When West Virginia’s newly appointed bishop, Mark Brennan, saw his predecessor’s former home he was overwhelmed.
Brennan was appointed to his position with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston following Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who stepped down after allegations of sexual harassment and that he had inappropriately used church money. He used church funds for travel, gifts and spent $4.6 million on renovations for his church-owned residence after a bathroom fire, according to the Washington Post.
Archbishop William E. Lori, of Baltimore, who was temporarily acting as bishop, sold the house, Brennan told the Gazette-Mail. Brennan said he was grateful that Lori sold it.
“I’d feel very uncomfortable living there. I’d feel out of place, I’m a working-class guy,” Brennan said. “I didn’t grow up wealthy, and I don’t crave material things. I just like to read a good book.”
Brennan said he plans to live, at least temporarily, in the cathedral rectory near the Cathedral of St. Joseph, in Wheeling. He said there is also a residence in the Charleston area, and he plans to spend some time there so he can see more of the central and southern part of the state.
He said given recent events it will take time to restore trust for Catholics in West Virginia.
“I don’t expect people right away to give me their full confidence and trust,” Brennan said. “I’m hopeful that if I do the things I should be doing here — they’ll see that and recognize that, but I need their cooperation. I need them to get in the game.”
Brennan said to move forward, he will “have to deal with some things from the past.” By order of the Pope, Bransfield needs to make amends for what he has done, Brennan said. It’s up to Brennan to decide how Bransfield is going to make those amends. Brennan said he’s not ready to get into specifics until he’s had conversations with those involved.
“I’m going to consult with people here who have been hurt by the bishop,” Brennan said. “I’m going to pray and think about it and try to arrive at something that is appropriate to make amends.”
The Holy See, the governing body of the Catholic Church, has already put strict restrictions on Bransfield, Brennan said. Bransfield was having a retirement home built in West Virginia, but Brennan said he was told construction was being stopped. Bransfield is also not allowed to live in the state of West Virginia by order of the Pope. Additionally, Bransfield is banned from public mass and giving sacraments.
“Here’s a man who, in his mid 20s, he was ordained a priest. Close to 50 years he’s been having mass, celebrating baptisms, weddings and confirmations, having funerals; that’s all taken off the board,” Brennan said.
“He can’t do any public liturgies and any sacraments at all. For someone who had been doing that his whole life, that’s a very severe punishment.”
Brennan has had a long career in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area, and now at 72 years old is three years away from the age where bishops are required to submit their letter of retirement to the Pope. However, Brennan said he was told they would make an exception for his situation.
“I have it on good authority they’re not going to press me on that retirement matter,” Brennan said. “As long as I have good health and stamina, I can do a little more time than the official retirement age.”
Throughout his time serving the Catholic Church, Brennan said he never thought he would be where he is today.
“I didn’t ever expect to be a bishop, and I never expected to be sent to the diocese as its only bishop,” Brennan said.
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston consists of around 75,000 Catholics, which is about 4 percent of the state’s population. Although West Virginia doesn’t have a large Catholic population, the presence is there, Brennan said, recalling when John Kennedy, a Catholic senator from Massachusetts, won the state’s Democrat primary in 1960.
“Everyone thought, ‘They’ll never vote for a Catholic,’ because there were almost no Catholics in West Virginia,” Brennan said. “Well, they did vote for him and that propelled him on to his nomination. Well, we’re still a minority religion here, but we’ve been around here for a good while.”