A clergyman from Baltimore will be the new leader of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, the Baltimore Sun reported late Monday.
Mark E. Brennan, 72, is an auxiliary, or assistant, bishop in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He was named to that position by Pope Francis in 2016.
The West Virginia diocese has been rocked in the past year by allegations of sexual and financial misconduct involving top church leaders. Diocese officials will hold a news conference Tuesday morning “regarding future leadership,” according to a news release from the diocese.
Brennan would replace Michael Bransfield, who retired in September as a Vatican probe of his activities began.
The Vatican last week announced Bransfield was suspended from public ministry for misconduct laid out in a Rome-commissioned report done by laypeople. The report, which The Washington Post obtained, concluded Bransfield recklessly spent millions in church money on personal luxuries such as air travel and jewelry and on gifts into the thousands for many high-ranking clerics. It also alleged he sexually harassed young seminarians and priest secretaries.
Bransfield denied to The Post that he’d done any wrongdoing and said he was being unfairly targeted by opponents within the diocese.
The Post also reported the archbishop who oversaw the probe edited it to remove a section about Bransfield’s gifts to bishops and cardinals in the United States and Rome. Baltimore Archbishop William Lori later said he removed the short list of names to avoid having to deal with why some gift recipients were being identified and others not, and to avoid distracting from the report. Lori apologized and said he regretted his decision.
The Sun said one of Brennan’s first priorities would be following up on one of the church report’s key recommendations — having Bransfield make restitution. Brennan will “decide what form those amends should take, church observers say, with the possibilities ranging from a fine to Bransfield forfeiting his pension,” the Sun reported.
It said Brennan worked in the archdiocese of Washington and “had spent decades ministering to immigrants,” including celebrating Mass in English and Spanish.
West Virginia has a small Catholic population, but the Bransfield scandal has put a spotlight on financial misconduct in the Catholic Church. It also revealed that the diocese, in one of the poorest parts of the country, is unusually wealthy due to mineral rights it owns in Texas.
The naming of a bishop will be a chance for Pope Francis to continue shaping an American leadership more in his mold. Some church experts see Francis as picking bishops who are more locally focused and less oriented toward being representatives of Rome, according to an article published Monday by the National Catholic Reporter.
“It’s as crucial a time for church leadership since the 16th century,” Christopher Bellitto, who has written about the history of the papacy, told NCR.