Lori says he hopes report on Bransfield sees light of day

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
July 07, 2019

The Vatican will decide whether a un-redacted report will be publicly released on the investigation of the former bishop of the Diocese Wheeling-Charleston, the apostolic administrator of the diocese said in an interview with the Wheeling News-Register this week.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was appointed last year by Pope Francis to head the diocese and conduct an investigation into former Bishop Michael Bransfield.

The investigation report was obtained by The Washington Post, which said it cited lavish spending and gifts given by Bransfield, including spending diocese funds on a personal residence, spending thousands of dollars a month on alcoholic drink and buying gifts for other clergy.

Lori, who reimbursed the diocese for gifts he had received from Bransfield over the years, told interviewers he wanted the full report publicly released.

“…the Holy See owns it, I don’t. That said, when it was finished and I sent it to the Holy See, I did jaw-bone a little bit with the Holy See and said, ‘I’d like to tell the good people of West Virginia as much as I can about this,'” Lori said. “So I said what I could and they were pretty good, they gave me some leeway. Certainly after a decision has been reached with regard to the bishop there is information in that report, some of it should not come out because innocent people would be harmed. We can’t do that. But on the other hand there is information that in my personal opinion should come out because that level of transparency will help the healing process.”

Bransfield was bishop of the diocese for 13 years. His resignation and retirement were accepted last year by Pope Francis.

Lori said he regretted removing the names of 11 bishops, of which he was one, who received gifts from Bransfield from the investigation report to the pope.

“…in hindsight this is a decision I would do over. I’ve apologized, I’ve returned the money and I hope we can move on from there,” Lori said. “But that said, the report comes, the initial draft, and what we’re looking at is compiling a report that is aimed at one thing and one thing only — which is to help the Holy See make a good decision, a fair decision with regard to bishop Bransfield. And so the report as initially drafted only listed that the bishops who have received gifts, not other people including priests and lay people, and we ask ourselves, is this the right thing because some of those gifts that were given were legitimate — they were for travel, they were to support good works of the church and other places, which every diocese does, and some of them were honoraria, others were gifts given in friendship, but there was no explanation. It looked like all these gifts were improper. And so barring adding pages and pages to the report, we said we’ll deal with it generically. So it does say that cardinals and prominent bishops and other folks received gifts and we give the magnitude of the gifts that were given in the report, we just don’t have the detail in there. Hindsight, I’d do it over. It was not an attempt to obfuscate or to protect.”

The interview is in The News and Sentinel today on Page 1D.

Lori answered questions on a variety of topics besides the report, including the investigation into clergy credibly charged with abusing children and how the healing begins in West Virginia.

“I think the healing has begun in some sense. It’s hard to see when you take the first steps, it’s hard to know what the ultimate outcome will be, but by doing things like putting out the names of priests who have offended, by putting in a third-party reporting system, by doubling the size of the finance council and bringing in people with additional expertise and meeting with them monthly, by also doubling the size of the review board for sexual misconduct, having them meet more often, by putting back into place some of the policies and procedures that had been overridden … those are not glamorous steps, and most people don’t pay a lot of attention to them,” Lori said. “But those are steps toward healing – they’re sort of like doing the ground work. When you’re going to build a building, you’ve got to do site work. I’m sort of doing site work, I don’t expect a bit of credit for it any more than the contractor does who comes and removes the rocks so you can build a beautiful building. I see my responsibility working with really good people … to begin to do the groundwork, so that when the new bishop comes in, he can be a shepherd who, as the Pope says, has the smell of the sheep, loves people.

“Part of it is just going out and being present, just being there. Visiting parishes, getting to know people, listening to people, hearing their stories, taking them to heart. We bishops are not magicians, we are not dictators, we are shepherds. What we need to do is gather and attract to ourselves good co-workers, a good team. That includes clergy, of course, but it also includes good lay workers,” he said. “Healing has got to be led by the shepherd, the bishop, but for it to really take effect, it involves everybody in the local church, and I’m praying you’re going to get exactly that type of bishop.”


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