Bishop em. Michael Joseph Bransfield (m.) © Gregory A. Shemitz (KNA)
People in the Wheeling-Charleston diocese live in one of the poorest regions of the U.S. Their former bishop, on the other hand, indulged in luxury and obliged young priests to accompany him on expensive vacations.
The bishop regularly chartered private planes, rented luxury hotels at the finest addresses around the world, dined like a prince in the best restaurants and spent a fortune at jewelers. Young priests often accompanied him, some of whom later complained of sexual harassment.
He had been accustomed to a lavish lifestyle through more than 20 years as a priest in Washington, justifies Michael J. Bransfield told the "Washington Post". The paper conducted investigative research into allegations of abuse of power, sexual harassment of priests, and misappropriation of church funds against the former bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (2005-2018).
Pope to have Bransfield's performance in office investigated
On his 75. On his 60th birthday in September 2018, Bransfield stepped down due to age. Pope Francis then appointed the archbishop of the neighboring diocese of Baltimore, William Lori, as administrator and instructed him to investigate Bransfield's conduct in office.
Following the preliminary results, Bransfield was suspended from his priestly duties in March. According to the final report submitted in July, the allegations of Bransfield's lavish lifestyle and sexual molestation of young priests are "credible".
Archbishop Lori then came under fire himself for omitting from his report that he was among the recipients of Bransfield's generous benefits. While the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston cut funding to nearly two dozen parishes and schools in the impoverished region, the bishop handed out cash gifts to a number of influential churchmen.
In addition to Lori, the former head of the Vatican Supreme Court, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, and the former nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, also benefited from the grants.
Critical questions posed to pope critic Vigano
They had already received complaints from West Virginia six years ago demanding an investigation into Bransfield's conduct of office. For his part, Vigano, who is facing cover-up allegations in the affair involving former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was removed from the priesthood, says – now facing critical inquiries himself – that he can't remember a thing.
Much of the "Washington Post" story was already known from the investigative report. Among other things, Bransfield spent about $4.6 million on his private residence, $2.4 million on travel, and $340 million on cash gifts during his 13 years in office.000 dollars and for restaurant visits 140.000 dollars had spent.
What's new are details documenting how naturally the bishop let the church pay for personal luxuries while his parishioners wrestled with poverty. The "Post" has receipts for 150 private charter flights and 200 limousine rides. In the last year in office alone, Bransfield used the services of "Skyward Aviation" 19 times.
At the turn of the year 2017/18, he traveled with a monsignor friend to posh Palm Beach. There they stayed at the boutique hotel "The Colony". The 160-square-meter penthouse suite with private terrace cost the diocese 50.000 dollars.
To the Caribbean at church expense
Then, at the end of January 2018, Bransfield and a young priest flew on vacation once again at church expense; this time to the hotbed of hedonism, Miami Beach. In March, he went to the Caribbean island of Aruba for four days, in April to Rome with a few days of vacation in a luxury hotel in Positano on Italy's Amalfi Coast, then to Washington in a private jet, and in the summer to the beaches of New Jersey for an extended stay.
There Bransfield received the summons to the nunciature, to which he was summoned on 28 February. August 2018 arrived. The papal envoy opened up to him at the meeting that his job was up for grabs. "That was the worst day of my life," he recalled in the interview with The Washington Post. So bad that he had to travel right back to "Atlantic City"; by limo and private jet, of course.