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Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston responds to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s comments

WHEELING — The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are locked in a war of words over the church’s handling of its internal investigation into clergy sex abuse and various misdeeds by its former bishop.

Shortly after Bishop Mark Brennan announced punishment Tuesday against former bishop Michael Bransfield for allegedly sexually harassing other priests and his lavish spending while overseeing the diocese for more than a dozen years, Morrisey blasted the church for what he said was its lack of transparency.

Morrisey, who sued the diocese in March under the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act, called for the diocese to release internal investigative reports about Bransfield and improve its protection of children and assisting victims of sex abuse.

On Wednesday, Brennan responded directly to Morrisey in a written statement, refuting his accusations and claiming the diocese holds “rigorous controls regarding the protection of young people consistent” through its Safe Environment program and policy. He also said the diocese began a review of “credibly accused clergy” in July 2018, several months before Morrisey’s office issued a subpoena.

Brennan also alluded to a Nov. 6 ruling by the Circuit Court in Wood County that dismissed Morrisey’s lawsuit, pending confirmation by the state Supreme Court that “was obviously adverse to the Attorney General.”

“We can only assume this is why he continues to criticize the diocese and the Church,” Brennan said.

Brennan announced Tuesday that Bransfield, who left his position in September 2018, must pay $792,638 in restitution and perform various other duties in order to make amends.

Morrisey called the punishment “a step forward,” but added that “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,” Morrisey said.

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