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‘No excuse, no adequate explanation’: Archbishop Lori releases findings of Bishop Bransfield investigation

Lori said that while there was no “conclusive evidence” of sexual misconduct with minors, the investigation – led by five lay experts – had found indications of consistent sexual misconduct and harassment by Bransfield against adults.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori. Archbishop Lori is pictured in an April 8, 2019, photo. (CNS photo/Bob Roller). Right: Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, then head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., is seen at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington in this 2009 file photo, (CNS photo/Bob Roller) 

Wheeling, W.V., Jun 5, 2019 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has released a letter to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston addressing the findings of a preliminary investigation into the former head of the diocese, Bishop Michael Bransfield.

In the June 5 letter, the archbishop states that accusations of sexual and financial misconduct by Bransfield had been determined to be “credible” by an independent investigation. Investigators discovered that Bransfield had managed to erode and evade oversight and policy controls by fostering “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” in the diocese.

“There is no excuse, nor adequate explanation, that will satisfy the troubling question of how his behavior was allowed to continue for as long as it did,” Lori wrote in the letter, addressed to the clergy and faithful of the diocese.

Lori was named apostolic administrator of the diocese in September 2018 by Pope Francis, following a series of allegations made against Bransfield including sexual and financial misconduct.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Lori subsequently barred him from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.

Lori said he was writing the letter to share the conclusions of a five-month preliminary investigation into the former diocesan bishop which concluded in March and had been transmitted to Rome.

“In the spirit of transparency and based on my many conversations during various visits to the diocese these past months, it is clear to me that more must be said about the report’s findings and about the steps being taken to address them,” Lori wrote.

Lori said that while there was no “conclusive evidence” of sexual misconduct with minors, the investigation – led by five lay experts – had found indications of consistent sexual misconduct and harassment by Bransfield against adults.

“The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority,” Lori said.

Abuse of authority for sexual purposes was classed as a separate category of sexual abuse in the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which came into force June 1.

Lori also confirmed that investigators had established a pattern of serious financial misconduct by Bransfield throughout his tenure as bishop.

“The investigative report determined that during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” Lori said, citing renovations to multiple residences and the misuse of Church funds “for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items.”

The archbishop also set out a range of measures put in place since Bransfield’s departure to assist possible victims and to ensure there could be no repetition of his alleged misconduct.

“Without a doubt, the alleged victims of former Bishop Bransfield’s sexual harassment must be our first and constant concern,” Lori said.

“Thus, the diocese has committed to providing counseling to them and to all priests and lay personnel at the chancery. I have asked that a permanent program be developed and advertised to seminarians and priests that such services are available.”

Additionally, Lori confirmed that financial, pastoral, and practical resources were being made available to all victims, and that he had ordered the creation of an independent, third-party reporting mechanism in the diocese for accusations of sexual or financial misconduct, with complaints being forwarded to an independent, lay-led review board.

As Archbishop of Baltimore, Lori instituted a similar program in the archdiocese – the first of its kind in the United States.

“As we seek to understand how such behavior was able to occur over the course of Bishop Bransfield’s 13-year-long tenure, it is evident from those who spoke with investigators that the Bishop’s management style and personality undermined the effectiveness of diocesan policies, controls and oversight procedures,” Lori said.

“In some cases, it is apparent that the judgment of diocesan personnel was impacted by the culture of fear of retaliation and retribution that the former bishop fostered.”

Lori said he was working with the chancery staff and the diocesan finance council to institute new oversight policies. In response to Bransfield’s “excessive and inappropriate spending,” Lori said he had ordered the immediate listing and sale of the bishop’s residence in Wheeling.

Applying the policy of rigorous transparency to himself, Lori noted that he too had received financial gifts from Bransfield over the years.

“In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel it necessary to acknowledge that I was periodically a recipient of financial gifts in varying amounts by Bishop Bransfield for various occasions over the years, including my installation as Archbishop of Baltimore in 2012 and annually at Christmas.”

Lori said that following the extent of Bransfield’s financial misconduct becoming clear, he had returned a total of $7,500 to the diocese with instructions that the funds be used for Catholic Charities.

“I am deeply pained by and sorry for the harm that the former bishop caused to those he was charged with shepherding in a spirit of Christ-like humility, service and pastoral care and charity,” Lori concluded, underlining that episcopal accountability was a “critical issue” facing the Church.

“We are committed to bringing about the healing that the good people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston require and can only pray for and work relentlessly to regain their renewed trust and confidence.”


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21 Comments

  1. What about his tenure at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception? Did anything happen then?

  2. Wow – the Church wants “credibility” and yet the WP reports that the Pope assigned a man who was paid $10,500 in cash by the criminal Bransfield.

    Perhaps that is why Archbishop Lori was chosen? He will out himself as a payee on Bransfield’s “Christmas list” in exchange for hiding the names of the other Cardinals that got the rest of the $339,500 in cash. Then they agree not to give Lori any trouble.

    And that, my fellow Catholics, is the explanation that Lori claims cannot be made.

    How upstanding if His Excellency for returning some $7,500, (after he got caught).

    Fraudulent bourgeois bishops of the post-Catholic settlement.

  3. Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Vigano are now exposed as greedy and corrupt as all the rest of them, there are no bishops anywhere you can trust, the Church is all but finished now.

    • Don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. When Vigano was given that cash gift he was told by staffers that it was a fairly common practice for visiting bishops in the U.S. to present such monetary gifts to the papal nuncio. Wisely, Vigano gave the funds away to charity.

  4. It is parish tradition in some instances (such as for a Confirmation) to offer a financial gift to one’s bishop. However, there appears to be far too much money changing hands at the higher level of giving. No bishop should receive thousands of dollars from another bishop unless it is transparent money being used for church projects or for the poor. Large amounts of money should never settle in any bishop or priest’s bank account and dioceses should regulate gifts, if they do not now.

  5. And this is why folks, over focusing on the sexual scandal (and yes, almost there “heresies”) SERVES these people…but if the Catholic laity made it primarily about the money/influence peddling and pushed the corrupt money issue 24/7 not just with the Bishops fund but on the parish contribution level…many of these “leaders” would be forced to resign…including…Bergoglio. This combined with prayer and fasting.

    You’ve a got a homosexual network that started in seminary. OK Why do we have to pay for your lifestyle? Get a job (outside the Church) like the other “wonderfully made” people you “accompany” vs depending on funding, handouts, vow of poverty credit cards that cover “discerned” expenses and travel…all the while upbraiding “intolerant” Catholics who actually believe what the Church teaches…and charging how much for a “Red Mass?” Intolerant Catholics? We hand money over like imbeciles…true “dummies” in Bergoglio’s parlance.

    Most lay people can’t sit in a chair for 30 minutes at the end of the day, reflect, do what they want in the end and then call it “God’s will.” But yes, that’s the part of the “lifestyle” now being sold to the laity at wholesale prices.

  6. We’re living in a moment of Church history in which everyone who is clergy is suspect any possible vestige of impropriety immediately condemned by the faithful. Men who may be innocent subject to calumny. Gifts among hierarchy even among lesser clerical ranks in congratulations for promotion, birthdays is not uncommon. Although considering the record of Bishop Bransfield and homosexual networks within our Church the terrible injury to our credibility States’ Attorneys General rushing to investigate Chanceries exposing records of settled cases and unverified allegations to the injury of the innocent [the obligation of investigation by right rests with the Roman Pontiff who has neglected his responsibility] the faithful have due cause to be shaken. And wary of their clergy. The mistake is overreaction and furthering the damage. if we can’t give benefit of the doubt, any trust to the likes of Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, Archbishop Pietro Sambi [who took action on McCarrick] then evil has achieved complete triumph. There remain many clergy who are trying to fight the good fight in midst of the most trying circumstances. Dealing with punishment from the enemy without is tolerable from those within who we spend our lives to serve barely.

    • Thank you, Father Morello, for your words. I find it very difficult to believe that the likes of a Cardinal Burke would have anything sordid in his life or that he would have any real connection to Bransfield. Yes, people are too quick to assume that every priest, bishop and cardinal who is accused is automatically guilty. I know of one priest who was accused of sexual misconduct 23 years ago under circumstances which couldn’t have possibly taken place and by a person who was in the business of accusing priests to make easy money off of them. He never had a chance. They threw him in the New Hampshire prison in Concord and there he remains, probably till the day he dies. Perhaps you have heard of him—-Fr. Gordon McRae. He writes a wonderful blog called These Stone Walls.

      • Mary thanks are reciprocal. I’m not aware of Fr McRae’s blog. I’ll follow up. I’ve been out of the loop of Church politics until our current dilemma broke. In Christ’s love Fr Peter.

    • “Dealing with punishment from the enemy without is tolerable; from those within whom we spend our lives to serve, barely.” Fr. Morello I’m sure Jesus understands exactly how you feel… and thus we have a glimpse of what each of us has laid on Him in place of love, respect, fidelity and gratitude since the beginning of time. He is letting each one of us share in His agony, laity and clergy alike. None of us are sinless, but… isn’t that why He came? To give all who repent and take His hand a way back to the Father?

  7. “We’re living in a moment of Church history in which everyone who is clergy is suspect any possible vestige of impropriety immediately condemned by the faithful.”

    Such is the workplace environment of most lay people who work in companies or businesses where yes, with outsourcing the rule of the day and the backdrop. But it’s not getting “condemned by the faithful” but a fairly hypervigilant system of warnings, sometimes no warnings, just losing your job, period. And yes, there’s the beloved “politics” that can get you no where or out the door. The “little deal” being made into a “big deal.” Likewise being a whistleblower, even just critical? Not good.

    I know of a Diocese where a parish priest is “under investigation” for taking money from the proverbial second collection for YEARS and also “under investigation” with regard to his previous parish assignment. He was taken away in handcuffs not too long ago. He was able to bankroll his boyfriend, buy someone else a car and also a buy a home (over $300K) and invest more than $150K in renovations (public knowledge related to that piece of real estate with him still identified as the owner) a house gloriously 1 block up the street from the very rectory where he once lived and was cast out of. While this in “under investigation” the renovations on that house continue…the former parish remains in the dark, with no information from his friend, the Bishop (yes, it’s a legal matter now so no comment)… will there be any restitution from this thief to that parish?

    I would daresay there is far more underreaction than overreaction. When the Bishop arrives soon for a visit to that parish (as per his schedule), how many will “overreact” with regards to this issue or “underreact” and like I said previously…like a bunch of “dummies?”

    There’s only one way that being “dummies” works for the hierarchy and it involves “underreaction” sold as Christian charity and the money of the “dummies.”

    I send out prayers to clergy “fighting the good fight.” But that “fight” is NOT unique to the clergy.

    This world ain’t Heaven.

    • Yes I’m aware of what you say. And to your point I’ve encouraged Laity on the Internet and in my sermons to address the truth of our faith identify discrepancy with their pastors, bishops a right acknowledged in canon law. We’re bound to find fault in clergy when scrutinized and many good men will admit their failures as did Archbishop Viganò admitting “conscience” finally compelled him to react.

  8. Don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. When Vigano was given that cash gift he was told by staffers that it was a fairly common practice for visiting bishops in the U.S. to present such monetary gifts to the papal nuncio. Wisely, Vigano gave the funds away to charity.

  9. And might I add:

    “We’re living in a moment of Church history in which everyone who is clergy is suspect any possible vestige of impropriety immediately condemned by the faithful.”

    To what extent is “impropriety” condemned starting at the top by Bergoglio UNTIL and only when it’s impossible? to evade…amid how many “merciful” reinstatements…reappointments…”He went to therapy”…and still no response to Figueiredo?

    Please review McCarrick (full investigation still not complete), Danneels (backing up to Buona Sera Balcony), Maradiaga, Barros, ah, yes Zanchetta…

    Yes, with this going on at the top…it DOES indeed add to the burdens of clergy…and the laity.

    And with regards to money…folks get scolded by Bergoglio about borders and immigration and voting for Salvini (who Bergoglio won’t meet with)…the same Bergoglio who got how much in donations from Open Borders Soros? The same Bergoglio who asked for how many million from the Papal Foundation for a worthy hospital?

    Yes, this does indeed affect public perception of the clergy…especially considering what constitutes “action” and the fact that requests for clarifications in matters of faith and morals go unanswered.

    And this is not going to change until even on the parish level the “dummies” significantly limit donations and become even more vocal.

    This fear of harming the Church with a Bergoglio “retirement?” Every week it’s something else, another scandal or even more numbers, details…but Bergoglio’s “worried” about the “Our Father” and wants that petition clarified. He of course WON’T respond to actual requests for clarifications.

    “Lead us not into temptation?” Where is Bergoglio and his Team leading everyone?

    • This is an instructive comment. It shows the mindset of someone who is in the process of replacing their Christian faith with modern politics.

      • There is getting to be the appearance of the collection plate being turned into a clerical slush fund. Judas Iscariot was the first Apostolic treasurer. His first betrayal of Christ was when he stole from the Apostolic purse as related in John 12:4-6.

      • “This is an instructive comment. It shows the mindset of someone who is in the process of replacing their Christian faith with modern politics”

        And the worst part of my? comment? (or maybe notmy comment?) Sarcasm alert: we have a papacy and episcopacy which so unambiguously, clearly defines faith and morals/ Christian faith and will have nothing to do with wheeling and dealing (pun intended), legal wrangling, equivocations or silence/evasions, nonresponses or influence peddling or secularization or “going with the tide” or “modern politics.” It’s my ‘tude and tone which is FAR FAR worse than anything…and those who signed that open letter…FAR FAR worse and uncanonical …especially since it’s a Golden Age for Discernment and Spiritual Directors (Amoris Laetitia).

        We need to pray (the Rosary) and fast for sure…but also speak out…vocally, loudly and with our charity/money…and yes, involve the Authorities/the Law when necessary.

        Matthew 25:31-46 includes more options for charity than the Bishop’s Fund and yes more than even your parish.

        “We are committed to bringing about the healing that the good people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston require and can only pray for and work relentlessly to regain their renewed trust and confidence.

        Ah, healing! No restitution?

        In 2017, The poverty rate in West Virginia “was 19.1 percent, the fourth-highest in the country.” (PolitiFact West Virginia).

        While handing out “gifts” (not his money anyway)…did Bransfield care about that statistic?

        We get all worked up about responding with canon law awareness (which is good) but when will we start applying “natural law” not only to the sexual component of this scandal but also to the arrogant and sociopathic funding-it-all money part?

    • Joseph we need to support those bishops and cardinals who possess the authority to question Pope Francis and have demanded clarification on doctrinal matters and who oppose changes to Apostolic Tradition that the Pontiff neglects to correct and apparently supports by suggestion, subterfuge, and structural change. What Prof John Rist calls stealth. Most bishops remain silent on this and on the issue of consensual homosexuality among all clerical ranks, which underlies the mitigation of all moral doctrine and likely financial corruption. These men, homosexuals have made a moral choice sacrilegious in nature as said are prone to neglect traditional moral teaching and advance error that suits their depraved vision. The Pontiff has instead apparently elevated besides McCarrick, Cardinals Kevin Farrell, Cupich, Maradiaga who favor normalizing homosexuality. At this stage it may require an act of God to reverse course. The best you and I can do besides supporting hierarchy who oppose these policies is voice our views fairly, temperately but with the conviction of faith. All of us must also for our own salvation pray, including prayer for Pope Francis sacrifice, and offer whatever suffering Christ requires of us to convert. That is absolutely obligatory for each of us. Otherwise we simply make noise to little effect and endanger our own salvation.

      • Thank you, Fr. Morello. If my own “process” here has been a bit of a bumpy, overly dramatic and yes, an offensive ride, my apologies. At this point, I find your correction/counsel something of a consolation amid the non-resolution I rail against. At least I can repent, where that very repentance is itself because of Grace and my own weakness? That I must be the first to repent and can repent only by God’s Grace…consoles me. I myself require Divine Intervention.

        I will resolve to spend with God’s help and Our Lady’s intercession less time mostly venting “to little effect” remembering the Four Last Things. Aside from prayer and the duties, sacrifices of my state in life…the books and lectures of Dr. John Rist are time better spent. His summary of the Bergoglio papacy is the most succinct, accurate description out there. It is indeed that simple and yes, that dire. Thank you, Father. And God bless, Dr. John Rist.

        St. Augustine, pray for us.

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