The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has come down hard on disgraced former Bishop Michael Bransfield, but is it hard enough?
Bishop Mark Brennan’s “plan of amends” for Bransfield includes the following:
—Bransfield must pay $792,638 in restitution to the Diocese for personal expenses associated with his luxurious lifestyle and not part of church duties.
—He must also pay the IRS $110,000 for personal spending not previously reported as taxable income.
—His monthly retirement is reduced to $736, equal to that of a priest with 13 years of service rather than the larger payment due a retired Bishop.
—Bransfield is required to apologize to the adults he sexually harassed, Diocesan employees and to the faithful for damaging the reputation of the Catholic Church.
—He must turn in or purchase the church car he has been using.
—Bransfield will not be afforded the privilege of being buried within the Diocese, as is the custom of former Bishops.
—The former Bishop was already prevented from celebrating public liturgies, such as weddings and funerals.
Bishop Brennan said the requirements constitute a “rather severe penalty.” Brennan said he hopes and prays Bransfield complies with the plan, “not as punishment, but as acts of restorative justice,” he said. “This is a moral and spiritual matter.”
Notably, Bransfield appears to remain in denial. Starting early last month, Brennan asked Bransfield to come up with a way to make personal amends. “He has consistently said that he really hasn’t come up with a plan on his own, so I created one,” Brennan said.
Bransfield is equality obdurate over his sexual harassment of subordinates. “There are people to whom he should apologize,” Brennan said. “(He said) He doesn’t really know who they are.”
Bransfield’s actions are reprehensible. He has stolen from the church and used his power to sexually harass and intimidate. However, Bishop Brennan hopes for redemption. “He’s not the devil incarnate; he’s a brother who had gone astray,” he said.
Bishop Brennan also said the requirements of Bransfield “reflect the Church that we are and the values of our Christian faith which include mercy, in addition to justice.”
For Catholics, that faith also includes confession of sin. The next critical step in repairing the damage done by Bransfield to the Diocese and his victims is up to him.