Pope Issues Sanctions against Bishop Bransfield

By Colleen Rowan
WHEELING—Bishop Michael J. Bransfield is prohibited from presiding or participating in any public liturgy, and is obligated to make personal amends for the harm he caused—the nature and extent of to be decided in consultation with the next bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Bishop Bransfield is also prohibited from residing in the diocese.
These are the disciplinary measures Pope Francis decided upon based on the findings of the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties by Bishop Bransfield.
The announcement of the sanctions were received by the diocese July 19 via a comminque from the Apostolic Nunciature of the United States.
“In taking these concrete actions, the Holy See expresses its sincere concern for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston,” states the communique, which may be viewed on the diocese’s website at dwc.org.
The communique states: “Based upon the findings of the investigation, the Holy Father has decided on the following disciplinary measures for Bishop Emeritus Bransfield: 1) the prohibition to reside in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. 2) the prohibition to preside or to participate anywhere in any public celebration of the Liturgy. 3) the obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused; the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.”
The investigative team, assembled by Archbishop William E. Lori last September to investigate the allegations against Bishop Bransfield, uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority, Archbishop Lori wrote in a June 5 letter to priests and laity of the diocese. The investigation found no conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct with minors by the former bishop during its investigation.
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.