WHEELING, W.Va. — The new bishop of the Catholic Church in West Virginia didn’t dodge the church’s problems in his installation service message that took place Thursday afternoon in Wheeling.
Wheeling-Charleston Diocese Bishop Mark Brennan didn’t mention former Bishop Michael Bransfield by name but he said behavior has consequences.
“There are consequences to bad behavior in the past that will have to be dealt with. That’s one of my responsibilities and I’ll assure you that I will meet it,” Brennan told the large crowd gathered at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. “At the same time, it is my fervent hope and prayer that we can begin to find our way forward.”
Bransfield, who was bishop for 13 years, was removed last year. An investigation that concluded earlier this year said Bransfield sexually harassed adults and used the church’s money to fund his lavish lifestyle. Pope Francis disciplined Bransfield. He can no longer live in West Virginia or perform Catholic Church functions.
Earlier Thursday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline,” Brennan said he’s not sure all of the damage caused by Bransfield can be overcome.
“I don’t know, a lot of that depends on how people themselves react to things,” Brennan said. “But what the Pope has asked me to do is to have (Bransfield) try to make amends for the damage that he has caused. Some way to make amends.”
Brennan said he’ll be consulting with people very soon including a group of priests called the College of Consulters, the Diocese finance council and people directly impacted by Bransfield’s behavior.
“After consulting with them and praying about it and thinking about it, I’ll make decisions on what to do and hopefully Bishop Bransfield will cooperate with that,” Brennan said. “If he does, all the better for him and the people affected. If he doesn’t, I’ll still be able to make some decisions that will make up somewhat for some of the damage that has been caused.”
Brennan said he doesn’t know if he can satisfy everyone with his final decision on Bransfield but he’ll try to do his part.
Brennan pointed those gathered for his installation to look toward the light of Christ to move “from the painful past toward Him.”
“Not in denial but in confidence that the Lord will supply us with the wisdom and strength to do things better, to live our faith with greater integrity and to reflect more brightly, as far as our weakness and human limitations will permit, His own enduring light,” Brennan said.
Brennan exhorted West Virginia Catholics not to walk away from the church.“Cherish your faith and the Holy Church that has nurtured it. Make Mary’s yes to God your own and work with me and your brothers and sisters to let the light of Christ to be a light brightly visible in the mountains and valleys, the cities, streets and country roads in this beautiful part of God’s creation–West Virginia,” Brennan said.
Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori, who has overseen the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese since Bransfield’s removal, told Brennan and the crowd that Brennan was the Lord’s answers to their prayers.
“No pressure there,” Lori joked. “I’ve known Bishop Brennan for a long, long time and my friends, I can attest he is the real deal. He is the strong, loving and wise shepherd that we have all been praying for.”