National News

Report Documents Excessive Spending, Sexual Innuendo by Former W. Va. Bishop

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori gives the final blessing after celebrating a Mass with special intentions for survivors of abuse and for abuse prevention in the chapel the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington April 8, 2019. (Photo: Catholic News Service)

By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

NEW YORK – In a searing four-page letter to Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston-Wheeling, Archbishop William Lori further detailed the findings of his investigation into its former Bishop Michael Bransfield, raising concerns over both sexual misconduct and financial impropriety.

According to Archbishop Lori, although his team did not “conclusive misconduct with minors,” he said that it had “uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”

Bransfield resigned in September 2018 one week before turning 75, the mandatory age when bishops are required to tender their resignation to the pope, after leading the diocese for 13 years.

On the day his resignation was accepted by Pope Francis, it was announced that Archbishop Lori, who leads the Archdiocese of Baltimore, was tapped to serve as apostolic administrator and conduct an investigation into Bransfield.

In his letter, released on May 5, Archbishop Lori said that “I have sought to address the findings of the investigation and to continue to be pastorally present to the faithful of the Diocese as often as has been possible.”

“In the spirit of transparency and based on my many conversations during various visits to the Diocese these past months, it is clear to me that more must be said about the report’s findings and about the steps being taken to address them,” he wrote.

In March, Archbishop Lori completed his review and submitted his report to the Vatican for review. This letter marks the first full public accounting of its findings.

Alongside questions of sexual misconduct, the letter cited a litany of concerns related to the diocese’s financial management, with Archbishop Lori determining that Bishop Bransfield engaged in “a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending.”

“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 my request at the time of my appointment as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese,” he wrote.

“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.”

“As we seek to understand how such behavior was able to occur over the course of Bishop Bransfield’s 13-year-long tenure, it is evident from those who spoke with investigators that the Bishop’s management style and personality undermined the effectiveness of diocesan policies, controls and oversight procedures,” he continued. “In some cases, it is apparent that the judgment of diocesan personnel was impacted by the culture of fear of retaliation and retribution that the former bishop fostered.”

Archbishop Lori also said that in his capacity as apostolic administrator, he has decided to list for sale the residence of the bishop, which has served as the home of the last four bishops of the diocese.

Archbishop Lori’s letter comes one week before the U.S. Catholic Bishops are set to meet in Baltimore for their bi-annual meeting, in which new guidelines for bishop accountability and conduct by bishops are set to be enacted.

“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,” Archbishop Lori concluded his 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,” he wrote.