel it necessary to acknowledge that I was periodically a recipient of financial gifts in varying amounts by Bishop Bransfield for various occasions over the years, including my installation as Archbishop of Baltimore in 2012 and annually at Christmas. These gifts totaled $7,500. In light of what I have come to learn of Bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances, I have returned the full amount to the Diocese and have asked that it be donated to Catholic Charities,” Lori wrote.
The Post, citing the investigative report, says Bransfield spent $2.4 million of the church’s money on travel and many of the trips were personal.
“Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, it says. The West Virginia diocese paid $4.6 million to renovate Bransfield’s church residence after a fire damaged a single bathroom. When Bransfield was in the chancery, an administrative building, fresh flowers were delivered daily, at a cost of about $100 a day — almost $182,000 in all,” The Post reported.
The Post talked to Bransfield and he denied the allegations saying many were trying to destroy his reputation.
Although Lori’s letter to the Catholic Church in West Virginia Wednesday says there was no conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct between Bransfield and minors, there were allegations from adult men.
According to the Washington Post, “The report cites nine men in the Wheeling-Charleston diocese who accused Bransfield of touching or groping them, kissing or exposing himself to them or of commenting on their bodies. Diocesan leaders witnessed Bransfield’s “predatory” behavior toward altar servers, behavior troubling enough that one church leader tried to make sure no altar server was left alone with him, the report says.”
Lori also announced he’s putting the Diocese home for the bishop in Wheeling up for sale immediately.
“The home, replete with many original furnishings, was purchased from Linsly Institute in 1963 for $63,000.00 by the late Bishop Joseph H. Hodges and has served since that time as the residence of four bishops of Wheeling-Charleston. It will serve this purpose no longer,” Lori wrote.
Lori announced the conclusion of the investigation back in March but did not release the report. He said it had to be reviewed by the Holy See. He did announce sanctions against Bransfield at that time.
“I have directed that Bishop Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston,” Lori said.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a statement Wednesday it’s time for the Diocese to release the full report.
“While we appreciate the fact that our investigation and lawsuit is causing the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese to disclose new improprieties about Bishop Bransfield, we believe it is imperative that the Diocese immediately disclose its investigative report about the Bishop.
“It’s time to come clean and release the Bransfield report – and no longer hide pertinent information from our office and the public. Significantly, much of the information being released by the Diocese never would have come to light, if we didn’t issue subpoenas, investigate and ultimately file suit.
“The Diocese did not issue its list of initially 31, now 40, credibly accused priests until after issuance of our first subpoena in the fall of 2018, and today’s disclosure comes approximately two weeks after the filing of our amended complaint.
“Now is the time for full disclosure. I repeat my call for the Diocese to stop fighting our efforts to get to the bottom of the sexual abuse scandal, come clean and end the secrecy – including release of the full Bransfield report,” Morrisey said.
The group SNAP, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also released a statement Wednesday from the group’s Midwest Regional Leader Judy Jones:
“We at SNAP applaud the brave victims for coming forward and getting Bishop Bransfield’s wrongdoings exposed and stopped.
After reading the letter from Bishop Lori regarding the church’s investigation into Bishop Bransfield’s accusations of sexual harassment, we feel that Law Enforcement should get involved and do an investigation into Bransfield and the Wheeling-Charleston diocese.
We also are still wondering what is the punishment for Bransfield and what will happen to him? We feel he should never work in any diocese again or be near children or vulnerable adults. Let’s not forget his allegations of sexual abuse of minors in Philadelphia.
The church officials of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese should reach out to any others to come forward and report any kind of abuse to law enforcement.”