Regarding former Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston bishop Michael Bransfield, who is accused of sexual assault and reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lavish lifestyle, new diocese Bishop Mark Brennan said he’s “a brother in Christ” who “has gone astray in some ways.”
The Catholic Church has a penchant for understatement.
Brennan made the remarks during a news conference in Wheeling on Tuesday, where he also unveiled a restitution plan for Bransfield, which would require the disgraced former clergyman to pay back $792,000 to the church. That’s not the total sum of what Bransfield is reported to have spent on personal gifts, private planes, luxurious accommodations and jewelry, among other things, during his 13-year stint as the head of the diocese. It’s still quite a staggering amount of money. Brennan is also calling for Bransfield’s monthly living stipend that he receives as a retiree of the church to be cut from $1,900 (more than what a large number of West Virginians are lucky to make in the same time period in exchange for actual work) to $736. Bransfield would also have to apologize for his actions.
The question remains whether the proposal is enough to adequately punish someone who so viciously abused the trust of West Virginia parishioners and the overall mission of the church. Brennan said the proposed agreement is not intended to “impoverish the former bishop.” Should it be? The Christian doctrine is one of forgiveness, not revenge, but consequences have their place.
Another troubling question that remains, as raised by Judy Jones of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, is what happens if Bransfield doesn’t live up to the agreement? If there’s a plan in place should Bransfield not cooperate, no one from the church has mentioned it. That’s one thing the church needs to clarify immediately.
In the meantime, Bransfield has other problems. According to the church, he owes $110,000 to the Internal Revenue Service. The former bishop also faces civil lawsuits regarding sexual harassment and is under criminal investigation for alleged sexual abuse. The Catholic Church’s proposal doesn’t free Bransfield from any of that. While the church may consider Bransfield spiritually absolved by meeting its terms, it is only fair the former bishop answer for his alleged actions according to the law of the land as well.