Allegations of financial impropriety against former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield went unheeded for years, according to a new report. Letters from lay men and woman, and from Bransfield’s own chancery staff raised serious concerns about the bishop’s spending and that he was using diocesan resources to “purchase influence.”
On July 3, the Washington Post reported that concerns about Bransfield’s spending were raised as early as 2012 with senior Church authorities in the United States and Rome. Several of those to whom complaints were made were themselves recipients of gifts of money from the bishop.
Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Following allegations of sexual and financial misconduct by him over a period of years, local metropolitan Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was ordered by Pope Francis to conduct an investigation. Lori subsequently barred Bransfield from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.
On Wednesday, The Post reported that specific concerns had been raised years earlier about the use of financial gifts to Church authorities by Bransfield, and the role they may have played in delaying action against him.
In an August 2018 letter addressed to Lori, Bransfield’s own judicial vicar, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, said he believed the gifts bought the bishop latitude.
“It is my own opinion that [Bransfield] makes use of monetary gifts, such as those noted above, to higher ranking ecclesiastics and gifts to subordinates to purchase influence from the former and compliance or loyalty from the latter,” Quirk is quoted by The Post as writing.
The eight-page letter from Quirk also detailed prescription drug and alcohol abuse by Bransfield, and his serial sexual harassment of priests and young men, accusations which Bransfield denied to The Post, saying that a diocesan investigation has exonerated him of sexual abuse.
Quirk resigned from his positions as Judicial Vicar and rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in June 2019.
The Post also names four senior American prelates as having received financial gifts from Bransfield and complaints against him from the West Viginia faithful.
Former apostolic nuncio to the Unites States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was asked to investigate Bransfield’s lifestyle and leadership in 2013 by diocesan resident Linda Abrahamian. Vigano had previously confirmed to the Post that he received $6,000 in gifts from the bishop.
Vigano also confirmed he had heard “rumors” about Bransfield’s sexual misconduct, but that they had never been “substantiated.”
Responding to the new report, he said that he had no memory of the complaint being made and that he had donated all of Bransfield’s gifts to charity shortly after receiving them.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and Archbishop Peter Wells, formerly an official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, are also both reported to have received gifts from and complaints about Bransfield.
Both denied to The Post that Bransfield’s gifts influenced them in any way.
Lori himself, who was eventually placed in charge of investigating the allegations against Bansfield, received a complaint in November of 2012, alleging the bishop had taken punitive action against a priest who had denounced Bransfield’s lavish spending.
Kellee Abner, a parishioner of the priest, complained to Lori about his treatment by Bransfield and was contacted by someone from Lori’s office, but was told that the Baltimore archbishop had no authority to intervene.
After being authorized by the Vatican to investigate earlier this year, Lori stated publicly in June that accusations of sexual and financial misconduct by Bransfield had been determined to be “credible” by an independent investigation, and that Bransfield had managed to erode and evade oversight and by fostering “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” in the diocese.
The report also concluded that “during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” and that investigators had “uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”
After the Washington Post obtained a full copy of the investigators’ report, last month Lori was forced to apologize for redacting the names of bishops – including his own – who had received money from Bransfield from the version of the report sent to Rome, saying he had mistakenly thought such information would have been a “distraction.”
Lori also announced he would return $7,500 in gifts he had taken from Bransfield since 2012.
In a phone call with The Post, Bransfield reportedly defended his spending while in charge of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, calling it justified and saying that insufficient attention had been paid to his expansion of a local Catholic hospital and improvements to Catholic schools.