CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield would make public apologies and pay $792,638 restitution if he accepts a proposed “plan of amends” from the Wheeling-Catholic Diocese.
Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Mark Brennan on Tuesday outlined the penance for Bishop Michael Bransfield, whose sexual and financial activities continue to receive scrutiny.
During Brennan’s public remarks about the proposal, he suggested Bransfield should feel moved to make amends himself.
But because that hasn’t yet happened, Brennan said the church is providing the outline of ways Bransfield could atone.
“I’m hoping he will see the value to himself as a Christian man,” Brennan said during a press conference.
“He’s not the devil incarnate. He’s a brother who’s gone astray in some ways. This is a way to show he understands that.”
Bransfield served as bishop of the Wheeling-Catholic diocese from 2005 to 2018, when he retired. A church investigation examined multiple credible allegations of sexual harassment of adults, as well as financial improprieties.
The investigation findings continue to receive attention from The Washington Post and other news organizations.
In a letter released Tuesday afternoon, Brennan laid out the proposed “plan of amends.”
Those include apologies to adults he was found to have sexually harassed, as well as apologies to members of the Catholic church in West Virginia and to members of the Chancery staff “who were subjected to a culture of intimidation and fear of retribution.”
The plan also outlines financial restitution that would include being bumped down to a lower pension benefit of $736 a month, accepting reduced health care benefits, giving up a car he was provided at retirement and reimbursing hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal benefits that were not declared for taxes.
Bransfield, 76, also would give up the right to be buried within the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston upon his death.
Even at that, the proposal does not include the full amount Bransfield truly owes, particularly personal expenditures that he previously reported as compensation.
“I wish to make clear that it is not my intention to impoverish the former bishop,” Brennan wrote in the letter.
“While not a dollar-for-dollar restitution for the former bishop’s excessive expenditure of Diocesan funds, I believe that this amount reflects the spirit of Pope Francis’ requirement that Bishop Bransfield make ‘amends for some of the harm that he caused.'”
In his public comments, Brennan said he reached out to Bransfield at the beginning of October, urging him to take the initiative in restitution.
Brennan said communications since then have indicated some movement by Bransfield but not a decision on appropriate amends.
“I have seen some movement of consideration, but it has not been finalized yet,” Brennan said. “Time moves on. People are wondering what goes on. Well, this is what’s going on so far.”
He said the church continues to await a full response from Bransfield. And, he said, there would be further steps if Bransfield’s response is inadequate.
“It’s not waiting forever. I’m hoping he will see the value to himself as a Christian man,” Brennan said.
Frances Brownfield of Lay Catholic Voices for Change credited the recently-appointed Brennan for being out front on the issues surrounding Bransfield.
“Bishop Brennan had a huge task, coming in, just assuming the position and having to undertake this,” she said. “So I think everyone across the diocese appreciates his efforts.”
Brownfield said the need for apologies is obvious.
But she said the accusations of Bransfield’s lavish spending adds up to millions of dollars. She said the amount stated in the proposal doesn’t come anywhere near that.
And Brownfield was left wondering what’s the bottom line for Bransfield complying.
“I didn’t hear any mention of a deadline. If there’s no response from the bishop, what happens then? What happens if he doesn’t abide by the requirements?” she asked.
“Without that, there’s no guarantee things like this won’t happen again.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whose office has filed a lawsuit claiming the church should have done more to inform people about credible sexual allegations against clergy, said today’s announcement was a good start but that the diocese needs to take even more steps toward transparency.
Morrisey said the church should release its investigative reports on Bransfield, tighten internal controls to protect children and provide greater assistance to sexual abuse victims who need medical, social or mental health services.
“It is time for the Diocese to truly come clean and begin to put this horrific scandal behind it,” Morrisey stated.
SNAP, the Survivors Network for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings, put out a statement that a major portion of any funds repaid by Bransfield should be devoted to an aggressive public outreach campaign to find and help additional victims.
“The emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual harm he caused his young victims far outweighs whatever harm his adult flock may feel because he misspent money,” SNAP stated.
That group also wondered what is the bottom line for Bransfield’s response.
“What is the punishment for Bransfield if he does not do these amends?”