Diocese Official Says Allegations against Bransfield Are Credible
By Jess Mancini
News & Sentinel
June 6, 2019
An investigation of the former bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has found the allegations of sexual harassment against him are credible, the apostolic administrator of the diocese said in a letter released on Wednesday.
Bishop William E. Lori, apostolic administrator, also said he has given $7,500 to the diocese, the value of gifts he received over the years from former Bishop Michael Bransfield, whose handling of finances for the diocese was also under investigation.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Wednesday said the letter from Lori underscores why the diocese must release the investigative report into alleged misconduct by Bransfield.
Bransfield retired last year, and Lori was appointed apostolic administrator with the instructions from Pope Francis that he commence an investigation into Bransfield.
“Regarding allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bishop Bransfield, the investigative team determined that the accounts of those who accused Bishop Bransfield of sexual harassment are credible,” Lori said in the letter. “The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.
“The investigation found no conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct with minors by the former bishop during its investigation,” he said. “It should be noted that due to privacy concerns and at the request of those who alleged harassment by Bishop Bransfield, the alleged victims and their personal accounts, which for them are a source of deeply felt pain and humiliation, will not be disclosed by the diocese.”
The primary concern is the alleged victims, Lori said. A counseling program is being offered to all priests and lay personnel at the chancery, he said.
“For known victims, the diocese will commit to reimbursing the costs for mental health assistance for a provider of their choosing,” Lori said. “Further, I have mandated that a third-party reporting system for any allegation against a bishop of the diocese be implemented. … Modeled after a program I instituted in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the system uses a third-party vendor to receive and direct such reports to members of the lay-led Independent Review Board for reporting of any financial impropriety, sexual abuse or harassment to the appropriate civil and church authorities.”
The investigation found Bransfield “engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” Lori said.
The former bishop began and completed extensive and expensive renovations to his private residences in Wheeling and Charleston and an intended retirement residence, Lori said. Lori said he halted the construction of the retirement home when he was appointed apostolic administrator.
The investigation found Bransfield misused church funds for personal benefit for personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items, Lori said.
“As we seek to understand how such behavior was able to occur over the course of Bishop Bransfield’s 13-year-long tenure, it is evident from those who spoke with investigators that the Bishop’s management style and personality undermined the effectiveness of diocesan policies, controls and oversight procedures,” Lori said. “In some cases, it is apparent that the judgment of diocesan personnel was impacted by the culture of fear of retaliation and retribution that the former bishop fostered.”
Lori also decided to immediately list for sale the Wheeling-Charleston bishop’s residence, which was built between 1908 and 1910.
“In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel it is 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,” Lori said.
Lori said the total was $7,500 and that he asked the diocese to donate the money to Catholic Charities.
“I am deeply pained by and sorry for the harm that the former bishop caused to those he was charged with shepherding in a spirit of Christ-like humility, service and pastoral care and charity. There is no excuse, nor adequate explanation, that will satisfy the troubling question of how his behavior was allowed to continue for as long as it did without the accountability that we must require of those who have been entrusted with so much, both spiritual and material, as bishops and pastors,” Lori said.
Morrisey earlier this year sued the diocese over allegations it violated the state Consumer Credit and Protection Act, saying the diocese failed to do background checks and report claims of abuse.
Last week, Morrisey criticized the diocese for not announcing additional priests have been added to the lists of those with credible accusations of abuse. He also accused the diocese of minimizing disclosure of updates to its list of credibly accused priests.
Lori’s letter which cites new improprieties against Bransfield shows why the investigative report into misconduct should be released, Morrisey said.
“Now is the time for full disclosure,” Morrisey said. “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.”
Judy Jones, a spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Wednesday reiterated a call for law enforcement to become involved in an investigation into Bransfield and the diocese.
“We also are still wondering what is the punishment for Bransfield and what will happen to him,” she said. “We feel he should never work in any diocese again or be near children or vulnerable adults.”