The Scriptures make plenty of references to the necessity and power of forgiveness.
For example, Luke 17: 3-4 says even if your brother sins against you seven times in a day, but repents, then “you must forgive him.”
Ephesians 4:32 reads, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
With those and other passages from the Bible on forgiveness in mind, consider the apology by Michael Bransfield, the former Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
Recall that an independent investigation found that during his 13-year tenure here, Bransfield spent church funds on a lavish lifestyle and sexually harassed young priests. Bransfield consistently denied the allegations.
Last November, Bishop Mark Brennan, who succeeded Bransfield, outlined a penance plan that included an apology to those he sexually harassed as well as members of the Catholic Church, reimbursing the Diocese for some of the profligate spending, and accepting a dramatically reduced retirement.
Bishop Brennan reports now that the Congregation of Bishops has reviewed the plan and released its requirements for the former Bishop. Brennan said in a statement that Bransfield has apologized, repaid the Diocese $441,000, and accepted a monthly retirement of $2,250 (an amount equal to one-third of what a Bishop would normally receive).
Yes, in his letter to the faithful Bransfield does apologize “for any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions” attributed to him during his tenure. However, he clearly does not acknowledge that his charter flights on private jets to luxury resorts and cash gifts to other clerics were wrong.
He writes, “During my tenure I was reimbursed for certain expenditures that have been called into question as excessive, and I have been advised that I should reimburse a certain amount to the Diocese. I have now done so, even though I believed that such reimbursements to me were proper.”
His acknowledgement of the sexual harassment allegations is equally qualified. In the carefully worded statement he says he is profoundly sorry if his words or actions “have caused certain priests and seminarians to feel [emphasis added] sexually harassed.”
But perhaps this is nitpicking. After all, Bishop Brennan, when he announced the plans for amends, said of Bransfield, “He’s not the devil incarnate. He’s a brother who’s gone astray in some ways.”
Brennan said in his letter to the faithful, released this morning, that the plan for amends and Bransfield’s adherence to key provisions “combine an insistence on restorative justice with a gesture of mercy, which is how God deals with all of us.”
He added that he hopes the people of the Diocese will see the decision as “a fair and reasonable resolution of this unseemly matter.”
Brennan closes with a statement on the mission of the Church: “To bring Jesus Christ to the people he came to save and to work his wondrous power of renewal in them.”
Now it is up to the faithful to decide whether the amends by Bransfield and his apology are enough to inspire a renewal within the damaged Wheeling-Charleston Diocese.