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Bishop: Bransfield apology was insincere, ‘self-serving’

WHEELING — The past few years have featured turmoil and chaos for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, as more than a decade of drinking, lavish spending and sexual harassment by former bishop Michael Bransfield came to light.

As if that wasn’t enough to shake the church, after a 60-page report detailing Bransfield’s misdeeds and harassment was released in 2019, the former bishop denied any wrongdoing. And when the Vatican ordered Bransfield to apologize and make restitution to the faithful in West Virginia in order to remain in good standing with Rome, he offered an apology, most notably saying he was sorry for “any scandal or wonderment” he caused while justifying the millions he spent on himself.

As detailed in numerous news reports over the past several months, parishioners and priests alike dismiss Bransfield’s apology as being “self-serving” while also noting the $441,000 in restitution he would make was not enough.

One of his alleged sexual harassment victims, a former traveling priest to Bransfield, said the apology was “inadequate and unsatisfactory.” The man, who identified himself as VGD in a four-page letter sent to the Sunday News-Register, took exception to Bransfield’s brief apology dated Aug. 15 as part of his amends to leave the church in good standing.

“Unfortunately, former bishop Bransfield’s letter does not meet the basic conditions of Catholic contrition, or apology, specifically in the context of reconciliation,” VGD said in his response. “In the Catholic tradition, we do not apologize for actions ‘attributed to’ us or for hypothetical ‘ifs.'”

Little has been said on the apology and financial amends from within the diocesan offices in East Wheeling. But now, the Most Rev. Mark Brennan, current Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, is publicly using three words to describe the past 15 years within the local church: “The Bransfield Saga.”

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Within a letter late last month from Brennan to the faithful is a section termed “The Bransfield Saga.” The four-paragraph section highlights Brennan’s thoughts on a matter that has consumed his first 14 months as bishop.

Brennan has said publicly since August that he would not pass judgment on Bransfield’s apology, and that he simply released it in its entirety for the faithful to read and make up their own minds. That now has changed, though, as within the letter he blasted Bransfield for his lack of remorse.

“The reaction of our people to the Holy See’s decision on the amends bishop Bransfield should make for some of the harm he caused has been mixed,” Brennan wrote. “Some are tired of the whole affair and want to move on. Others think the former bishop got off much too lightly. For my part, I found his apology self-serving and lacking in any recognition of, or contrition for, actually having offended people. I had it published without alteration and without comment, trusting that our people would see it for the non-apology that it was, and they did.”

Brennan said even though he wasn’t in West Virginia to experience Bransfield’s misdeeds first-hand, “I deeply regret the pain that such a scandal and betrayal caused you.”

Brennan also addressed those that believe Bransfield should be in jail for his financial misdeeds and his sexual harassment of young seminarians. Bransfield spent millions in diocesan funds on personal travel, jewelry, alcohol and his homes and allegedly sexually harassed at least three male seminarians.

Brennan pointed out that “only the civil authorities can charge a person with a crime or send him to jail; the church can do neither.”

He also noted that “those who dislike referring to my predecessor as a bishop must reckon with the fact that he is a bishop by virtue of his ordination; the discipline Rome imposed on him does not change that reality.

“With respect to the title ’emeritus,’ Rome uses it as a technical term for a retired bishop but I do not use it because I know that, for English speakers, the term connotes honor and esteem, which neither we nor Rome attributes” to Bransfield, he said.

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Along with chastising Bransfield for his “non-apology,” Brennan also used the Bransfield saga section of his letter to remind the faithful of what he sees as a life lesson: “We don’t always get our way.”

“We did get some satisfaction relative to the Bransfield affair; to the best of my knowledge, the Holy See has never told a bishop in this country to apologize to his people and to make some financial restitution to them. Rome did that to bishop Bransfield, even if the ‘apology’ was anemic and the financial restitution, though substantial, was less than we initially sought. I do think Rome’s decision is a ‘shot across the bow’ to bishops that outrageous conduct will not be tolerated and will be published,” Brennan wrote.

Attempts to reach Bransfield Friday were unsuccessful.

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