Michael Bransfield Agrees to Pay Wheeling-Charleston Diocese $441,000, Offers ‘Apology’ to Faithful
WHEELING — Michael Bransfield is apologizing for “any scandal or wonderment” he caused during his reign as bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in which he was accused of bilking church funds and sexually harassing at least three men.
The disgraced bishop, who resigned in September 2018, submitted a letter to the diocese and its faithful Saturday begging for forgiveness as part of his amends allowing him to leave the Roman Catholic Church in good standing.
In his letter, Bransfield acknowledged “that by certain words and actions I have caused certain priests and seminarians to feel sexually harassed” and said he was “profoundly sorry.” A church report noted that Bransfield harassed at least three men during his tenure.
Sources indicated he has written all three of them a private letter offering a personal apology.
Bransfield also has paid the diocese $441,000 for unauthorized benefits during his tenure, the diocese announced today.
The amends are part of a multi-prong reconciliation process announced last November by Bishop Mark Brennan, who succeeded Bransfield a year ago, in which he asked his predecessor to repent for misappropriating church funds and allegedly sexually harassing other men of the cloth.
The amends are not as harsh as the ones Brennan announced last year, but were approved this month by Pope Francis as a way for Bransfield to “make personal amends for some of the harm he caused,” Brennan said.
In a scathing report compiled by the Roman Catholic Church last year, Bransfield was accused of spending lavishly on alcohol, going on expensive trips and making sexually explicit remarks to other men. He also created a non-profit “Bishops Fund” that he used to direct money to his various pet projects around West Virginia before it was shut down last year.
The $441,000 that Bransfield has already paid as apart of his amends, along with the $1.2 million set aside by the sale of the diocese’s mansion in Wheeling, will benefit victims of abuse, Brennan said.
Tim Bishop, the diocese’s spokesman, said the situation was a “scandal (Bransfield) created” and the former bishop’s public apology “speaks for itself, and we did not write it for him.”
“The faithful are welcomed to form their own opinion of the letter,” Bishop said.
Bransfield will continue to receive $2,250 per month in retirement stipend, which is the amount recommended by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for retired bishops. Bransfield will also receive health care benefits, but not other perks normally associated with a retired bishop. The total retirement package is about 1/3 of what a bishop of his stature would normally receive.
While the amends finalized by The Vatican are not as harsh as what Brennan requested last year — Bransfield was originally asked to repay $792,638 in restitution — church officials noted the punishment agreed upon is still unprecedented.
“These determinations made by the Vatican are final and have been completed,” said Bishop, the diocese’s spokesman. “The decision by (Pope Francis) strikes a balance of justice and mercy-which is how God deals with all of us. The Vatican’s determination is unprecedented and recognizes that he did harm the Diocese. The announcement today is very important in that it is a first that we are aware of for the Church in the United States.”
Brennan called the final amends a “fair and reasonable resolution of this unseemly matter” and said he hopes the issue is now closed so he can now move the diocese forward.
“I am immensely grateful to the faithful of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese for their patience during the past year,” Brennan said. “This has been an ordeal for all of us. Now, I hope, we can move forward and not let the past distract us from the urgent work of faith that is so vital to the well-being of so many throughout this state who need the church’s ministry.”