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Bishop Brennan working on plan for Bransfield to make amends for misdeeds

In the wake of new revelations regarding former Bishop Michael Bransfield operating a personal discretionary fund, new Wheeling-Charleston Diocese Bishop Mark Brennan issued a public letter on Thursday expressing his dismay and his desire for Bransfield to make amends.

“Like all my fellow Catholics and residents more broadly throughout the state of West Virginia, I am dismayed by the continued revelations concerning former Bishop Michael Bransfield’s misdeeds, as confirmed by the penalties which the Holy Father has imposed on him, and which continue to be chronicled by the media,” Brennan wrote. “It is my highest priority to restore trust in church leadership and bring about the healing that so many in our diocese need and desire.”

Brennan said he’s working to have Bransfield fulfill Pope Francis’ mandate that he make amends for the harm he caused during his tenure in the diocese. He hopes to communicate that restitution plan soon to the Pope and to the faithful of the diocese.

“While it is not possible to undo all the hurt and disappointment his actions have caused, I believe it is necessary for Bishop Bransfield to accept his moral responsibility and make a fair restitution to the people of the diocese, for whom he was responsible as their bishop,” Brennan wrote.

Pope Benedict and former Bishop Michael Bransfield

A Saturday Washington Post story unfolded how Bransfield established the Bishop’s Fund charity “to provide for the pastoral care of the diocese [and] charitable care of the people of the diocese,” tax filings reviewed by the Post indicated.

The fund’s $21 million came from the coffers of Wheeling Hospital, which Bransfield essentially controlled as chairman of the board, the Post reported. And Bransfield did use some of that money in West Virginia.

But he also sent $321,000 elsewhere, the Post reported, including $29,000 to remodel the Rome apartment of his friend, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, a close advisor to the Pope.

Bransfield channeled the Bishop’s Fund money that he gifted out through the diocese to his own bank account, the Post reported.

The Dominion Post solicited comments from members of Lay Catholic Voices for Change on the new revelations and Brennan’s letter. LCVC, composed of parishioners statewide, formed this past summer in the wake of the Post’s original revelations of Bransfield’s sexual and financial misconduct.

Matt Vester, speaking for himself and not the group, said in an email exchange, “I am pleased to see that Bishop Brennan is trying to persuade former Bishop Bransfield to make reparations to our diocese.  I hope that he also does whatever is canonically possible to reduce or eliminate the pension payments still being disbursed to the former bishop.”

He continued, “If Bishop Brennan would like to restore trust within the diocese (in ways that are clearly within his power), a first starting point would be to remove from positions of diocesan leadership those laypersons who enabled former Bishop Bransfield to engage in financially corrupt practices. 

“This would include Bryan Minor, who remains a member of the Bishop’s Executive Council and the Diocesan Finance Council.”

Vester concluded, “A second starting point would be to issue a public request that the Vatican release the findings of the McCarrick and Bransfield investigations.”

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was defrocked for sexual abuse. The Post reported that Bransfield and Farrell were both mentored by McCarrick.

Frances Brownfield, speaking for LCVC, said, “Lay Catholic Voices for Change is encouraged by Bishop Brennan’s priority of the restoration of trust in church leadership and the necessity of healing. We believe that dialogue with the laity and openness to lay input will be significant in restoring trust and creating transparency.  

“Bishop Brennan’s statement today,” she said, “indicates that the plan for restitution by Michael Bransfield is forthcoming. While we are puzzled by Bransfield’s continuing receipt of retirement payments we realize that the final restitution will be just a step on the long journey of healing.”

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