West-Virginia Update

During the four-month period when I didn’t publish any blog posts, our sister diocese in West Virginia experienced some notable developments. Here’s the update that I promised, from the old-post mailbag

(written 1/26/20)

Bishop Michael Bransfield governed the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, from 2005 to 2018, sexually harassing numerous seminarians and young priests, and spending multiple millions on himself.

Bransfield reached retirement age a few weeks after the truth about Theodore McCarrick began to become public, in the summer of 2018.

Remember: truth about McCarrick did not become public owing to the honesty of any sitting bishops or popes. It became public thanks to the work of two lawyers in New York and the courage of Mr. James Grein.

If McCarrick had not been “outed” by circumstances outside the hierarchy’s control, we can well imagine that Bransfield would have retired quietly and uneventfully to the plush West-Virginia digs he had prepared for himself.

But, as we know, panic mode had struck the halls of ecclesiastical power in late summer, 2018.

We have previously covered what happened:

The Archbishop of Baltimore came to “rescue” the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

–An insider grew impatient with the dubious “rescue,” and revealed to the Washington Post that: 1. Archbishop Lori had commissioned a report, which found, among many other things, that Bransfield had given Lori thousands of dollars. 2. The report went to the Vatican with the information about Bransfield’s gifts to Lori expunged.

–Then it turned out that: The Archbishops of Baltimore, and the Vatican, had long known about Bransfield’s profligate ways. The faithful had complained repeatedly, through two papacies. The higher-ranking prelates just ignored all the complaints.

We traced the eerie similarities between how people complained up the ecclesiastical chain-of-command about McCarrick for over a decade, and got nowhere. And how they complained about Bransfield for over a decade, and got nowhere.

–In mid-summer of last year, Lori yielded to pressure applied by laypeople in the diocese. The Archbishop promised that an independent audit of the diocesan finances would be commissioned and made public. In November, the diocesan spokesman promised that the audit would come out “early next year.” Nothing so far.

[That is: nothing as of January 26, when I originally wrote this. On February 21, 2020, the diocese released a financial report. I discuss the contents of that report in an addendum below.]

–In late July, Pope Francis announced the “punishment” of retired Bishop Bransfield–even though no Church official had ever publicly spelled-out Bransfield’s crimes.

–Mark Brennan became bishop of West Virginia in August. Pope gave Brennan an impossible mandate. Then Archbishop Lori went to talk at Notre Dame University.

–In November Bishop Brennan announced a “plan of amends.” He went to Rome and discussed it with Marc Card. Ouellet. But Brennan said nothing publicly about the outcome of that meeting. Meanwhile, a former seminarian, abused by Bransfield, discussed the plan with a journalist. In the interview, the young man had some inspiring things to say, and cut through an ecclesiastical lie or two.

–Then the Washington Post stepped into this swirling nebula of feckless non-disclosure of facts. They went ahead and published the entire internal investigative report that someone had leaked to them in June.

Here’s one of our heroes, Michael Iafrate, commenting after the Post published the report:

Your humble servant read every word of the report. It illuminates the way that bishops can abuse their authority. The report has these shortcomings:

1. The Post published the edited version. That is, the version without the precise details of Bransfield’s apparent bribes to higher-ranking prelates, including Lori.

2. The report does not recount the efforts that good Catholics in West Virginia had made for years, to alert authorities about Bransfield. As noted above, West-Virginia Catholics had complained repeatedly to the Metropolitan Archbishops of Baltimore, and to the Apostolic Nuncios of Popes Benedict and Francis.

3. The Post has in its possession, but has not published, the letter that gave rise to the report. In August of 2018, the Judicial Vicar of West Virginia, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, wrote to Archbishop Lori to raise the alarm about Bransfield.

The Post has quoted Msgr. Quirk’s letter, but has not published it in its entirety. I can only imagine that someone attuned to the subtleties of the communiques of ecclesiastical officials could understand things about that letter that Post reporters probably cannot grasp.

At this point, a year and a half later, it seems to me like the Post really ought to publish the whole letter. Given the extensive consequences that the document produced, the public has a right to see it. (With names of victims blacked-out, as necessary, of course.) But maybe there are reasons not to do so.

What does the Bransfield Report teach us? Independent investigators ought to subject every diocese to the same scrutiny. Every diocese ought to have a similar report done, with the findings published for the world to see.

Because: Bransfield engaged in some conspicuous excesses of self-indulgence, to be sure. But, when it comes to excessively exercising mind-controlling authority over subordinates, Bransfield did not stray far from the norm. If anything, he was less severe than many others.

It’s the same playbook, followed far and wide: Demand unqualified, irrational obedience. Demand that everyone around you see the world precisely as you see it. (After all, if they don’t, they can’t be good Catholics.) Demand that they accord you the center-of-the-universe dignity that accrues to every man with a miter.

Make these demands capriciously, unexpectedly. But insist on immediate satisfaction. Punish anyone who refuses to submit. With the greatest possible severity.


On February 21, 2020, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston published the promised financial audit. It covers only fiscal year 2019.

Last October, reporters raised questions about former-bishop Bransfield diverting Medicare and Medicaid money for diocesan use, possibly committing a federal crime by doing so. As far as I know, those questions remain unaddressed by the diocese.

The report released on February 21 does not disclose the lavish spending made by Bishop Bransfield during his tenure, which ended just as the fiscal year 2019 began. Genuine transparency would seem to call for a full disclosure, by the diocese, of all those expenditures over the Bransfield years.

The published report does disclose the amount that the diocese had to pay for the investigative report that the Washington Post obtained and published.

Over a year has passed since the secret investigative “Bransfield Report” landed on the desk of the Archbishop of Baltimore. It resulted in “punitive measures” taken by the Holy See. Those measures amount, at this point, to a reduction in Bransfield’s pension.

The Church never released any of the specific information contained in the report. An insider (or insiders) leaked it to the press. That provided the people of the diocese with a window inside a dysfunctional situation–a situation they had long known from the outside.

The Church still has not found Bransfield guilty of anything in particular.

Which means the hierarchy found him guilty, basically, of being a dangerous, self-serving autocrat who had the bad fortune of getting caught at being one.


8 thoughts on “West-Virginia Update

  1. Let’s review: Roman Catholic bishops lie, cheat, steal, rip off Medicare and Medicaid, and treat their priests and people like slaves.
    Why, oh why, oh please please why do you Catholics put up with this???

  2. Ann
    I am assuming since very little of this was known to me ‘in fact’ until 2 years ago – There certainly must be many ‘pew’ Catholics who know very little about these abuses. I heard rumors in my 20’s and you ignore them because you can’t believe it. I always figured it was people who just hated my Faith. It made perfect sense to me these ‘whispers’ were not true, as I , along with other students, leaving a Catholic grade school to public were ridiculed. I was called a ‘Catlicker’, I was told and teased that the Catholic Faith was of the Devil. I also learned standing up to answer a question in public school was not the norm. I had chalk thrown at me and a teacher tell me – ‘Oh your one of those from the Church school – sit down and join the real universe. So needless to say I dismissed the whispers and just never read or heard of these abuses.
    My biggest concern as a ‘pew’ Catholic was to adore the Lord – cherish my time at Mass and any of the Sacraments I was honored to receive. Then the Civil life continued for me. I had a good Catholic upbringing. As a youth I lived by my Church, my Rectory and the Convent right next door. Never did I see abuse nor hear of any such things in my home growing up.
    So to ask why we Catholics put up with these abuses is a fine question – but – as I’m just learning the extent of this at such an old age – I can’t imagine how others may feel. Could they have been as ignorant as I? Perhaps…. Could it be it shook their very foundation of Faith and like an Ostrich stick their heads in the sand and hope it passes? Perhaps… Could it be they are intimidated to speak about it or feel they have no one they can trust to further explain such things? Perhaps…
    What I do know is that it is no longer being ignored by many of the ‘pew’ Catholics. We’re learning – we’re hearing – and we’re acting in whatever fashion we can manage individually. I judge no one on how they can act on these matters.
    I do believe things are being addressed – I’m a bit of a recluse or perhaps a coward. I would prefer the later but I do my best and yes – I believe in my Faith – Christ instituted it – I pray and now I’ve discussed with a few souls I trust. How it will all end I have no idea. What I do know is the Lord listens to those with ‘true – justified’ intent and an answer will come – but perhaps not to our earthly time constraints.
    Dear Lord – I know Your seeing and listening to all – I know I will try by beseeching prayer that You will bring justice to the abused of our Faith and to protect those who go about in Your Love to bring it forward for rectification. Of this I am assured.

  3. Thank you Sheila for your faith and devotion. I believe you express what many others feel and wonder. I know you and you are not a coward…you are someone who thinks deeply about what you feel and share. I join you in your prayer that God “… will bring justice to the abused of our Faith and to protect those who go about in Your love to bring it forward for rectification.”
    Judy R.

  4. I’m Ann Bolbach White aka Ann White (WordPress won’t let me use my original account name) and I made the original comment. It’s not about the faith—I’m a Christian, too — and I wouldn’t give it up. It’s about the church, which needs to be REFORMED, even more than in Luther’s day. Mark (my son) is trying to do that; he needs help. God EXPECTS the members of his church to care enough about the church to work to reform it. Ann White

  5. Ann –
    I knew who you were when I wrote the comment. I want you to know I’ve been praying for you for some time now.
    Why? Because as a mother this must be a most sorrowful time for you and how your intelligence and mostly your heart must be affected by what your son, our Pastor faces. As in my response, each of us will do as we can to help stop these abhorrent abuses.
    When I saw some of your responses through the blogs on the abuse I thought of our Blessed Virgin Mary. The unbelievable sorrow she suffered when she saw her Son scourged, spat upon, crowned with thorns and robed in a dirty cape. Our Lords falls on the way to the crucifixion, His crucifixion and the horror of what that kind of death physically entails. All this He endured and His Mother – My Blessed Mother.
    I do sorrow for you. I can, as mother, understand your crying out for help for your son. In many ways we are crying out as well.
    Some parishioners are standing by your son in a very outward way for the public to see. Some are quietly seeking what to do and some are doing things but not announced for all to see. I want you to know an awakening is occurring – slow that it may be. Your son is highly regarded and appreciated by so many and prayed for continually.
    In your eyes we may be failing your son but believe me we are trying to in some private ways to help.
    I thank you for the love and support only a mother can give to her child. I thank the Lord he called your son the priesthood. Father is a strong man who so grandly shows his love of the Lord. I believe this to my core. So – your son – Father Mark walks with truth and the Love of the Lord surrounding him.
    My prayers and my wishes for the Lords peace to surround you Ann will not end. God Bless all the mothers who sorrow in any way for their children.

  6. To Ann: you are a Protestant mother with a son who became a Catholic priest, which places you in a somewhat unusual situation. (I imagine there have been others.) I am sincerely interested in whatever specific ideas or suggestions you have on how we might deal with all of these issues.
    I have prayed for guidance on what more we lay people can do…I have some ideas, but nothing to share at this point. I wish I had an outline point-by-point of what to do, but I don’t.
    As I listen to the religious channel on TV, I hear over and over about the faith of priests (and others) over all the years/centuries who faced hard trials, disappointment, and great perils, sometimes from even the church leaders. BUT ALWAYS: THEY PRAYED. So, I continue to pray for God’s love to watch over us, for God to be with Fr. Mark as he follows the path to which God has called him and for God’s guidance in all things.
    One last thought: I often wonder, what is it about “power” that causes people, who at some point felt called to devote their life to serving God, to leave a path of righteousness and turn to pridefulness, greed, self-indulgence, dishonesty, etc.? (And this occurs in the Protestant faith, not just the Catholic faith, as we all know.) Are they somehow able to blind themselves to the sinfulness of what they are doing? Or perhaps their call to serve God was not true…perhaps it was the lure of power that led them. Only God knows their hearts. Only God knows whether they ever truly repent. I wonder, but it is not for me to know or judge.
    So I pray for forgiveness for my own sins and weaknesses. I pray for wisdom to know what to do and how to do it, according to God’s will. And at this moment we all pray for the end of this horrible virus. May God grant us peace.
    Judy R.

  7. To my friend, Sheila: God bless you and your wisdom and understanding. You always find a way to say the things I feel and don’t seem to know how to express.
    Judy R.

  8. To the above:to Ann White, I wish to apologize for the agony both you and our beloved priest,Fr.Mark are continuing to undergo due to our bishop and the hierarchy in our church. It reminds me of the way our dear Lord Jesus Christ suffered for our salvation. Your son is a very strong, courageous, and intelligent person. Please know that many are supporting him in many different ways. One is through prayer and another is monetary.and letters to the above hierarchy. Many of us did not know and/or understand what has been happening in our Faith. Thanks to Fr. Mark, we do know and are willing to try to correct the injustice done to Fr. Mark. And to the above writers, thanks for your very articulate comments.I wish I could be a better writer, but as you can see, I am behind on my emails!

    Peace and Love,

    Ann Gunter

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