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Bishop Bransfield’s Lush Life

Gay sexual harassment, big booze tabs, luxury travel, and $182,000 of fresh flowers: who knew a prelate could have so much fun in one of America's poorest states?
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The Washington Post has the goods on Catholic Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling, W. Va., whose resignation last fall when he reached the age of 75 was swiftly accepted by Rome, which then ordered an investigation into Bransfield’s tenure. Excerpts:

In the years before he was ousted for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses, the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican, according to church records obtained by The Washington Post.

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield wrote the checks from his personal account over more than a decade, and the West Virginia diocese reimbursed him by boosting his compensation to cover the value of the gifts, the records show. As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the diocese must use its money only for charitable purposes.

The gifts — one as large as $15,000 — were detailed in a draft of a confidential report to the Vatican about the alleged misconduct that led to Bransfield’s resignation in September. The names of 11 powerful clerics who received checks were edited out of the final report at the request of the archbishop overseeing the investigation, William Lori of Baltimore.

Lori’s name was among those cut. He received a total of $10,500, records show.

The Post obtained both versions of the report, along with numerous emails and financial records.

Ha! Archbishop Lori covered for himself and the other powerful clerics in the report sent to Rome. These guys don’t know what honesty is. Lori told the Post that he didn’t see why those men’s names should be in the report, because there is no evidence that they did wrong by accepting the money. That is true, but basic accountability matters more than covering the rears of the episcopal class.


During his 13 years as bishop in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, much of it personal, which included flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels, according to the report. Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, it says. The West Virginia diocese paid $4.6 million to renovate Bransfield’s church residence after a fire damaged a single bathroom. When Bransfield was in the chancery, an administrative building, fresh flowers were delivered daily, at a cost of about $100 a day — almost $182,000 in all.

Bransfield, 75, drew on a source of revenue that many parishioners knew little about, oil-rich land in Texas donated to the diocese more than a century ago. He spoke of church money as if it were his to spend without restriction, according to the report.

“I own this,” he is quoted as saying on many occasions.

You really have to read the whole thing. It’s incredible what this bishop is alleged by the Church’s own investigators to have done (he denies it). Bransfield was for years the rector of the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and had a reputation — deserved or not — for homosexuality and high living. His downfall as a bishop came when younger priests in West Virginia began complaining that he was sexually harassing them. From the Post:

At least six of Bransfield’s clerical assistants in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston “were broken by the experience,” Vicar for Clergy Anthony Cincinnati told investigators. Seminarians or young priests appealed to leaders in the diocese, to no avail, the report says. They were instructed to “make your boundaries clear,” it says, or told that they had no choice but to join Bransfield in such activities as sleepovers at his residence and on trips.

You will not be surprised to learn that Bransfield was close to former Cardinal Ted McCarrick and his successor as cardinal archbishop of Washington, Donald Wuerl. In fact, Bishop Bransfield was head of the Papal Foundation, a private charity co-founded by McCarrick to raise money from wealthy American Catholics to send to Rome for the Pope’s charitable use. In First Things this past spring, Matthew O’Brien reported on how Cardinal Wuerl and other prelates on the foundation manipulated the lay members of the board to wangle a massive grant to Rome that may have violated US tax laws. Last fall, O’Brien reported on how McCarrick may have used the Papal Foundation as a slush fund to buy influence in Rome.  It’s becoming clearer that Ted McCarrick was at the nexus of the Catholic hierarchy’s sexual and financial corruption, and abuse. It appears that lay Catholics involved with the Papal Foundation finally got tired of having their pockets picked by these episcopal sybarites to pay for their lush lives and career advancement.

Bishop Bransfield, who was one of the most important members of the Foundation’s leadership, paid for his luxurious life in one of America’s poorest states — where only four percent of the population is Catholic — by drawing on a small fortune in Texas oil money left to the diocese by an heiress. He was shameless in his spending — and the diocese’s finance board, which was supposed to be overseeing it, was “extremely passive” according to the Church’s internal investigation. West Virginia has so much poverty and suffering, but its bishop spent money that wasn’t his to ingratiate himself with high church officials, to buy jewelry, purchasing massive amounts of booze (the report alleges that he was a drunk and a pillhead), fresh flower deliveries daily, and basically carousing and hitting on priests and seminarians.

Like I said: read the whole thing.

Bransfield was named a bishop in 2004 by John Paul II, who was near death at the time. It’s likely that this was a rubber-stamp appointment pushed by Cardinal McCarrick, Bransfield dear friend and fellow lavender mafioso. Lust for men, lust for money, and lust for power — they’re all tied together in the endless Catholic scandal.

The editor-in-chief of the Catholic News Agency is not taking the news well:

UPDATE: A reader said I missed the best part:


UPDATE.2: Michelle Boorstein, one of the reporters on this story, tweeted that the Post didn’t have room to get into the details of Bishop Bransfield’s spending. It included this:

Here’s an April 2019 story from Inside Higher Ed about what’s happening at Wheeling Jesuit. Excerpt:

“Wheeling Jesuit University will exist in name only next year,” said Jessica Wrobleski, a tenured theology professor who was laid off. “The heart of the school, and its identity, have just been cut out. It’s been pretty heartbreaking.”

In all, the cuts amount to nearly 40 percent of the university’s full-time faculty and nearly all of its core undergraduate faculty. They were not offered buyouts or severance packages, as in past layoffs, faculty members said.

Nearly all of Wheeling’s traditional arts and sciences positions were eliminated, leaving the institution to focus on health care, business, exercise science and a handful of other majors.

“Basically all liberal arts faculty have been cut, with the exception of one person in English, one person in biology [and] one person in psychology,” said Wrobleski. “I can’t imagine that they’re intending on keeping anything like the core curriculum.”

We have to be careful here. It sounds like the university’s problems are so deep and so broad that it’s not the case that the Diocese could have bailed the whole thing out. Still, the fact that tenured faculty are being fired, while the Bishop lived a life of luxury on money that was not his own — it’s disgusting.

UPDATE.3: Reader Maris Taidgh is mad:

I told both my sons that if they consider the priesthood (they have done so, and seriously), to inform the bishop/abbot/authority figure over them that if he were to subject them to harassment, that I would hire a hit man. I want bishops, seminary rectors, provincials, abbots, and any priest with authority over younger priests to be afraid. Be very, very, afraid.

We live in a neighboring diocese to WV. We knew a young priest in a nearby rust-belt parish trying to implement a more reverent, traditional liturgy. The elderly parishioners complained and Bransfield called him on the carpet and transferred him. That young priest is now on medical leave. Oh, and you know what else? That same young priest was his secretary for a while. I’m thinking he’s traumatized. If I were in the same room as Bransfield, I’d brain him with my cast-iron frying pan. I really would. Bastard.

In other parishes (and I’ve been in them on opposite sides of the state), the boomer-hippy liturgical abuse culture prevails. One rich parish within commuting distance of D.C. is famously gay friendly. I was there. The priest improvises the liturgy. I’d like to smack him upside the head, too.

This sh*t has got to stop. I now get the fury of the persecution of the Church in France and Spain. The problem is, a lot of innocents paid for the sins of bastards like Bransfield.

I want the Bransfields of the church to pay, and not be let out of confinement until they have discharged their debt to the very last penny.

UPDATE.4: Lee Podles comments:

When then-Cardinal Ratzinger was close to retirement, he mentioned in an interview that the salary of a cardinal was adequate, but he couldn’t afford to take vacations up north to escape the stifling Roman heat.

I sent him a letter of appreciation for the work he had done for the church and enclosed a substantial check, mentioning that I hoped he could summer in the Bavarian Alps, close to home. He replied, thanking me for my gift, and said he would use it to purchase materials for the library of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as libraries never have an adequate budget.

I was a tad disappointed by wouldn’t accept the personal gift, but I later learned that he refused almost all gifts and honoraria. He and I have a mutual friend, and I presume he checked out my bona fides to make sure the money came from an honest source and that there were no strings attached.

Christmas that year I got a personal Christmas card from him; that was more reward than I expected.

UPDATE.5: A Catholic reader in West Virginia writes (but asks me to redact his name):

Thank you for your article on Bishop Bransfield. I enjoyed reading it and appreciated your work on it. I did want to give a counter opinion on one thing though. Concerning Wheeling Jesuit University: they are only victims of themselves and their own stupidity. Decades of progressivism has infested that institution. I wouldn’t let my children attend that school if the Jesuits paid me! As the disease of progressiveness usually does to institutions, it destroyed WJU. And they are only the recipients of their just deserts.

Wheeling Jesuit University was a Jesuit institution operating independently within the Diocese. A few years ago, under their own mismanagement, and after the death of Robert “KKK” Byrd (Jesuit was basically dependent on pork earmarks from the Exalted Cyclops, and could not stand on its own merits), they called for help from the Diocese who came in to bail them out. And the Diocese did.

Since WJU was unable to support itself, it had to accept the Diocese involvement in their affairs. So they were told by the Diocese to go 30 minutes up the river and check out Franciscan University of Steubenville, a thriving robust institution, and figure out what FUS was doing to be so successful. Franciscan is a conservative orthodox school (hint: that is the secret that the WJU administration was supposed to figure out). They were also told that it is shameful that the Jesuits- who are known for education- are being outdone by the Franciscans- who are not know for educational institutions.

Well the Jesuits did not get the hint, and continued to be obstinate in their progressive ways. So they failed.

The news came this year that Wheeling Jesuit University would losing its Jesuit affiliation, and that major cuts were being made. Then the complaining started. Once again, I must say, they are just getting their own progressive just deserts. All of this most recent news broke long after the retirement of Bransfield.

If anything, Bransfield saved them from their own stupidity. Paying off their $32,400,000 debt in a bailout. Yet two years later, even having the whole of their debt paid off was not enough. In fact, the Diocese DID BAIL THE WHOLE THING OUT!!!! And two years later, they utterly failed again. That is disgusting on the part of the Jesuit administration!