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Diocese Opens Another Avenue for Reporting Abuse

Bransfield

WHEELING — The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia has partnered with another third-party reporting system to report abuse and harassment.

The diocese announced this week it is working with Oregon-based software and compliance management company Navex Global to introduce a new version of the EthicsPoint software, intended to report suspected financial, professional and personal misconduct of a priest, deacon, religious, or lay employee of the diocese, parish, or Catholic school.

This is in addition to the national reporting system, the Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service, which is designed to receive reports of sexual abuse, as well as interference with investigations of abuse, and relay them to lay professionals within the diocese who are to assist the Archbishop with investigations.

“This reporting system will give priests, religious, and laypeople a safe, honest channel for reporting and expressing concerns regarding members of the Church, including bishops. This system ensures that the voices of those who have concerns are heard, and the allegations are properly investigated,” diocese spokesman Tim Bishop said in a press release.

“This new system offers an extra layer of accountability and gives anyone who may have been harmed a guarantee that their voices will be heard,” Bishop Mark Brennan added. “We know that it is important for people who come forward in good faith to be able to report anonymously.

EthicsPoint allows for this.”

Even with the internal reporting mechanisms in place, Brennan emphasized that abuse be reported to the authorities first.

“The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston encourages reporting to civil authorities first and foremost, if a crime has been committed,” Brennan said.

Judy Jones, Midwest Associate Leader for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, agreed that the first course of action for abuse victims should be to report to the police. Jones said she didn’t see the value of a second reporting mechanism, if there was intimidation, fear of reprisal or other factors that would leave victims afraid to use the first one.

“I thought they were doing everything they were already doing everything they were supposed to be doing to help,” Jones said Tuesday. “I don’t know what good this is going to do.”

Locally, abuse and harassment allegations marked the later years of disgraced former bishop Michael Bransfield, who retired in 2018, with Pope Francis immediately appointing Baltimore Archbishop William Lori as his temporary replacement. Lori handed over the reins to the Most Rev. Mark Brennan last July as the new bishop.

Over his 12-year tenure as bishop, Bransfield was accused of numerous instances of sexual harassment of adults. In addition, Bransfield is also accused of “recklessly spend(ing) diocesan funds for his own personal use,” according to an internal report on his antics, traveling frequently, and almost exclusively first-class, and spending diocesan money on gifts, alcohol and flowers, as well as funding a series of remodeling efforts on his personal residences on the faithfuls dime.

As of last week, the diocese reported that it is still awaiting guidance from the Vatican on how to proceed with corrective action against Bransfield. Brennan speculated that the delay may be to the severe effects of COVID-19 in Italy. He had earlier said that Bransfield’s efforts to make amends could see him leave the Catholic Church in good standing.

Jones said that the slow rate of response and lack of immediate consequences for Bransfield was a black eye on the church.

“He’s getting away with this, just like all of the bishops who got away with it, and he did so much harm,” Jones said. “He should be defrocked. Anybody else would be in jail!”

Making amends means that Bransfield would be required to, among other things, repay $792,638 in restitution and reduce his monthly compensation package from $6,200 to $736, which is a stipend equal to the pension of a priest who served 13 years. He was also required to return or purchase the diocese’s car, and pay for his own prescription drug plan. It was also required that Bransfield apologize to the faithful in West Virginia and the diocesan employees, according to previously published reports.

While clerical work is slow going, earthly concerns have been ongoing. Last year, two civil lawsuits were filed against the Diocese on behalf of seminary staff who alleged sexual misconduct against Bransfield. One case was settled out-of-court in August for an undisclosed sum of money. A second lawsuit was filed in September.

To report suspected cases of sexual abuse of children by clergy, religious or lay personnel of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, contact one of the Bishop’s designees at 1-888-434-6237. The proper extensions are listed below.

Sr. Ellen F. Dunn, O.P., ext. 264

Bryan Minor, ext. 263

Tim Bishop, ext. 353

The Very Rev. Dennis R. Schuelkens Jr., V.E., ext. 270

Or, call the Office of Safe Environment: 304-230-1504

Confidential complaint forms can also be picked up from local parishes or can be requested by mail from the Safe Environment Coordinator, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, P.O. Box 230, Wheeling, WV 26003.

Online reports may be made, either to the Diocese at dwc.org/accountability, or nationwide at reportbishopabuse.org.

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