Bransfield ‘apology’ does not suffice and church needs more reform, leader of lay Catholics group says

A leader of West Virginia Lay Catholics for Change is not impressed by what disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield called an apology.

“Insofar as the apology that Bransfield made is concerned, it’s obviously wholly inadequate,” said Charles DiSalvo, a leader of the group.

“It’s so halfhearted it really doesn’t serve its purpose which I understand to be healing of those he abused. Those folks deserve some justice and they’re not getting it.”

Furthermore, DiSalvo said the Catholic Church needs to continue to do more to involve lay members in decision-making.

DiSalvo spoke today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” a day after the church released a statement from Bransfield along with financial terms that resulted from the bishop’s monetary improprieties and sexual harassment.

DiSalvo said his comments were his own because Lay Catholics for Change had not yet had an opportunity to gather for a formal statement.

Bransfield was supposed to make public apologies as part of a “plan of amends” for alleged sexual and financial misconduct. The church this week announced resolution of the terms, although that kicked off significant public debate.

“I am writing to apologize for any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me during my tenure as Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese,” Branson began a letter dated August 15.

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 terms announced this week indicated Bransfield has repaid a required $441,000 for unauthorized benefits received from diocesan resources. That money was in addition to what came from the sale of his former residence for assistance to benefits of abuse. Bransfield also surrendered a vehicle he was using.

Bransfield will continue to be paid $2,250 per month as his retirement stipend, but will not get other benefits, such as for a secretary or travel. He will continue to receive reduced health insurance benefits.

Of the financial terms, DiSalvo said, “it’s obviously inadequate as well.”

The Washington Post last year published findings from an internal church investigation that found Bransfield spent millions of dollars from the diocese on chartered jets, lavish furnishings at his official residence and nearly 600 cash gifts to fellow clergymen.

“He’s paying back $441,000. It’s just kind of pathetic that was the negotiation,” DiSalvo said.

DiSalvo suggested there should be move involvement of lay members, not the dominance of clergy, in the decisions of the church.

“It’s a group of clerics negotiating with another cleric. There was no independent lay voice at the table,” he said.

“There needs to be structural reform in the catholic church if the church is to go forward,” DiSalvo added.

He credited the church with taking some steps toward greater involvement of lay members.

Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Mark Brennan  outlined the penance for Bransfield and spoke about it on “Talkline” on Thursday.

At the time he spoke, Brennan acknowledged that it was not yet clear what public reaction would be. “We’ll find out,” he said.

Brennan said, “I don’t know of any other case in the country where the bishop was required to apologize to the people, to make financial restitutions to the diocese and some of the other things that are part of the plan. So it’s really new territory.”

West Virginia Lay Catholics for Change is not as interested in the punishment of Bransfield as on reform, DiSalvo said.

“I think folks in our group are not interested in continuing to hate Bransfield, despite the evil that he did,” DiSalvo said. “At the same time, that does not remove the obligation the church has to do justice.”

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