WHEELING, W.Va. (WOWK) — The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston laid out their plan of amends for former bishop Michael Bransfield related to substantiated allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties as mandated by the Holy See at a press conference at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, November 26, 2019, at the Chancery Offices in Wheeling, West Virginia. Among the plan is a series of apologies and a reimbursement of $792,638 to the diocese.
It will now be up to former Bishop Bransfield and his legal counsel whether to accept these measures. The diocese says all proceeds from the reimbursement will be directed to a special fund to provide for the counseling, care, and support of those who have suffered sexual abuse.
The SNAP Survivors Network issued a response saying, “It’s irresponsible and inaccurate to suggest that Bransfield alone should make reparations. It’s likely that dozens of Catholic officials – in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania – knew of or suspected his abuse but ignored or hid it. Those individuals – and the institutions that likely still pay them – must be identified, admit their wrongdoing, and take steps to reduce the damage they’ve caused and are still causing by their secrecy and deceit.“
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued the following statement, “While today’s announcement by Bishop Brennan represents a step forward, justice will not be served until the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese releases all of its investigative reports on Bishop Bransfield, tightens its internal controls to protect children, and implements concrete measures to provide assistance to the many victims of sexual abuse and pedophilia needing medical, social, or mental health services. It is time for the Diocese to truly come clean and begin to put this horrific scandal behind it. The subpoena from our Office is likely the only reason we have a list of Diocese priests who are credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. The Diocese shouldn’t need more prodding from our Office to do the right thing.”
The full list of the plan to make amends is printed below:
- Apologies to the people the former bishop sexually harassed and for the severe emotional and spiritual harm his actions caused them.
- An apology for the grievous harm he caused to the faithful of the Diocese and the reputation of the Catholic Church here in West Virginia.
- An apology to Diocesan employees who suffered from a culture of intimidation and retribution which the former bishop created.
- Rather than receiving a monthly stipend based on the standards recommended by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Guidelines for the Provision of Sustenance to Bishops Emeriti,” Bishop Bransfield will receive only a monthly stipend equal to what a retired priest would receive as a pension benefit with 13 years of service within the Diocese. That amount is $736 per month.
- Although the Diocese will continue to provide for his Medicare supplemental health care coverage consistent with what would be provided for a retired priest of the Diocese, Bishop Bransfield will now be liable for his own pharmacy benefit plan. He will now also be personally responsible for his long-term health care policy and a disability policy.
- We have required Bishop Bransfield to either return or purchase the car he was provided upon his retirement at today’s fair market value.
- Bishop Bransfield will not be afforded the privilege of being buried within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston upon his death as is the custom for former bishops.
- As part of our thorough review of financial accounts and records during Bishop Bransfield’s tenure, our finance team determined that $441,492.00 in Diocesan funds was allocated for the bishop’s personal expenses, and apparently unrelated to his official responsibilities during the years of 2013-2018 which were not previously reported as taxable income to him. This amount reflects personal travel, vacations, clothing, alcohol and luxury goods. As such, this amount was an excess benefit to the former bishop subject to taxation. It was only as a result of our in-depth internal financial review that this amount was identified as related primarily to the former bishop’s personal expenses. The review involved a detailed analysis of his schedule for this period and a determination that no discernable official Church business was associated with these expenditures. To ensure adherence to Federal tax laws, the Diocese has self-reported for Federal tax purposes, and it is now the requirement that Bishop Bransfield reimburse this amount to the Diocese, along with any penalties incurred by the Diocese for not reporting these amounts at the time. In addition, Bishop Bransfield will be required to pay an excise tax in the approximate amount of $110,000.00 directly to the IRS. The consequences for non-compliance are severe and will be entirely the responsibility of Bishop Bransfield and not the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
- In reviewing the earlier period of the former bishop’s tenure, beginning in 2005, we have determined that an additional amount of $351,146.00 was attributable to the former bishop’s luxurious lifestyle. We have likewise requested Bishop Bransfield to reimburse the Diocese for this $351,146.00 as a matter of moral restitution.