The Washington Post has the goods on Catholic Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling, W. Va., whose resignation last fall when he reached the age of 75 was swiftly accepted by Rome, which then ordered an investigation into Bransfield’s tenure. Excerpts:
In the years before he was ousted for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses, the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican, according to church records obtained by The Washington Post.
Bishop Michael J. Bransfield wrote the checks from his personal account over more than a decade, and the West Virginia diocese reimbursed him by boosting his compensation to cover the value of the gifts, the records show. As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the diocese must use its money only for charitable purposes.
The gifts — one as large as $15,000 — were detailed in a draft of a confidential report to the Vatican about the alleged misconduct that led to Bransfield’s resignation in September. The names of 11 powerful clerics who received checks were edited out of the final report at the request of the archbishop overseeing the investigation, William Lori of Baltimore.
Lori’s name was among those cut. He received a total of $10,500, records show.
The Post obtained both versions of the report, along with numerous emails and financial records.
Ha! Archbishop Lori covered for himself and the other powerful clerics in the report sent to Rome. These guys don’t know what honesty is. Lori told the Post that he didn’t see why those men’s names should be in the report, because there is no evidence that they did wrong by accepting the money. That is true, but basic accountability matters more than covering the rears of the episcopal class.
During his 13 years as bishop in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, 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, according to the report. 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.
Bransfield, 75, drew on a source of revenue that many parishioners knew little about, oil-rich land in Texas donated to the diocese more than a century ago. He spoke of church money as if it were his to spend without restriction, according to the report.
“I own this,” he is quoted as saying on many occasions.
You really have to read the whole thing. It’s incredible what this bishop is alleged by the Church’s own investigators to have done (he denies it). Bransfield was for years the rector of the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and had a reputation — deserved or not — for homosexuality and high living. His downfall as a bishop came when younger priests in West Virginia began complaining that he was sexually harassing them. From the Post:
At least six of Bransfield’s clerical assistants in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston “were broken by the experience,” Vicar for Clergy Anthony Cincinnati told investigators. Seminarians or young priests appealed to leaders in the diocese, to no avail, the report says. They were instructed to “make your boundaries clear,” it says, or told that they had no choice but to join Bransfield in such activities as sleepovers at his residence and on trips.
You will not be surprised to learn that Bransfield was close to former Cardinal Ted McCarrick and his successor as cardinal archbishop of Washington, Donald Wuerl. In fact, Bishop Bransfield was head of the Papal Foundation, a private charity co-founded by McCarrick to raise money from wealthy American Catholics to send to Rome for the Pope’s charitable use. In First Things this past spring, Matthew O’Brien reported on how Cardinal Wuerl and other prelates on the foundation manipulated the lay members of the board to wangle a massive grant to Rome that may have violated US tax laws. Last fall, O’Brien reported on how McCarrick may have used the Papal Foundation as a slush fund to buy influence in Rome. It’s becoming clearer that Ted McCarrick was at the nexus of the Catholic hierarchy’s sexual and financial corruption, and abuse. It appears that lay Catholics involved with the Papal Foundation finally got tired of having their pockets picked by these episcopal sybarites to pay for their lush lives and career advancement.
Bishop Bransfield, who was one of the most important members of the Foundation’s leadership, paid for his luxurious life in one of America’s poorest states — where only four percent of the population is Catholic — by drawing on a small fortune in Texas oil money left to the diocese by an heiress. He was shameless in his spending — and the diocese’s finance board, which was supposed to be overseeing it, was “extremely passive” according to the Church’s internal investigation. West Virginia has so much poverty and suffering, but its bishop spent money that wasn’t his to ingratiate himself with high church officials, to buy jewelry, purchasing massive amounts of booze (the report alleges that he was a drunk and a pillhead), fresh flower deliveries daily, and basically carousing and hitting on priests and seminarians.
Like I said: read the whole thing.
Bransfield was named a bishop in 2004 by John Paul II, who was near death at the time. It’s likely that this was a rubber-stamp appointment pushed by Cardinal McCarrick, Bransfield dear friend and fellow lavender mafioso. Lust for men, lust for money, and lust for power — they’re all tied together in the endless Catholic scandal.
The editor-in-chief of the Catholic News Agency is not taking the news well: