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By Tim Busch, Real Clear Religion, August 16, 2019
Sexual abuse isn’t the only scandal confronting the Catholic Church. There is a growing recognition that financial abuse is more prevalent than most Catholics think. Look no further than the case of the disgraced former bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia: Bishop Michael Joseph Bransfield.
Once a little-known leader in the Church, Bishop Bransfield burst into the spotlight last year. A close associate of the disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Bransfield suddenly resigned in a cloud of suspicion. The Vatican ordered an investigation into allegations of abuse and misuse of funds. It found that Bransfield lived like a king, not a bishop – in one of the nation’s poorest dioceses, no less.
Bransfield’s tastes were extravagant and his expenditures obscene. They included $4.6 million on a complete home renovation following a small fire in a bathroom; $2.4 million on travel, including luxury hotels and chartered jets; $1,000 a month on alcohol; and daily flower deliveries totaling $182,000, to name a few examples. Whenever anyone raised objections, Bransfield’s response was simple and usually the same: “I own this.”
Bransfield also doled out $350,000 in gifts to other priests and bishops, in an apparent attempt to curry favor and ward off bad press coverage. The investigation’s final report, in addition to detailing the financial scandal, also included accusations from nine individuals alleging sexual abuse or harassment. It appears that Church money wasn’t the only thing Bishop Bransfield grossly misused.
These findings spurred the Vatican to action. Last month, Rome banned Bransfield from exercising any public ministry. He is also prohibited from living in his former diocese. The new bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Mark Brennan retains the right to demand additional penance and amends from his disgraced predecessor, although it remains to be seen if he will do so.
The Vatican’s actions are a satisfactory conclusion to the Bransfield scandal. Yet some important questions have yet to be answered. Chief among them: How could this have happened in the first place? ….