WHEELING, W.Va. — The retired bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston can no longer exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry within the diocese.
Archbishop William E. Lori, the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, made that announcement Monday about retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield in a release stating the preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties by Bransfield has been completed.
The diocese said the completion of the five-month investigation will now be sent to the Holy See at the Vatican for final judgment. A 60-page document detailing the investigation is being sent.
Lori did announce two courses of action Monday.
“Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bishop Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston,” Lori said in a statement.
“I have further directed the Diocese to implement a third-party reporting system for any sexual or financial impropriety on the part of its bishop, clergy, religious and lay employees and volunteers.”
Bryan Minor, spokesperson Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston appeared on Monday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ and said more than 40 individuals were interviewed as part of the process, gathering “significant data” to be sent to the Vatican.
“A lot of information was gathered,” he said. “Also financial data including the 13 years of Bishop Bransfield’s episcopacy here in the diocese. That was all reviewed. There was a lot of effort involved by the 5-person lay committee that conducted this investigation.”
.@BryanMinor joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss the status of the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against retired Wheeling-Charleston Diocese Bishop Michael Bransfield. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/laK6SRC1Zo
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) March 11, 2019
The Holy See announced the retirement of Bransfield as Bishop of the diocese last September and appointed Lori as Apostolic Administrator as the investigation began.
The preliminary investigation was conducted by Lori with the assistance of a team of five lay experts as the investigative team examined the multiple allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties.
Minor said that it is not the Archbishop’s job to decide guilt or innocence in this process. He added that the investigation could be seen by the Congregation of Bishops or the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith before a final decision from Pope Francis.
“If we looked at it like it was a civil case, he would be the prosecutor,” Minor said of Lori. “He is not the judge or the jury. That is all left to the Vatican. It’s more of a benign report that we did these investigations and this is what was found.”
In the release from the diocese, it states at the request of those who provided testimony, victims will not be identified, nor will details of their personal accounts be disclosed.
“I apologize to any who have suffered harm and express my gratitude to the five men and women who conducted the investigation, as well as to those who participated in this difficult process,” Lori said. “It is my privilege to serve the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston as the journey toward healing begins anew and as we anticipate the appointment of a new bishop.”
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has also announced a new third-party system in reporting of harassment and abuse and have committed to provide counseling to anyone who has been harmed, including clergy, religious and lay personnel.
In November, the diocese released names of dozens of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Victims are urged by the diocese to contact the Safe Environment Office at (833) 230-5656.
“We make sure our victim’s assistance program is open and ready for people,” Minor said. “We are very clear about how we want to offer that as a ministry.”