WHEELING, W.Va. – The Most Rev. Mark Brennan, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, announced his plan last week to seek $792,638 in restitution from former bishop Michael Bransfield.
In addition, the diocese is reducing Bransfield’s monthly compensation package from $6,200 to $736, Brennan said. A stipend of $736 is equal to the pension of a priest who served 13 years, which is the length of time Bransfield was in West Virginia.
The previous package included pension, insurance, housing and administrative staff. It was based on standards recommended by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for retired bishops.
“All the other benefits (to Bransfield) go away,” Brennan said. But, he added, “The diocese will continue to pay a small Medicare supplement for him.”
Regarding a car given to Bransfield in retirement, “he can either return it to us or buy it at fair market value,” the new bishop said.
The plan also calls for Bransfield to apologize to adults whom he sexually harassed; to the Catholic faithful of the diocese for the harm he caused and damage to the church’s reputation; and to diocesan staff “who were subjected to a culture of intimidation and fear of retribution.”
A figure for restitution was determined during a recent extensive review of Bransfield’s expenditures.
“We uncovered that amount of purely personal uses of diocesan funds,” Brennan said.
Money paid as restitution will fund assistance to victims of sexual abuse by clergy and laity, the current leader said.
Bransfield was given an opportunity to make his own plan of amends as mandated by Pope Francis, but did not do so. Brennan said he wrote to Bransfield about the matter on Oct. 1.
“To this day, he has not done that. I’ve seen some movement, but it is not finalized yet,” Brennan said. “I’m still waiting for a full response.”
Asked what action could be taken if Bransfield does not comply, the current bishop said, “I do not want to outline further steps in public at this time. There would be further steps if the response is not adequate.”
Brennan regards his plan as a “moral and spiritual” response, “rather than a legal one,” to Bransfield’s misdeeds.
“I hope (Bransfield) will see this not as punishment, but acts of restorative justice to the victims and the faithful,” Brennan said.
The diocesan leader also hopes the amends “will satisfy the righteous indignation of the Catholic faithful.”
Brennan has heard “thousands of confessions” from people who admitted their wrongdoing, but he had to “point the finger” to investigate Bransfield.
“It’s a different position. It’s sad. I don’t like doing this, but I’ve got to do it. It’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The plan for amends is detailed in a three-page letter that Brennan issued to the diocese. However, the letter doesn’t mention spending from the Bishop’s Fund that Bransfield established, nor does it address contributions to that fund from Wheeling Hospital’s coffers.
The letter outlines how the diocese’s finance team set $792,638 as the amount of restitution.
Bransfield is being asked to repay $441,492 in diocesan funds allocated for his personal expenses during 2013-18 and $351,146 “attributable to the former bishop’s luxurious lifestyle,” beginning in 2005.
The $441,492 spent in 2013-18 “reflects personal travel, vacations, clothing, alcohol and luxury goods,” the letter states. “In addition, Bishop Bransfield will be required to pay an excise tax in the approximate amount of $110,000 directly to the IRS.”
In response, Judy Jones, a spokeswoman for SNAP, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said the response left much to be desired.
“It’s irresponsible and inaccurate to suggest that Bransfield alone should make reparations. It’s likely that dozens of Catholic officials – in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania – knew of or suspected his abuse but ignored or hid it. Those individuals – and the institutions that likely still pay them – must be identified, admit their wrongdoing, and take steps to reduce the damage they’ve caused and are still causing by their secrecy and deceit,” she said.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey – who has a civil suit pending against the diocese – said Tuesday, “While today’s announcement by Bishop Brennan represents a step forward, justice will not be served until the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese releases all of its investigative reports on Bishop Bransfield, tightens its internal controls to protect children, and implements concrete measures to provide assistance to the many victims of sexual abuse and pedophilia needing 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.”