Diocese investigation: ‘No criminal activity’ by Bransfield

COMMENTS ON REPORT — Tim Bishop, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston spokesman, speaks Monday regarding a newly completed report of a five-month investigation into allegations against the Most Rev. Michael Bransfield, retired diocesan bishop. -- Linda Comins

WHEELING — The Most Rev. Michael Bransfield, retired bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, isn’t facing any criminal charges as a result of a just-completed diocesan investigation into alleged sexual harassment and financial improprieties, a spokesman said Monday.

Speaking at an afternoon press conference, Diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop said, “The report found that no criminal activity was undertaken.”

He said any such allegations “would have been taken to law enforcement” if they had been uncovered.

On Monday, the diocese announced the completion of a preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties by Bransfield. The report from that investigation will be sent to Catholic Church authorities in Rome.

“The Vatican will be issuing their judgment based on the report,” Bishop said. It’s not known when a final decision will be made.

“The Vatican has not indicated a timetable. It will probably take them some time to review the document.”

Bishop, who hasn’t seen the report, said he didn’t know if the alleged financial improprieties were related to the allegations of sexual harassment.

Details of the financial improprieties weren’t released, but Bishop said the investigation included examination of “general ledger transactions over the past 13 years.

On Sept. 13, the Vatican announced Bransfield’s retirement and appointed Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori as apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston, with a mandate to conduct a preliminary investigation into allegations against Bransfield. 

At that time, Lori indicated “the investigation will flow wherever it leads,” Bishop said. “As a result of more than 40 sit-down interviews,” the investigative team was “led down the path” to study alleged financial improprieties, he added.

The archbishop conducted the five-month investigation with the assistance of a team of five lay experts.

Lori didn’t attend the press conference. In a statement, Lori said he directed that Bransfield “is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.” 

However, Bransfield — as a “bishop emeritus” — isn’t prohibited from celebrating Mass or offering sacraments in other dioceses, Bishop said.

Currently, Bransfield is living outside West Virginia, in an undisclosed location. Asked if Bransfield is serving in any other diocese, Bishop said, “I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, he said Lori has indicated “the process for looking for the next bishop of our diocese is underway … The process of selecting our ninth bishop is moving forward.”

Pope Francis hasn’t said when a new bishop would be named.

Lori also stated, “I have further directed the diocese to implement a third-party reporting system for any sexual or financial impropriety on the part of its bishop, clergy, religious and lay employees and volunteers.”

Utilizing a process that Lori established in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, an appointed layperson “will accept reports (of impropriety) and investigate in a timely manner,” Bishop said.

People will be able to call a hotline and report complaints to the third-party system. A determination will be made as to whether an allegation needs to be reported to civil authorities or handled through a canonical process, Bishop said.


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