Forget Bransfield; He’s Just Not That Important

It’s time to move on. Former Roman Catholic bishop Michael J. Bransfield is not worth a single second more of aggravation.

Bransfield was booted out of his position as leader of the church’s Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in 2018. That happened after his wild spending and sexual harassment came to light.

As we reported Thursday, the Vatican approved a list of “amends” the church required of Bransfield. He had to repay $441,000 for “unauthorized” benefits received through his position. There were other, less stiff, financial requirements. Bransfield also was required to write letters of apology to certain individuals and to Roman Catholics throughout the Mountain State.

We carried his letter in the paper. It virtually defines “non-apology.” I won’t go through it again. It would just make you grit your teeth and clench your fists.

Again, he’s not worth it.

The church, on the other hand, is worth some intellectual and emotional anguish — and some forgiveness and patience.

Now, I’m not a Roman Catholic, so I know I risk being told to mind my own business if I comment on the church’s trials and travails. But like many West Virginians, I am a member of a church and I try to live my life as a Christian.

Besides, Protestants are far from immune to trouble that has wracked the Catholic Church. We have had our share of villains. No doubt our denominations still harbor a few bad actors (or, if you want to look at it that way, good actors).

What Christians of all faiths share is faith not in the men and women who lead our churches, but in the church itself, as a whole.

As a devout Catholic put it to me, the church is not any priest or bishop. What’s important, he said, is the Mass.

By that, I think he meant the church as an instrument of worshipping God and as a help in living as Christians.

Holding on to that is more than important for the truly faithful. It is imperative.

Of course, we have to rely on human beings to guide and administer all our various denominations, so vigilance against those who would misuse their positions is necessary.

But so is a measure of trust in them.

Bishop Mark Brennan, who now handles the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese, has taken very real steps to guard against improprieties by the clergy. New financial oversight tools are in place. Catholics are being encouraged to report any sexual misbehavior to the police, then to the church.

These are the marks of someone trying hard to regain — and earn — the trust of Catholics. Brennan and the many others, both clergy and laypeople, working toward that deserve a chance to prove themselves.

We cannot and should not forget the past. History helps us avoid mistakes in the future.

But remaining preoccupied with anger at Bransfield and people like him does no good. Insisting on some sort of penance that will never come is a distraction. Christians — not just Catholics, but all of us — can make it clear we will not allow bad people to poison our faith relationships.

We can tell Bransfield the one thing I suspect he most fears being forced to recognize: You’re just not that important.

In the end, that might be the best revenge.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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