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Analysis: Bp. Bransfield, the USCCB, and the Holy Spirit

By JD Flynn

Prelates pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel during a day of prayer Nov. 12, 2018 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Washington D.C., Jun 6, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- When the U.S. bishops arrive in Baltimore next week for their second plenary meeting since a year of serious crisis began last June, they will do so under the specter of another demoralizing scandal. This one involves a well-connected bishop, a ledger of extravagant gifts, and allegations of abuse from priests and seminarians subject to the bishop’s authority.

The Washington Post reported June 5 that a months-long ecclesiastical investigation of Bishop Michael Bransfield, formerly of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, had uncovered evidence that the bishop had a reputation for being sexually inappropriate with seminarians and young priests, that he may have had a substance-abuse problem, and that he used diocesan funds generated from its Texas oil fields to support a lifestyle of luxury, and to give $350,000 in cash gifts to Vatican officials, fellow bishops, and other clerics.

More troubling, the Post’s report suggests that when seminarians and young priests raised concerns about Bransfield’s behavior, they were met with either indifference or an unwillingness of authorities to intervene.

Some Catholics have already noted that Bransfield’s gift-giving habit likely gives some indication of how Theodore McCarrick’s ecclesial career prospered during his decades of sexual abuse.

The former cardinal is also reputed to have given large cash gifts to brother bishops and to Vatican officials, which might have contributed to his apparent ability to escape the consequences of his actions, and to navigate curial back channels with ease.

Catholics have also asked whether there is any evidence that an apparent culture of clubby loyalties cultivated through “personal gifts” has actually come to an end.

The revelation of Bransfield’s gift-giving habit has infuriated many Catholics, who wonder whether bishops can ever really be expected to hold one another to accountability, if five-figure checks are exchanged between some of them with a certain degree of regularity.

It might be difficult, some Catholics note, to tell someone to change his ways after he has given you $29,000 to renovate your apartment.

Is this, those Catholics have asked, what Pope Francis means when he condemns clericalism?

Several bishops who will be present in Baltimore have received large gifts from Bransfield. But of course, the apparent malfeasance of Bishop Bransfield does not impugn all U.S. bishops, or even those bishops who received significant gifts from him.

In fact, some of those bishops have demonstrable track records of acting with integrity. And bustarella culture – the customs of giving cash or checks to visiting bishops or dignitaries – is so common in the Church that it would be unreasonable to conclude that every person who has received gifts, even large gifts, from figures like Bransfield or McCarrick bears some personal culpability for their ecclesiastical careers. Indeed, some bishops maintain charity accounts with the financial gifts they’re given, and use that money to help struggling families and others.

But what now seems clear is that in a culture in which large cash gifts are distributed with some regularity, the appearance of impropriety is everywhere, and the probability of cover-ups and corruption is quite high. Such a culture, many Catholics are likely to conclude, is, at the very least, systemically deficient at preventing a kind of laissez faire tolerance for malfeasance

For that reason, the report on Bransfield does further damage to the credibility of the U.S. bishops, at a moment when, for many practicing Catholics, their credit is already running quite low.

It is especially worth noting that the credibility of bishops is not suffering only among the usual crowd of doctrinal dissenters and social libertines. While it is clear that this crisis has been exploited by some for political or person gain, for profit, and to advance ideological agendas, U.S. bishops would be mistaken to underestimate the despondence this crisis has occasioned among their most ardent supporters, and their most orthodox parishioners.

It is faithful, practicing, engaged Catholics – chancery staffers and parish priests among them – who, at this moment, are struggling mightily to gauge, and come to terms with, a problem that might be much larger in scale than they had initially envisioned.

The initial McCarrick scandal raised questions about a particular situation: “Who knew what, and when, about this man’s sexual abuse?”

The Bransfield report forces much broader questions: “Are there are other bishops living like this? How many people knew and did nothing? How many bishops are buying silence with ‘gifts?’”

The breadth of those questions, for some Catholics, has led to a new level of discouragement.

Of course, Catholics – bishops, priests, religious, and laity alike – most likely are suffering from a kind of crisis fatigue. But the Bransfield report has been a sign to most observers that the Church has not yet turned a corner. In fact, to many, the scandal itself is still unfolding.

Pragmatically, the U.S. bishops have made concrete progress in addressing the substantive issues that have emerged in the scandal, as has Pope Francis.

The bishops in Baltimore will vote on a set of guidelines to accompany the pope’s Vos estis lux mundi. They will likely debate the degree to which lay review boards should be featured more prominently in the draft text, and some bishops are likely to call for a much more explicit call for their use by metropolitans in the investigation of bishops accused of misconduct or neglect.

By most expert accounts, the norms of Vos estis lux mundi represent a manageable and practical approach to addressing the issue of episcopal misconduct and neglect.

At the same time, the bishops will vote on a document of episcopal standards – a kind of episcopal code of conduct – and on a set of guidelines for how they should treat bishops who have been removed from office because of misconduct or negligence.

The measures the bishops have developed this year, in an often rocky partnership with the Roman Curia and Pope Francis, are, despite the challenges in the process, widely considered to be good tools, and many experts have told CNA they expect they will bear positive effect at managing the problems of episcopal misconduct and coverup.

But the neat efficiency of those measures is likely to be seen, by some Catholics, as a symbol of a broader problem.

Writing this week in National Review, Kevin Williamson observed that “conservatives believe …that most problems are to be managed rather than solved, that we should aim at mitigation rather than transformation, that we are better positioned to assuage than to conquer, that things are what they are and must be dealt with on that basis.”

As a result, he said, conservatives very often are a disappointment to “the utopians of the Left and the utopians of the Right.” The observation might well apply to the situation of the Church. Bishops, very often, and especially when working through the episcopal conference, seem to be more inclined to manage problems, especially those they believe to be tied up with the intractable reality of evil.

Bishops, at least contemporary American bishops, tend to address problems through new policies or processes, which are unlikely to have dramatic or immediately visible effect.

It seems clear that their approach has advantages. Few would dispute that the policies advanced after the abuse crisis of 2002 have fostered a cultural change in the U.S. Church on the issue of child and youth protection. Many argue that over time, they’ve made the Catholic Church one of the safest places for children in America. But they are wonky, technical, bureaucratic, and the cultural shift they foster takes time.

But angry and discouraged American Catholics have not spent the last year calling for policies. They’ve spent that time calling for dramatic symbols of contrition and resolution for change. They’ve called for prophetic voices, and maligned their bishops for not seeming to measure up.

Catholics of all backgrounds, viewpoints, and perspectives have demanded a sign that things in the U.S. Church really will be different, and they don’t feel they’ve been heard.

The issue is that the bishops are working toward reform, and most of the Church is calling for renewal.

Reform comes often through new disciplines, policies, processes, and agreements. Renewal rushes in like fire, bringing new energy and vitality, bringing new freedom and hope. Both are important, and both are needed now.

The U.S. bishops can’t make a renewal happen. At least not in their committee meetings and floor debates. To win the trust of Catholics, it seems they would do well to acknowledge that.

If the bishops in Baltimore express that their efforts at reform are intended to address specific problems, and will have limited effectiveness, Catholics may be comforted by their candor. And if they express that in an ecclesial culture that seems, to many, fundamentally broken, the renewal that’s needed can come only through the Holy Spirit, their humility might help them to reestablish bonds of solidarity with their flocks.

And if the bishops spend their time praying for the Holy Spirit to bring renewal to the Church, and inviting other Catholics to do the same, they might be surprised by the results.

Renewal doesn’t usually come from the top. It doesn’t usually come in familiar shapes, or recognizable programs. It often comes through outsiders- through eccentric prophets or weird ascetics. Figures like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Hildegard of Bingen, Blessed John Henry Newman, or Dorothy Day.

Reform can gradually shift culture. Renewal can upend it. And the bishops, if they wish to be candid with U.S. Catholics, might consider admitting the limitations of their reforms, and then beg the Holy Spirit to renew the Church.

On Sunday, the Church will celebrate Pentecost.

In the year since last Pentecost, the Church has faced the McCarrick revelations, the Pennsylvania grand report, the specter federal and state investigations, allegations of abuse or neglect on the part of more bishops and cardinals, police raids in chanceries, the Vigano letters, the disappointing November USCCB meeting, the Zanchetta scandal, the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, allegations of grave negligence on the part of USCCB president Daniel DiNardo, and now the Bransfield report.

There has not yet been any substantive release of information on McCarrick. There have not yet been answers to the straightforward questions about his finances, his allies, and his protectors.

Those things have demoralized faithful, practicing, sincere Catholics. They point to the need for reform. But they also point to the need for divine intervention.

As the bishops begin their meeting, there may be no more important plea on their lips than: “Come, Holy Spirit!”


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20 Comments

  1. “renewal that’s needed can come only through the Holy Spirit, their humility might help them to reestablish bonds of solidarity with their flocks”

    The reality of the problem is that the elite within the Church have forgotten who they were meant to serve. And this reality has revealed itself in Spiritual Corruption, manifest as collusion with the on-going braking of the Second Commandment

    “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”

    The violation of God’s Word (Will)
    “Paint a picture according to the vision you see and with the inscription. “Jesus I trust in thee”. I desire that this picture be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the world”

    His Will was manifest by the actions of Sr Faustina, as she immediately accepted, and acted upon It, with singular pure intent, to paint/draw the said picture. The Church states that Private Revelation is only binding on those who receive it, assuming of course that they are of sound mind, and have accepted within their heart, that they have received a message from God, requesting them to do something, as the recipient would feel obliged to fulfil that request, and in the case of Sr Faustina, she acted immediately to His request.

    Logic says that if the given Revelation was accepted and endorsed by the Church, which it was, then the acknowledged request attributed to God, contained within it, would oblige the Church also to accept that request.
    The Church fulfilled her obligation to God’s request, by promising that the said Image would be presented to the faithful for veneration throughout the (Churches of the) World, with the inscription “Jesus I trust in thee” So Yes, we now have a picture in God’s house on earth with this inscription, but it is not the painting/picture/image requested by God.

    — Catechism of the Catholic Church 2147
    Promises made to others (In this case the faithful) in God’s name engage the divine honor, fidelity, truthfulness, and authority. They must be respected in justice. To be unfaithful to them is to misuse God’s name and in some way to make God out to be a liar. (1 John 1:10)

    “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”

    The gravity of this sin when it is fully acknowledge has the capacity to create a fundamental shift of culture within the Church, as they the Bishops will have to face the full reality of a Priesthood that served itself rather than God. As actual words attributed to God by the Church that contain a request which the Church has endorsed and acted upon, must not be misused, distorted or twisted in ways that impugn the character of God, and then be used by man for his own ends, to do so, would be to say that God was made for man, not man for God, in effect the elite within the Church would be conspiring with the Devil.

    The elite/Bishops within Church need to make a Public Act of Contrition for this infringement of the Second Commandment.To do this, they need to act out these instructions given by Jesus Christ to His Church

    “I desire that this picture be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the world “

    Commencing in Rome by recapturing (Staging) the original ceremony by displaying the
    present self-serving blasphemous Divine Mercy Image, an image of Clericalism,
    then remove (Destroy) it publicly and replace it with the true image, an Image of Broken Man, and then in humility venerate it in a symbolic way that cannot be misunderstood by mankind, then re-enact this action with the help of the Bishops throughout the whole Church (World).

    If this were to happen a Transfiguration would occur within the Church at this moment in time that would resurrect the true face of Jesus Christ, a face that reflects Truth and humility before all those she is called to serve in love and compassion. From this base one of humility before God the Church can proceed to tackle many of her on-going problems/dilemmas bringing about a fundamental shift of cultural within the church, while creating new structures.

    Please consider continuing via the link
    http://www.catholicethos.net/errors-amoris-laetitia/#comment-236

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • Dear Kevin,
      do you have an image of Broken Man you refer to? I am a devoted Divine Mercy advocate/practitioner but though I have heard of before never have seen what is suppose to be the original Divine Mercy Image. Please reply with image thank you!
      God bless,
      tom

      • Thank you Tomas for your comment.

        From One of several informative Posts; via the link given above

        Post: Kevin Walters July 22, 2017 at 5:05 am | Permalink
        For clarity to the above post, I will quote extracts of comments from another participant, on another site.

        Michael said; I agree with this statement of yours. It sounds real and true….
        “We can assume that her attempt to paint the image would be very childlike in
        effect a distorted/broken reflection of the vision she saw. This
        reflection is a self-reflection of herself but also a reflection of all
        of us before God, that is one of been flawed and sinful.”

        Michael’s questions

        —Where did you find out about the existence of the distorted/broken image, where can one be located?
        —Is Faustina really a saint in your opinion?
        —Why would the Church try to misrepresent her?
        —All of this undermines the credibility of the Church even further don’t you think?

        My response to Michael.

        Initially information given to the laity in the late nineties stated
        “At first she tried to paint/sketch it herself, she was no artist and failed after man trials (Attempts), someone was found who could and did paint it”
        As with all insightful information of this nature relating to such occurrences, it is fair to assume that these attempts with many of her personal possessions would be kept by her religious order.

        “Is Faustina really a saint in your opinion?”
        She was uneducated coming from a very poor family with only three year’s very basic education. She was very innocent and trusting we can deduce this because after her first vision she immediately attempted to paint Jesus herself and for this reason I believe her vision was genuine and received in total trust. This simple trust is often seen in many of our saints.

        “Why would the Church try to misrepresent her?”
        Initially Pius XII put her writings on the Index of Prohibited Books also it has been said that her writings would still be gathering dust in a Vatican Archive, where Pope John XXIII sent them, if she were not Polish. I can only assume that they knew that God’s Word (Will) is inviolate and that they would have had to accept her original distorted picture in its simplicity and then venerate it throughout the whole church, this creates many problems in relation to how the church perceives herself in relationship to the forgiveness of sin (The Sacrament of absolution) also it includes the self-image of the priesthood.

        “All of this undermines the credibility of the Church even further don’t you think?”
        Yes and no, as the revelation given to Sister Faustina calls for the leadership of the Church to give account for themselves before God and mankind, if this were to happen these words by her would be fulfilled

        “The time will come when this work, which God so commands (will be) as though in complete ruin, and suddenly the action of God will come upon the scene with great power which will bear witness to the truth. It will be as a new splendour for the church, though it has been dormant in it from long ago”

        My Post above, poses this question to the elite within the Church (and all of us).
        Is an act of humility too much to ask?

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

          • Thank you Tomas for your comment, my explanation confirms that I personally do not have the original painting or image of the painting by Sr Faustina, which was stated as “As with all insightful information of this nature relating to such occurrences, it is fair to assume that these attempts with many of her personal possessions would be kept by her religious order”

            But I do carry a reflection of the said image within my own heart which is a personal broken ‘self-Image’ which is what the True Divine Image/Message is all about.

            kevin your brother
            In Christ

  2. The USCCB was “formed” by Cardinal Bernardin, Cardinal Mahony and ex-Cardinal McCarrick, all of whom were opposed to chastity and the 6th Commandment. Cardinal Bernardin led the sex revolution for the network of apostate US bishops, like the criminal sex abuser Bishop Ryan of Illinois.

    The USCCB, like all Bishops conferences, is not a part of the Church. Pope Benedict reminded us of that.

    The USCCB has been used by McCarrick etc to disobey and thwart the efforts of renewal by Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict.

    The USCCB has been used to prevent renewal: it was and is used to prevent the implementation of JP2’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae; it was used to prevent the enforcement of Cardinal Ratzinger’s instruction to US Bishops on Canon 915.

    The USCCB exists to prevent the Catholic faith.

    Conferences exist to destroy Catholic faith. They exist only as a protection racket for the apostate Bishops like Bernardin and Mahony and McCarrick and Cupich and McElroy to prevent Catholic faith, culture and life.

    The apostate Bishops of the USCCB (meaning very many of them, including the powerful like Cupich) are post-Christian, they share the disbelief of the former head of the German Bishops Conference, Robert Zollitsch, who proclaimed their mutual disbelief on Holy Saturday 2009, in a televised interview: Jesus did not die to atone for our sins and save us from slavery to sin.

    The USCCB is the bureaucracy of anti-Christ.

    • Because that is what they are. In fact, the terms used are overly reticent since reference is being made to heretics, sodomites, fornicators, and adulterers.

  3. So, the financially corrupt, sexually perverted, and doctrinally heretical American episcopacy is going to be saved by a modernist “renewal” inexplicably brought about by “divine intervention” and embodied in “eccentric prophets and weird ascetics” such as, God help us, Dorothy Day. Sorry, but this delusional fantasy is the pious twaddle and “solemn nonsense” that has been peddled to Catholics in this country ever since the “New Pentecost” ushered in by the Great and Glorious Second Vatican Council with its poisonous “fruits” that are apparent to anyone who is not willfully blind. Yes, change will indeed come, but it will come by the efforts of state attorneys general, DOJ prosecutors, federal and state police investigators, and civil and criminal trial judges who even at this moment are pursuing the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization that the Catholic Church in this country has horrifyingly become. Bring it on, and the sooner the better.

  4. The bishops need to focus on ridding the Church of abuse and the first form to eliminate is liturgical abuse, then physical, mental, and spiritual abuses. If they want more priestly vocations they need to ban the use of altar girls, follow John Paul II’s guidelines on the strict use of extraordinary ministers for the distribution of communion, and the retention of Latin and Gregorian chants. The Mass is not their playground and disobedience to “T”radition, holy scripture, or Canon law, can not be tolerated. Piety, sacredness, and devotion all need to be restored, otherwise the bishops are not doing God’s will. Please, everyone, read Dr. Taylor Marshall’s book, “Infiltration”.

  5. From the article;”The issue is that the bishops are working toward reform, and most of the Church is calling for renewal.”

    The first part, about the bishops, I believe to be false. The bishops are not really interested in reform. They just want the issue to go away so life can go on as before — do as they darn well please with funds, travel, posh living, and illicit relationships.

    The second part of the sentence I suspect is true. Those who see up-close, and read credible sources, of what is continuing to transpire know renewal is the path to change. Centuries of such entrenched behavior and custom is not reformed. Its wrongness is openly admitted, overturned, and rewritten.

  6. “conservatives believe …that most problems are to be managed rather than solved, that we should aim at mitigation rather than transformation, that we are better positioned to assuage than to conquer” and liberals believe problems are to be exploited for ideological and monetary gain! Come Holy Spirit! I did not know I was a Utopian conservative because I thought churchmen should obey the 10 Commandments and lead by example. We are all sinners, I understand that, and I have no idea how much more temptation clerics endure from evil than mere married men, but St. Jean Vianney’s life gives me a clue. What I do know is I discerned not to seek ordination because I was afraid I would masturbate and that was without any spiritual direction or seminary formation (my parents and Catholic education helped me form a conscience), so please forgive me for being disappointed in my spiritual fathers and shepherds. God will renew the Church, there is no doubt about that, but will I be alive to see that wonderful metanoia!

  7. Malachi Martin was a con man of the highest order but he knew for years that most U.S. bishops were either incompetent or out and out crooks. He claimed in an interview that he told JP 11 to fire 80 % of the American bishops. In some ways Martin was a prophet.

  8. I hear too much silence from too many bishops on the moral teaching of the Church (e.g. Ten Commandments) and too much noise from too many bishops on prudential concerns in the world (e.g. political correctness). Why is that? I thought clerics were supposed to proclaim the fullness of truth and administer the sacraments to the laity in the Church and the laity was supposed to be the leaven in the evangelization of the world.

    Saints Peter and Paul practiced what they taught. I’d like to see more bishops teach what they ought to teach and practice it themselves. I don’t need to hear bishops talk about global warming, gun control, and soup kitchens. As a parent I need to hear them teach about the consequences of promiscuity, contraception, abortion and divorce and then be available to hear our confessions and offer us communion.

    There are far too many Catholic that believe the Church is old fashion and needs to catch up to the modern world not realizing they are on the slippery slope to hell. I fear this includes a cabal of bishops as well.

  9. Not sure what is being said by this, Kevin, at the end of your post – the Divine Mercy Image is most blessed and a gift from the Beloved, in every Chapel, Church, etc…:

    So Yes, we now have a picture in God’s house on earth with this inscription, but it is not the painting/picture/image requested by God.

    “I desire that this picture be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the world “

    Commencing in Rome by recapturing (Staging) the original ceremony by displaying the
    present self-serving blasphemous Divine Mercy Image, an image of Clericalism,
    then remove (Destroy) it publicly and replace it with the true image, an Image of Broken Man, and then in humility venerate it in a symbolic way that cannot be misunderstood by mankind, then re-enact this action with the help of the Bishops throughout the whole Church (World).

  10. Kevin – give us the Image that you speak of as the true one, link it or whatever you have to do, but give us the Image that you are thinking is the original and true one that needs to be present in chapels, churches, etc, throughout the world.

  11. Right now Kevin this is the height and hubris of blasphemy and sacrilege: Commencing in Rome by recapturing (Staging) the original ceremony by displaying the
    present self-serving blasphemous Divine Mercy Image, an image of Clericalism,
    then remove (Destroy) it publicly and replace it with the true image, an Image of Broken Man, and then in humility venerate it in a symbolic way that cannot be misunderstood by mankind, then re-enact this action with the help of the Bishops throughout the whole Church (World).

  12. “Few would dispute that the policies advanced after the abuse crisis of 2002 have fostered a cultural change in the U.S. Church on the issue of child and youth protection.”

    Really? I think many would. This line sounds like propaganda to make devout Catholics believe that the bishops have radically changed. The reality is that after 2002 they simply became more “discreet” in protecting and promoting their own – and this worked until McCarrick and now Bransfield got caught. We can be confident there are numerous others fervently praying to the Holy Spirit that they don’t get caught either. The recent promotion of Wilton Gregory to Washington as successor to McCarrick and Wuerl is proof positive that little if anything has changed. These men have to promote their own so that nobody catches on to the way they are still operating.

    The whole point of the McCarrick scandal is that after 2002, the cover-up by bishops for other bishops became subtler and more insidious. Focusing our attention on the issue of “child abuse” continues to be a way in which the bishops distract the faithful from the far greater and larger issue, the homosexually-dominated clerical culture of the episcopacy and presbyterate.

    It is going to be very, very difficult for devout Catholics and faithful Catholic publications like CWR to realize that the bishops continue to admit only what they have to, and then call it transparency. A far more critical and less trusting posture is going to be necessary on the part of laity if they truly want to see anything in episcopal culture really change.

    JD, you have worked for bishops. Can you honestly say that they have been forthcoming in admitting the extent of the homosexualist culture that predominates in seminaries and chanceries?

  13. The question is asked: where do bishops get all that money…?

    Well, there is the truly inspiring case of Bishop Fulton Sheen. As national director for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for sixteen years, he raised hundreds of millions–ten million of which was donated from his very own, well-earned private bank account.

    I recall hearing that he also took delight in taking noon walks on city streets and selecting really-needy folks, and opening his pockets to them. Paper money, not pocket change. Great hobby and the common touch.

    Sheen wrote over 70 books, and was on the airwaves a lot, of course, and so simply made lots of money on royalties, a cassette ministry and such, but which he did not keep for himself. A human sieve with regard to well-earned money.

    Also this, relative to fine linens. Long before it was public knowledge, a former St. Louis altar boy (by then well along in years) for Fr. Sheen recounted to me how he arrived at the sacristy a few minutes early one morning, only to find Fr. Sheen not quite finished robing–with his hair shirt still uncovered. He even kept to this secret and daily wardrobe during the hot-lights filming of the TV series Life is Worth Living.

    Sheen’s first book, in 1925, was God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy, later published by Image in 1958 which I still have and which was a life ring for me in the 1960s during my undergraduate years at a secular university.

    In summary, big bucks, handouts to both big institutions and not-so-big street strangers, both, combined with a well-worn hair shirt. Fulton Sheen, pray for (all of) us.

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