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Transparency Still Lacking

Very, very few people receive $79,000 pay raises in a year. But Michael Bransfield, former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, did, as our story on page one of today’s newspaper explains.

Financial records obtained by the News-Register and The Intelligencer indicate that in 2015, Bransfield’s salary as bishop was $136,488. But in 2016, he was paid $215,571. In 2017, his last full year as bishop, Bransfield collected $207,131 in salary.

All of this came as he was living in a church-owned house on which he spent $4.6 million in church money for renovations. It occurred as church dollars were being used to fund his lavish lifestyle, including nearly 150 trips, often in private jets, during his 13 years. It included nearly $182,000 worth of fresh flowers delivered to his offices, and nearly $1,000 a month for expensive liqueur, all paid for with church funds.

And it included at least $350,000 in gifts handed out to others in the church, including at least one cardinal at the Vatican. Bransfield used church funds to reimburse himself for the gifts.

How do we know all of this? From investigations by newspapers, including ours.

Not a single scrap of the information mentioned above was released by the Roman Catholic Church.

Some of it — and information about what the church calls “credible allegations” of sexual abuse and harassment of young priests — is included in the report of an investigation conducted by the church, but not released to the public.

Even Bishop Mark E. Brennan, who now leads the diocese, has admitted the lack of transparency indirectly. On Thursday, after a new round of revelations published by The Washington Post, Brennan released a statement that he was “dismayed” by information about Bransfield’s misdeeds “which continue to be chronicled by the media.”

Church leaders have pledged to be transparent about Bransfield. They have not.

We will ask the question that, beyond any reasonable doubt, is on the minds of many people: How much of the opaqueness surrounding Bransfield is linked to the nearly 600 gifts he lavished on others in the church?

Most of their names, incidentally, have been kept secret by the church hierarchy. Only a few, including Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, have been made public — by the press. It was that archdiocese from which Brennan was sent to the West Virginia diocese.

Church leaders have pledged to regain the trust of West Virginia’s Roman Catholics. This is not the way to earn it.

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