Bishop Brennan Reflects on His First Ad Limina Visit

CNS Photo/Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets Bishop Mark E. Brennan during a meeting with U.S. bishops from Regions IV and V making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican, Dec. 3. The regions include the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. See story on Page 5.

By Colleen Rowan
Bishop Mark E. Brennan came away with a good feeling about his first ad limina visit, during which he discussed his plan for amends by former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael J. Bransfield.
For their ad limina visits, bishops report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. Bishop Brennan was one of almost 40 bishops there from U.S. Regions IV and V, which include the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Archdiocese for the Military Services, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. The visit was held Dec. 2-6.
Concerning the amends plan, Bishop Brennan along with Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore met with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
“I basically gave an update on my efforts to assist Bishop Bransfield in making amends for some of the damage, the harm that he caused here in the diocese,” Bishop Brennan said. “I was happy to have Archbishop Lori with me because, of course, he had been here as administrator almost a year and had to initiate the investigation. So it (the meeting) was fruitful, and both Archbishop Lori and I felt we came away with support from Cardinal Ouellet for what we were doing.”
There are follow ups on the issue to be made in trying to get Bishop Bransfield to agree to the plan, Bishop Brennan said, but as for the report on the plan of amends, Cardinal Ouellet’s response was “very favorable.”
Bishop Brennan’s plan of amends, which was announced Nov. 26, calls on Bishop Bransfield to: Apologize to the people he sexually harassed and for the “severe emotional and spiritual harm his actions caused them.” Apologize for the grievous harm he caused to the faithful of the diocese and the reputation of the Catholic Church in West Virginia. Apologize to diocesan employees “who suffered from a culture of intimidation and retribution which the former bishop created.” Pay back more than $792,000 covering the “inappropriate expenditure of diocesanfunds to support a luxurious lifestyle.”
Other measures in the plan include: a reduction in the amount of monthly stipend, the amount of which has been outlined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for former bishops; the loss of certain aspects of health care coverage, and denial of burial in the diocese upon the former bishop’s death.
The plan of amends may be read in full in a letter from Bishop Brennan on the diocese’s website at
In Bishop Brennan’s first ad limina visit, he and other bishops offered reports on specific areas and issues within their regions to the prefects of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Bishop Brennan was responsible for a report to the Pontifical Counsel of Culture. “I started out mine with a presentation on the two dominant geographical features of our region, the Chesapeake Bay region and the Appalachians,” Bishop Brennan explained. “The nature of the different parts of the region we live in, the people, the economics, the political, the efforts of evangelization: How are we reaching people? How are we not reaching people? And our challenges there.”
Following his report, their was time allotted for questions and comments as well as discussion with fellow bishops.
“So those are very useful discussions, a lot of give-and-take,” Bishop Brennan said, noting that there was an abundance of dialogue between the bishops.
The visit with Pope Francis included all of the bishops from both Regions IV and V. Bishop Brennan said it was a very good meeting with the pope, who spent a lot of time with them discussing many different topics.
“He gave us two and a half hours,” Bishop Brennan said. “And he didn’t even make a general presentation. He simply opened up to questions, and comments. He was very open and affable. It was very informal in that anyone could ask anything.”
One bishop asked the pope, “What was your feeling when you began to realize in the conclave that you were probably going to be elected the next pope?” Bishop Brennan recalled. “And he said, ‘A great feeling of peace came over me.’”
Bishop Brennan said it was a good discussion with the pope. He also said the spirit of unity among the bishops of the region is very strong, and that they are all supportive of one another.
“A lot of us are facing the same kind of challenges: How to reach Catholics who have drifted away or run away, how to bring in those we’ve never had, bringing the Gospel to people, child abuse, the episcopal irresponsibility crisis that we’ve been dealing with, the one we have here in Wheeling-Charleston,” Bishop Brennan said. “All of us are affected in our region by those things and many other challenges too. But I think the unity among us is very strong, which is good. United we stand, divided we fall.”
This was not the first time that Bishop Brennan had met the pope. He first met him in September 2017 following his episcopal ordination.
“The first time I met Pope Francis was at the end of a gathering the Holy See has every couple of years for new bishops from around the world … the Assembly of the New Bishops. We affectionately call it Baby Bishops School,” Bishop Brennan said, laughing. “I told that to Cardinal Ouellet and he laughed.” There were 120 bishops there, Bishop Brennan recalled, “I went up and extended my hand and said ‘Brennan from Baltimore’ and he grabbed my hand and said, ‘Pray for me,’ in English, and I said, ‘I will.’”
The ad limina visit also gave Bishop Brennan the chance to catch up with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s seminarian, Rev. Mr. Justin Golna, who currently is attending the North American College in Rome. Bishop Brennan, who is an alumnus, said he had a great visit with Deacon Golna, and is looking forward to his ordination to priesthood at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling.
At the end of his reflection on his first ad limina visit, Bishop Brennan said, “It was a good visit. I’m glad to be home.”