During his time there, Bransfield spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesan money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, D.C.
He also spent nearly $1 million on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He often stayed in luxury accommodations on both work trips and personal vacations, and gave large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.
"I am writing to apologize for any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me during my tenure as Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese," Bransfield said in his August apology.
"There have been allegations that by certain words and actions I have caused certain priests and seminarians to feel sexually harassed," he added.
"That was never my intent," Branfield wrote in August, adding that "if anything I said or did caused others to feel that way, then I am profoundly sorry."
In his letter to the diocese on Thursday, Bishop Brennan said that he had published Bransfield's apology "without alteration or comment, trusting that our people would see it for the non-apology that it was, and they did."
Brennan also acknowledged that many people in the diocese believe Bransfield "got off far too lightly" for his actions but said further prosecution or punishment was unlikely.
"Only the civil authorities can charge a person with a crime or send him to jail, the Church can do neither," Brennan said, but added "to be clear the diocese cooperates with civil authorities who are investigating illegal behavior."
Although Bransfield has repaid more than $400,000, the diocese had originally sought nearly $800,000 from the bishop. Brennan said that any civil suit by the diocese to recover more money was very unlikely to succeed because of First Amendment protections on the internal ordering of churches.
"We did get some satisfaction relative to the Bransfield affair," wrote Brennan. "To the best of my knowledge, the Holy See has never told a bishop in this country to apologize to his people and to make some financial restitution to them."
"Rome did that to Bishop Bransfield, even if the 'apology' was anemic and the financial restitution, though substantial, was less than we initially sought," Brennan said, calling it a "shot across the bow" to other American bishops that "outrageous conduct will not be tolerated."
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"As some of you have told me," Brennan concluded, "we need to put the Bransfield saga behind us and move on to the work before us: making Christ known and loved in the state and serving those in need."
Ed Condon is a canon lawyer and worked as Catholic News Agency's Washington DC editor until December 2020.