At Mass, Faithful Say Bishop Bransfield’s Apology Not Enough
WHEELING — Catholic faithful attending Mass at St. Michael Parish in Wheeling Saturday evening were unified in saying former Bishop Michael Bransfield showed little remorse in the apology he issued to parishioners across West Virginia this week.
Current Bishop Mark Brennan has expressed interest in hearing what they had to say about Bransfield’s apology.
He said it was up to each individual church member to decide if the six-sentence, four-paragraph apology issued by Bransfield — which essentially amounted to him saying he believed he did nothing wrong when it came to extravagant spending and sexually harassing young adult male seminarians — was sufficient.
“He is not at all sorry to the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Church,” said Angela Grella, referring to Bransfield. “He says he is apologizing ‘if’ he has done anything wrong, and he is not admitting anything. It’s ridiculous.”
Bransfield on Aug. 15 released his short letter to the body of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. In it he acknowledges paying back $441,000 to cover his personal expenses paid for by the Diocese — even thought he maintains that his expenses for first-class travel on personal business, jewelry and millions to renovate his homes were legitimate expenses.
“I have done so even though I believed such reimbursements to me were proper,” Bransfield states in the apology, referring to what he repaid the Diocese.
He goes on to address allegations of sexual harassment reported against him by younger priests and seminarians serving under his direction.
“Although that was never my intent, if anything that I said or did caused others to feel that way, then I am profoundly sorry,” Bransfield said.
The apology didn’t go far enough for those at St. Michaels Church.
“Unfortunately, this all should have been turned over to the law,” Paula Jones said. “If it would have been anybody else accused of sexual harassment, it would have. And he stole money.”
Others who didn’t wish to give their names made comments such as, “I don’t think he got what he should have” and that Bransfield got a “slap on the wrist” from the Diocese.”
“He shouldn’t get a pension,” said Joe Bourgo. “He stole from everybody in the valley.”
The agreement to make amends, as approved by the Conference of Bishops in Rome, required Bransfield to repay the $441,000 and also to write a letter of apology to the faithful. He also wrote personal letters of apology to at least three seminarians that he allegedly sexually harassed.
In turn, Bransfield was allowed to keep his title, and also allowed to collect a monthly $2,250 pension, along with health care provided by the Diocese. He would have been eligible for a retirement package worth more than $6,500 under normal circumstances.
Dorothy Winiesdorffer said the apology “could have been longer,” but it was time for parishioners to move on from the issue.
“We need to get it behind us,” she said. “He apologized for himself, and there is not much we can do now.”
Bransfield retired from his position as bishop in September 2018 upon turning 75. Immediately following his retirement, allegations surfaced that he mismanaged church funds, along with sexual harassing priests and other misconduct.
When it comes to amends, church historians believe this is the first case involving a bishop being made to pay restitution and forced to make an apology — either publicly or privately.
“This is unprecedented in the U.S. Church,” said Tim Bishop, spokesman for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. “No bishop has ever been asked to reimburse a diocese, had pension cut, or been asked too apologize to the people he served.”
After Brennan said he wished to hear from the people of the Diocese and their thoughts on the apology, the Diocese has received emails and comments from its parishioners, according to Bishop.
A majority of those providing comments were not accepting of the apology, according to Bishop.
“The Bishop (Brennan) said you can judge a man by the words he uses,” Bishop said. “The majority of those responding do not feel the apology goes far enough.”