West Virginia attorney general calls on diocese to 'come clean' on remarkable allegations against former bishop

By Doug Stanglin
July 20, 2019

This Feb. 21, 2005, file photo, shows incoming bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, W.Va, Michael Bransfield in his new office, in Wheeling, W.Va. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia says Pope Francis has issued disciplinary action against its former bishop.

Despite new disciplinary action by Pope Francis, West Virginia's attorney general called on a Catholic diocese to "come clean" with what it knows about alleged allegations of sexual harassment and financial improprieties by a former bishop.

The pope on Friday banned former bishop Michael Bransfield from the public ministry or even living in the Wheeling-Charleston diocese based on the findings of a church investigation of “allegations of sexual harassment of adults and of financial improprieties."

The pope's declaration, which stopped short of defrocking Bransfield, was posted on the website of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston/ It also requires Bransfield, who resigned in December, to make amends "for some of the harm he caused."

That probe had earlier found Bransfield guilty of sexual harassment of adults and misuse of church funds, spending them on dining, liquor, gifts, personal travel and luxury items.

The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of drafts of the investigation, reported in June that the church found that Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, much of it personal, which included flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels. Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, the Post said, citing the confidential report.

West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey on Friday called the pope's decision "only one step" toward resolving the Bransfield case. He called on the diocese to comply with subpoenas issued as part of state probe of the church's handling of the case..

"After decades of covering up and concealing the behavior of priests as it relates to sexual abuse, it is time for the Diocese to come clean with what it knows and release the Bransfield report and any other relevant materials," Morrisey said. "None of the allegations of financial improprieties and sexual abuse may have been revealed if not for our investigation – the public shouldn’t have to wait any longer for transparency."

Morrisey filed suit against the diocese and Bransfield in March alleging it knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks for those working at the diocese’s schools and camps

An amended complaint added allegations that the Diocese chose not to publicly disclose a report of child sexual abuse by a teacher in 2006.

A statement from the diocese after the state's suit was filed dismissed the allegations, saying it does not "fairly portray its overall contributions to the education of children in West Virginia nor fairly portray the efforts of its hundreds of employees and clergy who work every day to deliver quality education in West Virginia."

On Friday, the diocese announced that an independent auditor had been chosen to audit its accounts.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.