A year after his retirement and subsequent investigation, a lot has come out about former Wheeling-Charleston Diocese bishop Michael Bransfield.
Allegations of sexual harassment of younger priests and records of massive spending to support a lavish lifestyle over Bransfield’s 13-year tenure as the Catholic Church’s highest official in West Virginia are equal parts troubling and infuriating.
The Washington Post on Thursday published a massive review of Bransfield’s travel and expenses during his time in West Virginia, including hundreds of thousands of dollars spent over his final year as the head of the church here on private jets, limousines and extravagant hotel accommodations. In fact, Bransfield spent a total of four months traveling in the last of his 13 years as West Virginia’s bishop.
The opulent spending is galling enough, but, in light of the fact this money was laid down while about 24 West Virginia Catholic schools were being shuttered or having funding cut, it’s maddening.
Yet, it somehow gets even worse when looking at the details, where the devil is said to reside.
For instance, according to the Post, Bransfield paid $1,383 for a chauffeur to drive him around Washington, D.C., for a single day. This from a man heading the Catholic Church in a state where about 19 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. Many West Virginians are lucky to see that much money in exchange for two weeks, or even a month, of actual work.
Bransfield also traveled by private jet on one occasion last year to go from New Jersey to D.C. to meet with the pope’s ambassador. That single flight cost $12,386. Send a bill for that amount to a lot of West Virginia households, and it would be a financial crisis that could set them back for life. Send them a check for that much, and it could possibly clear their debt for life. Bransfield blew it on a flight that probably lasted less than 30 minutes.
In another instance, the ex-bishop stayed in a penthouse suite in Florida for a week, according to the Post, for which he paid $9,336. That makes The Greenbrier resort seem like a bargain.
So what’s Bransfield’s excuse? Don’t worry, he has one: It’s his staff. Not the one he used to carry as a sign of his office, but the actual people working for him.
Bransfield told the Post his staff made all the travel arrangements — booked the cars, the rooms and, of course, the private jets on which he reportedly spent $142,000 of the church’s money in 2018 alone ($1 million over his entire 13 years in West Virginia).
Bransfield wants the people to believe he stayed in rooms often reserved for celebrities and traveled on luxury private planes that were in the air for the sole purpose of getting him from one place to another because that’s what the people working for him had arranged.
He wants the people to believe he didn’t know it was costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, this was simply what was set up for him. If that’s the truth, God help Michael Bransfield the first time he gets online or calls the number all the little people have to use to book a flight.
The bottom line — and whether it’s a bishop or a televangelist, this somehow gets messed up a lot more than it should — is that a church official, who truly believes in the Christian mission, would not accept travel on a private plane, provided or not. They wouldn’t dream of hiring a limousine to drive them around, and they surely wouldn’t think penthouse rooms separated from the rest of the peasants necessary.
Preaching blessings upon the meek and humble from a terraced balcony makes no sense and, deep down, all who follow the path of luxury on the backs of those who fund any church know this. They are not the shepherds among the flock, they are the wolves in sheepskin, leaving their followers to inherit a lesser world after the fleecing is done.