Former West Virginia bishop disciplined by pope
WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — Pope Francis has issued disciplinary action against a former West Virginia bishop, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said Friday.
The diocese posted the pope’s decision on its website, saying former bishop Michael Bransfield can’t live within the diocese, can’t participate in any public celebration of the liturgy and must make amends “for some of the harm he caused.”
A church investigation found sexual misconduct accusations against Bransfield to be credible. It also found that Bransfield misused church funds, spending them on dining, liquor, gifts, personal travel and luxury items.
The diocese earlier announced financial reforms after Bransfield was found to have misused funds. The new policies were announced in a letter to parishioners this week from Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.
Bransfield resigned as bishop last year.
Lori said last month that the investigation involving claims against Bransfield found a “consistent pattern” of sexual innuendo and suggestive comments and actions toward subordinates. He said it found no conclusive evidence that Bransfield engaged in any sexual misconduct involving minors.
The investigation also determined Bransfield misused church funds for his own benefit, Lori said.
The full amount that he misused was not disclosed, but Lori said he himself had received a total of $7,500 in financial gifts from Bransfield.
The archbishop said he returned all of the money to the diocese “in light of what I have come to learn of Bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances” and asked that it be donated to Catholic Charities.
Bransfield also made expensive renovations to his private residences in Wheeling and Charleston, along with his intended retirement residence, Lori said.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has called for the release of the diocese’s full investigation. He filed suit this year accusing the diocese and Bransfield of knowingly employing pedophiles and failing to conduct adequate background checks on camp and school workers.
“Pope Francis’ call for Bransfield to ‘make personal amends for some of the harm he caused,’ is a first step, but it is just that — only one step — since the public cannot know the full extent of harm caused by Bransfield’s actions until the Diocese fully complies with our subpoena and releases the full Bransfield report,” Morrisey said in a statement Friday.
In May, the diocese released the names of additional priests who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse, bringing to 40 the number of accused priests or deacons who served in West Virginia.