By Colleen Rowan
WHEELING—Allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bishop Michael J. Bransfield have been determined to be credible in the preliminary, lay-led investigation, which also found that he engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston announced the findings June 5 in a letter to priests and laity of the diocese. In the letter, he said the ivestigative team “uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”
The investigation found no conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct with minors by the former bishop during its investigation.
“Without a doubt, the alleged victims of former Bishop Bransfield’s sexual harassment must be our first and constant concern,” the archbishop says in the letter. “Thus, the diocese has committed to providing counseling to them and to all priests and lay personnel at the Chancery. I have asked that a permanent program be developed and advertised to seminarians and priests that such services are available. For known victims, the diocese will commit to reimbursing the costs for mental health assistance for a provider of their choosing. Further, I have mandated that a third-party reporting system for any allegation against a bishop of the diocese be implemented.”
Among the financial improprieties cited, the investigative report determined that during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending, the archbishop says in the letter. The investigation found that Bishop Bransfield initiated and completed extensive and expensive renovations to his private residences in both Wheeling and Charleston, as well as his intended retirement residence, the construction of which was halted at the archbishop’s request at the time of his appointment as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese. The investigation further found that Bishop Bransfield misused church funds for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items.
In the letter, the archbishop acknowledged that he was periodically a recipient of financial gifts in varying amounts by Bishop Bransfield for various occasions over the years. These gifts totaled $7,500. “In light of what I have come to learn of Bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances, I have returned the full amount to the diocese and have asked that it be donated to Catholic Charities,” the archbishop says in the letter.
Archbishop Lori also announced the immediate listing for sale of the Wheeling-Charleston bishop’s residence in Wheeling.
The third-party reporting system for any allegation against a bishop of the diocese is in process and will soon be launched, Archbishop Lori said, allowing also for anonymous complaints to be made. The process is modeled after a program the archbishop instituted in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and uses a third-party vendor to receive and direct such reports to members of the lay-led Independent Review Board for reporting of any financial impropriety, sexual abuse or harassment to the appropriate civil and church authorities.
“I am deeply pained by and sorry for the harm that the former bishop caused to those he was charged with shepherding in a spirit of Christ-like humility, service and pastoral care and charity,” the archbishop says in the letter. “There is no excuse, nor adequate explanation, that will satisfy the troubling question of how his behavior was allowed to continue for as long as it did without the accountability that we must require of those who have been entrusted with so much – both spiritual and material – as bishops and pastors.”
The report was sent to the Holy See for judgment in March.