Two groups have sent a strongly-worded letter to the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston, saying “amends” by disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield have been inadequate and pushing for further steps.
“Our faith has not been destroyed but our trust in our church leaders has been devastated,” they wrote.
Bransfield served as bishop of the Wheeling-Catholic diocese from 2005 to 2018, when he retired. Following that, a church investigation examined multiple credible allegations of sexual harassment of adults, as well as financial improprieties.
Findings from an internal church investigation 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.
An investigative report dated Feb. 21, 2019, detailed how Bransfield allegedly groomed and inappropriately touched young men.
Bransfield issued a four-paragraph message last month as part of a “plan of amends” for alleged sexual and financial misconduct.
“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.
The diocese acknowledged receiving the letter and also described some financial restitution.
Bransfield has repaid a required $441,000 for unauthorized benefits received from diocesan resources. “These funds will be added to those already set aside by the sale of his former residence for assistance to victims of abuse,” the current bishop, Mark Brennan wrote, adding that Bransfield has 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.
The two groups who wrote the letter released today say that’s not enough.
The letter addressed to Brennan came from Lay Catholic Voices for Change and ACT: A Church Together.
“The recently announced amends for Michael Bransfield were intended for SOME of the harm he caused. We respectfully ask you to take further action to address MORE of the harm caused by Michael Bransfield,” they wrote.
They begin by saying the church itself should offer further apology to a range of those affected by Bransfield’s actions. Those include abuse survivors, faithful Catholics who have now lost trust, young Catholics who are embarrassed and ashamed, priests who serve in good faith and many others.
The groups wrote, “in this historical moment when our larger society is examining how to address systemic failures and injustice, you can demonstrate what Catholics experience in the sacrament of Reconciliation: an expression of contrition creates an opening for forgiveness.”
The groups also say that although the church may not take the title of Bishop from Bransfield, it should refrain from using it when referring to him.
And the groups pushed for following the recommendations of the earlier church investigation to remove from all diocese-wide bodies three senior monsignors found to have been necessary enablers of Bransfield’s abuse.
The groups urge further investigation of allegations of Bransfield’s sexual abuse of children and the continuance of financial disclosures and audits.
Finally, the groups say it’s imperative to increase the participation of independently-chosen lay representatives on all diocesan boards and committees.
“We pray that you will be moved to act in these simple yet powerful ways to rebuild the trust of the faithful,” the groups wrote. “The need is urgent, and the time is now.”