The Archbishop of Baltimore, William Lori, is facing intense scrutiny over his decision to remove the names of several clerics — many of them senior churchmen — from a report he made to the Vatican after an investigation he led into the disgraced bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Michael Bransfield, who is suspected of serial sexual misconduct and gross financial impropriety.
Archbishop Lori submitted his findings to Rome earlier this year. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Lori removed from his report the names of high-ranking churchmen — including Lori himself — to whom Bransfield had given presents of money. The Washington Post obtained copies of a draft of the report and of the final version, comparison of which revealed the names of several cardinals and archbishops who received money gifts from Bishop Bransfield were removed before the final version was delivered to Rome.
In response to an email from the Catholic World Report, the senior spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Sean Caine, explained the intention in leaving the names out of the report.
“By deleting the reference to specific individuals who received gifts, and just noting the totals with a separate list of the recipients,” Caine wrote, “the thinking was that by selecting particular individuals to identify who received gifts is a distraction and raises questions as to why we selected some individuals and not others.”
Caine also told CWR, “The point the report tried to make is that the gift-giving was part of Bishop Bransfield’s excessive spending, which could be made by indicating the totals.”
“None of the members of the investigative team objected,” Caine wrote, “and the changes were made.” Caine went on to explain, “The Archbishop has said that, in hindsight, he can see how not sharing this information could be seen as protecting those whose judgment could have been compromised by such gifts.”
Caine told CWR, “[Archbishop Lori] has further said that, were he able to do it over again, the report would have included the names of those clerics who received gifts, including his own, with some notation that there was no evidence found to suggest those who received gifts reciprocated in any way that was inappropriate.”
In addition to Lori himself, among the churchmen listed in the draft version of the report are: Cardinal Bernard Law (+2017); Cardinal Edmund Szoka (+2014); Cardinal Donald Wuerl; Cardinal Timothy Dolan; Cardinal Raymond Burke; Archbishop Pietro Sambi (+2011); Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
Those last two men were Apostolic Nuncios to the United States. The Washington Post report quotes an email regarding a request to diocesan officials for reimbursement of a $500 payment to the current nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Reimbursement from the diocese for these gifts was standard practice under Bransfield. The three Apostolic Nuncios reportedly received a total of $38,000.
Archbishop Lori himself received several gifts from Bransfield over the years. In a statement issued Wednesday, Lori claimed the monies he received included a $5,000 check at the time of his installation as Archbishop of Baltimore and several Christmas gifts. Lori says he received $7,500, though the Washington Post claims records show he received $10,500.
Caine confirmed for the Catholic World Report that the discrepancy was due — as the Post reported — to the fact Archbishop Lori received $3,000 in honoraria and travel reimbursement for celebrating two Red Masses — special liturgies to mark the opening of the judicial year — in West Virginia.
In a statement Wednesday, Lori said, “In light of what I have come to learn of Bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances, I have returned the full amount to the Diocese and have asked that it be donated to Catholic Charities.”
Several of the men received gifts while they were in office. Cardinal Kevin Farrell is Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. The Director of the Press Office of the Holy See told the Washington Post, “Cardinal Farrell was not aware of the accusations against Bishop Bransfield for abuses and mismanagement of the financial funds of his diocese.”
In the case of Cardinal Burke, it is unclear from the Washington Post story when he received money from Bransfield. A spokesman for Cardinal Wuerl, emeritus of Washington, DC, told the Post, “[Cardinal Wuerl] received honoraria for speaking invitations in the Diocese of Wheeling and other commemorative events, as well as modest gifts to mark personal celebrations, such as an ordination anniversary.”
Over the years, Bransfield allegedly practiced serial sexual harassment of priests and seminarians. Bransfield’s Vicar General, Frederick Annie, allegedly told those who complained of Bransfield’s behavior to raise the issue with the Vatican’s representative in the United States. “Tell it to the Nuncio,” the Washington Post story quotes Annie as saying, citing the Judicial Vicar, Msgr. Kevin Quirk, who says he heard the remark from Annie when he broached the subject with him.
The investigators Lori appointed recommended Msgr. Annie, Msgr. Quirk, and a third official, Vicar for Clergy Msgr. Anthony Cincinnati, be removed from office. The Washington Post says investigators also recommended that Bishop Bransfield, “be stripped of his powers as bishop, removed from ministry and forced to pay unspecified restitution.”
The Washington Post reports Annie as telling investigators that taking a complaint about the bishop to the Nuncio would have been “career ending.”
Revelations of systemic coverup going back decades devastated the credibility of Church leadership. Archbishop Lori has widely been seen as a leader in the US hierarchy’s efforts to achieve accountability for bishops in the wake of those revelations.
In January of this year, Archbishop Lori implemented a third-party system — EthicsPoint — for reporting abuse and misconduct allegations against him and other bishops. The system sends complaints directly to Baltimore’s Independent Review Board. Members in turn report the allegations to civil authorities and to the Apostolic Nuncio.
Archbishop Lori is not the only high-ranking US churchman to face scrutiny this week. The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, stands accused of seriously mishandling a sexual misconduct complaint against his former Vicar General. The Associated Press detailed the allegations against Cardinal DiNardo in a story published Tuesday. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has contested the account of DiNardo’s actions given in the AP story.
The US bishops are meeting in Baltimore next week, with discussion and voting on bishop accountability measures at the top of their agenda.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that the Washington Post had not specified the source of the discrepancy. The Post did report Archbishop Lori’s account of the $3,000 in reimbursements. We regret the error.)
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