CHARLESTON — The Catholic Church said Tuesday it wants to limit the retirement package allotted to former bishop Michael Bransfield, having concluded he sexually harassed his employees and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in church funds on personal largess.
Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Mark Brennan said in a letter he dubbed a “plan of amends” that the diocese is asking Bransfield to repay roughly $792,000 to the Church, return the car it gave him and apologize to his victims.
The letter states his monthly living stipend, should he accept the terms, would be reduced to $736 per month, down from about $1,900 per month. The diocese would continue to provide for Medicare supplemental health care coverage, but he would have to cover his own pharmacy benefit plan.
“I wish to make clear that it is not my intention to impoverish the former bishop,” Brennan said in the letter. “While not a dollar-for-dollar restitution for the former bishop’s excessive expenditure of diocesan funds, I believe that this amount reflects the spirit of Pope Francis’ requirement that Bishop Bransfield make ‘amends for some of the harm he caused.’”
In a news conference, Brennan did not say what he or the Church would do if Bransfield declines to accept the terms the Church requested. Brennan referred to Bransfield as a “brother in Christ” who “has gone astray in some ways.”
The Washington Post reported in September that Bransfield enjoyed a lavish lifestyle funded by the diocese while he served as bishop between 2005 and 2018 that included 150 private jet flights, 200 limousine rides and more than $62,000 in jewelry, and more. The paper also reported in October that Bransfield is under criminal investigation for sexual abuse as well.
Bransfield has faced accusations both from the diocese and civil lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The diocese noted the money it requested from Bransfield is separate from the $110,000 it says he owes to the Internal Revenue Service. Brennan noted the plan is one of “moral and spiritual” amends, not legal amends.
Brennan said he wrote the plan of amends because Bransfield declined to do so.
Critics of the DWC raised eyebrows at the letter.
“What is the punishment for Bransfield if he does not do these amends?” asked Judy Jones, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
She called for a portion of any funds Bransfield repays to be devoted to an “aggressive public outreach campaign” through secular media to find and help other victims.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is suing the diocese alleging consumer protection violations at its schools, reiterated a demand that the diocese release its investigative reports into Bransfield’s conduct. He said the diocese needs to “tighten its internal controls to protect children” and provide assistance to the victims of abuse and pedophilia.
“It is time for the diocese to truly come clean and begin to put this horrific scandal behind it,” he said.