Bransfield headed the diocese from 2005-2018. Pope Francis accepted his resignation in September 2018, just after Bransfield turned 75, the mandatory age at which Catholic bishops must offer their resignation.
Pope Francis then ordered Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to investigate allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his time in West Virginia. Investigators established that the bishop had engaged in a pattern of sexual malfeasance and serious financial misconduct.
Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his thirteen years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He was also found to have given large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.
Lori banned Bransfield from public ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Archdiocese of Baltimore in March. In July the Vatican imposed additional sanctions, including a ban on Bransfield living in his former diocese.
Brennan’s latest letter cited the Pope’s requirement that Bransfield make amends for some of the harm he has caused. While Pope Francis instructed Bransfield that the nature and extent of the personal amends are to be decided in consultation with Brennan, Bransfield “has consistently declined to do so,” Brennan said.
“Consequently, I have presented this plan to him,” said the bishop.
Bransfield must make apologies to the victims of sexual harassment for the “severe emotional and spiritual harm” he caused them. He must apologize for the “grievous harm” he has caused to the faithful of the diocese and to the reputation of the Catholic Church in West Virginia. He must apologize to diocesan employees for the “culture of intimidation and retribution” he created.
Bransfield spent nearly one million dollars on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as bishop of his former diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. He often stayed in luxury accommodations on both work trips and personal vacations.
He often travelled with young priests in their twenties. Bransfield was accused of sexual harassment by at least one of his travel companions.
The bishop spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesan money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, DC during his time in office.
Bishop Brennan said the diocese believes a request for the $792,000 restitution from Bransfield constitutes “a fair and just amends” to the diocese for “what were clearly and solely personal expenses.” His letter detailed the results of the diocese’s financial reviews and consideration of his personal expenses and expenditures on his “luxurious lifestyle.” The proposed restitution does not include the $110,000 penalty Bransfield owes the IRS.
All proceeds would go to a special fund to provide counseling, care and support for sexual abuse victims, Brennan said.
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Instead of receiving an ordinary bishop’s stipend, Bransfield must accept a stipend of only $736 per month, equal to the stipend of a retired priest who has served 13 years in the diocese. The diocese will still provide his Medicare supplemental health care coverage, but Bransfield must pay for his pharmacy benefit plan and must be personally responsible for long-term health care and disability policies.
Bransfield must either purchase or return the car he was provided upon his retirement. He may not be buried within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s diocesan cemetery upon his death.
“I wish to make clear that it is not my intention to impoverish the former bishop,” Brennan said.
“While not a dollar-for-dollar restitution for the former bishop’s excessive expenditure of diocesan funds, I believe that this amount reflects the spirit of Pope Francis’ requirement that Bishop Bransfield make ‘amends for some of the harm that he has caused’.”
If Bransfield accepts the proposed effort to make amends, it would be “an act of restorative justice” from him. The proposal “is also for his own spiritual good and his own healing as a man who professes to follow Christ,” Brennan said.
It is now up to Bransfield whether to accept these measures and “accept responsibility for his actions which have caused grave harm to this diocese he once led.”