James Still Deserves an Amanuensis + Lincoln’s Second Inaugural

from the “When Will the Scandal Be Over?” file…

Abraham Lincoln faced defeat in the election in 1864. But then General William T. Sherman took Atlanta (as recounted in Gone With the Wind). The victory restored the voters’ faith in the war effort. Lincoln won re-election and gave a second inaugural address in 1865, as the war neared the end of its fourth year.

lincoln-readingLincoln kept his second inaugural speech blessedly short. He quoted, or alluded to, the Holy Bible at least six times. His theme: the workings of Divine Providence.

Lincoln meditated on the preceding four years. Civil war had come shortly after his first inauguration. Neither side imagined that the war would drag on as it had, with 600,000 dead. But God had willed it so.

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

In other words: The U.S. owed the Civil War to Almighty God, as a kind of debt for centuries of chattel slavery. Lincoln prayed that the war would soon end, but then continued:

If God wills that it continue until… every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, …the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

…The bishop of our sister diocese in West Virginia recently wrote in a letter to his people:

As some of you have told me, we need to put the Bransfield saga behind us and move on.

But at least one of Bransfield’s victims does not agree.

On August 20, Bishop-Emeritus Bransfield published a “Letter to the Faithful” of our sister diocese, in which he wrote:

I am writing to apologize for any scandal and wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me… There have been allegations that by certain words and actions I have caused certain priests and seminarians to feel sexually harassed. Although that was never my intent, if anything that I said or did caused others to feel that way, then I am profoundly sorry.

Most Rev. Mark E. Brennan, current bishop of Wheeling-Charleston WV.

One of those seminarians that Bransfield harassed goes by the initals VGD. After Bransfield published his letter, through diocesan channels, VGD issued a statement, pointing out that…

1. Michael Bransfield’s attempt at apology and reconciliation is, in our Catholic Tradition, inadequate and unsatisfactory… We Catholics do not apologize for ‘actions attributed to us,’ or for hypothetical ‘ifs.’

2. Sitting Bishop Brennan had suggested to the public that Bransfield had privately apologized to his victims. VGD notes: Michael Bransfield did not reach out privately to apologize to me or other victims of his with whom I exchange support. [emphasis added]

3. VGD filed a lawsuit, after he had tried to meet with Archbishop William Lori, and with Lori’s investigators, and got rebuffed both times. The lawsuit outlines the web of cronyism involved in the situation. The suit also describes the sexual harassment VGD suffered at Bransfield’s hands. VGD writes, about his lawsuit:

I would not be seeking legal recourse if justice would be done by my church. The bishops in charge…delay, draw out, and stay my case…while at the same time telling us to “move on.” That is the language of perpetuating abuse, it is the language of cover-up.

Let’s just briefly recall the facts. Bransfield was about to reach mandatory retirement age, after decades of abuse of power–abuse that had been reported to Church authorities repeatedly, over the course of those decades. When it was all about to end anyway, with the malefactor’s retirement, one of Bransfield’s chancery priests denounced him to the Archbishop of the province, Lori.

Lori then received a mandate from the Vatican to conduct a secret investigation. Someone on the inside of that investigation apparently ran out of patience with the endless secrecy of the ecclesiastical cronies and leaked the whole report to the Washington Post. This gave the world access to the stunning details of Bransfield’s abuses of power. One of those details: Bransfield had given Lori cash gifts.

Archbishop William Lori
Archbishop William Lori

Lori suppressed that fact from the final version of the report. (Lori’s deception there may be what pushed the leaker over the edge.)

The investigators’ report recommended punishments for Bransfield, most of which have never happened. As someone Bransfield sexually harassed, VGD asked:

Are we supposed to simply sleep well at night crossing our fingers and just hoping that the re-empowered “bishop” Bransfield doesn’t get drunk and call us in the middle of the night, again? Or text us in the middle of the night, again?

VGD went on:

We can keep waiting for a scrubbed McCarrick report, or we can simply watch Bransfield unfold. We can watch our bishops demonstrate how to give gifts, how to make payments, how to promote your proteges, auxiliaries, and successors, how to bury and defy an abuse report, how to redact your own names, how to get away with it.

…A few weeks ago, a group of clerical sex-abuse survivors in Buffalo NY wrote to Pope Francis. They lamented that they had tried to communicate with the Apostolic Administrator currently running their diocese, without any success.

From the time the apostolic administrator, Edward Scharfenberger. came to Buffalo, he stated on numerous occasions his willingness to meet with any Survivor and offered the opportunity to see the files of our offenders. To this date, even with our reaching out to him, he has never personally followed through to contact any of us, making his words as a representative of the Catholic Church ring hollow. As Survivors, we are forced to relive our past experiences of sexual abuse, and being ignored re-traumatizes us.

pope francis head rubThe sex-abuse survivors asked the pope:

Why have you not taken swift and decisive action in putting and end to the sexual abuse of children and punish the perpetrators under your authority?

…The pattern has long since gotten familiar. Promises made by prelates of personal interactions with survivors that will bring about reconciliation. Then it never happens.

Reminds me of one fact recounted in the Minnesota Public Radio series Betrayed by Silence, which won a prestigious journalism award in 2014. The series exposed the duplicity of  three Twin-Cities Archbishops, including the late Harry Flynn, who had previously served as bishop in Lafayette LA.

(Flynn also chaired the committee that drafted the Dallas Charter of 2002, sharing the limelight on that occasion with Theodore McCarrick.)

The Scandal began in Lafayette, with the predations of Father Gilbert Gauthe. The MPR reporters found one of Gauthe’s victims, Mr. Scott Gastal. They told Gastal how Flynn had said he met with Gauthe’s victims. “Did he meet with you?”

“That’s the first I’m hearing of anything like that,” Gastal replied.

Betrayed by Silence also recounts how Mr. Tom Mahowald sought justice and reconciliation by seeking an encounter with a diocesan official, Father Kevin McDonough–only to have Father Kevin slam the door in his face:

…My point is: President Abraham Lincoln recognized that he had no right to exhort anyone to “move on.” If the Civil War was to drag on longer, with all its misery, so be it. The nation owed God all that misery and more, in exchange for the misery that slavery had cost the slaves.

In our Church, a huge debt of pain remains. If every ounce of suffering drawn by acts of clergy sexual abuse shall be paid by another ounce of suffering drawn from the institution, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

James Grein speaking in Baltimore
Mr. James Grein

…You may remember that, 26 months ago, I committed myself to the task of collecting all of James Grein’s public statements. James recently spoke on a “Catholic Project” podcast called Crisis. He recounted the abuse he suffered at the hands of Theodore McCarrick.

Pope Francis defrocked McCarrick last year. But the malefactor still has the ear of at least one high-ranking Vatican cardinal. And the web of deceit involved in covering up for McCarrick remains very much in place.

Don’t give up hope on my book about this, dear reader. I actually have almost all of it written, but it needs editing and emendations. I will post the draft of chapter three soon.

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.


Regional Church Scandal Update

Question 1: How did McCarrick thrive as a predator for decades, until June 2018?

Number of promises made by Cardinals/popes to provide an answer: At least four (Wuerl, Tobin, DiNardo, and the pope)

Number of answers actually given: Zero.

Question 2: How did former-West-Virginia-bishop Michael Bransfield thrive as a predator for decades, like his old friend Theodore McCarrick, until September 2018?

Number of investigative reports selectively edited by Baltimore Archbishop William Lori with information about this: One

Number of such reports made public by Lori and Pope Francis: Zero.

Question 3: How many former seminarians in West Virginia have sued the Church in the past six months?

Answer, provided by the West-Virginia press: At least two.

How many secret settlements of these cases did the diocese reach, under the governance of William Lori? One.

How many of these cases assert that the victim tried to communicate with Lori, but got rebuffed and treated like an enemy? At least one.

Question 3: How many bishops spoke at last week’s Notre Dame University forum on the sexual abuse crisis?

Answer: One.

Who? William Lori.

Forgive me for asking, but is this a joke, Notre Dame?

During the forum, Lori told his usual self-pitying and self-justifying sob stories. And he regaled the world with his typical mind-numbingly tedious tales of his own feckless bureaucratic bumblings.

Notre Dame University: What do you mean by this charade? Glamorizing the machinations of a documented liar and cover-up artist. Are you trying to shove the reputation of our Church even deeper into the bottom of the trashcan? Do you not realize that there are some serious people out here, people who actually know the facts about what has happened in West Virginia over the course of the last year, and who see William Lori for the charlatan that he is?

John Allen and Peter Steinfels: You should be ashamed of yourselves. For playing patsy to William Lori’s endless self-justifying nonsense. You show yourselves to be the hacks that you are, more interested in a secure paycheck than in any kind of real integrity.

The RMS Titanic of Roman Catholicism in our part of the world continues to sink, my dear ones, with bloviating nabobs on the bridge. Men utterly unprepared to deal with the catastrophe that they, and the men they kissed up to when they were younger, have wrought.

Let’s try to hasten to heaven as eagerly as we can. Let’s try to help as many people as we can along the way. Part One of such a business: Living in the truth.

Which includes this fact: The Metropolitan Archbishop of our ecclesiastical province is a careerist fraud. No honest human being should trust him any farther than Lori himself can throw medicine ball.

WV Paper Trail

On Friday afternoon, Pope Francis intervened in the Bransfield affair. He “sanctioned” Bishop Bransfield…

Bransfield communique
(from the Wheeling-Charleston diocese website)

An innocent question: For what reason did Pope Francis impose these sanctions?

Not easy to draw a conclusion about that. Since the Vatican communique has nothing whatsoever to say about Bransfield’s actual crimes. As usual, you have to do extensive background research, even to begin to understand the oracles of the Church mafia.

Archbishop William Lori

In March Archbishop Lori had suspended Bransfield from ministry pending a review of the case by the Holy See. Lori made no mention whatsoever of any particular crimes of which Bransfield had been found guilty by an ecclesiastical judge.

Then an insider leaked to the Washington Post the details of the report that Lori had sent to Rome. And also leaked the version Lori had not sent–the one that disclosed the money he had taken from Bransfield.

The leak forced Lori to address the matter with a public letter, to try to explain away his backroom subterfuge. In that June 5 letter, Lori reported that investigators had determined that “allegations” against Michael Bransfield of “sexual harassment” were “credible.”

“The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”

Lori went on to write, “It should be noted that due to privacy concerns and at the request of those who alleged harassment by Bishop Bransfield, the alleged victims and their personal accounts, which for them are a source of deeply-felt pain and humiliation, will not be disclosed by the Diocese.”

Strange thing to write, since one of the victims had filed a lawsuit against Bransfield, and the diocese, two months earlier, in which the victim explicitly recounted the details of an incident. An incident that rises to the level not just of sexual harassment but of sexual assault.

Nothing in Lori’s June 5 letter even so much as accuses Bransfield of any recognizable specific ecclesiastical crime, much less finds him guilty of any.

Lori also wrote in his June 5 letter that “the investigative report determined that during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending.”

Lori went on to acknowledge, however, that Bransfield never departed from any of the normal rules of financial oversight.

Lori explains that in this way: Bransfield’s “management style and personality undermined the effectiveness of diocesan policies, controls and oversight procedures. In some cases, it is apparent that the judgment of diocesan personnel was impacted by the culture of fear of retaliation and retribution that the former bishop fostered.”

A believable-enough characterization. But also lacking any specific accusations of concrete criminal acts.

So maybe we can understand Pope Francis’ “sanctions” in one of two ways.

1. As a medicinal punishment, aimed at the bishop’s repentance. After all, Michael Bransfield finds himself increasingly close to the end of his earthly pilgrimage.

But Bransfield, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, flatly denies all the accusations against him.

So maybe the pope’s sanctions are not so much a medicinal penalty as a kind of “plea bargain.” The prosecution decides to skip the hard task of making a case based on clear laws and concrete evidence, and the defendant accepts a token punishment.

2. On the other hand, the Vatican communique about the sanctions claims that the pope has acted out of “sincere concern for the clergy, religious, and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.”

That would seem to mean–or should mean, anyway–that the sanctions intend to restore justice and equilibrium to the life of the local church.

As they are, they manifestly do not do that. All the particulars of restitution are left to future negotiations between Bransfield and an as-yet-non-existent person. (Apparently we’ll learn the new bishop’s identity tomorrow. )

And the pope has made no provision whatsoever for the possibility of an irreconcilable dispute arising in the course of the restitution negotiations. Considering the fact that Bransfield denies all wrongdoing, such an dispute seems inevitable. Unless the next bishop of Wheeling-Charleston decides just to forget the whole thing.

…This would be simply an embarrassing joke of a situation, if it weren’t for the fact that we have to face this:

The lawsuit filed by Bransfield’s sex-assault victim in West Virginia asserts a conspiracy on the part of McCarrick and Bransfield, to give Bransfield access to young men upon whom he could prey. (McCarrick participated in Bransfield’s ordination as a bishop in 2005.)

Now, this claim probably amounts to nothing more than legal boilerplate, intended to intimidate the defendants into settling the case for a large sum. As far as we know, no one has the kind of hard evidence of an episcopal sex-predator conspiracy that could hold up in a court of law.

But now, a year after James Grein went to the New York Times, we Catholics find ourselves with a pretty stark choice.

Either to believe by some impossible mental gymnastics that the pope really means well–but for some reason can’t attain forthrightness and clarity when it comes to sexually predatory bishops.

Or to recognize: Pope Francis cannot, will not clean up this mess. Because either he simply does nor have the mind, or the will. Or: he is himself a sexually predatory bishop, or wishes he were.