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Answering the important questions about former bishop

The more West Virginia’s Roman Catholics hear about disgraced former Bishop Michael Bransfield’s moral failings, the more some may ask, “How could this happen?”

More important: Who allowed it to occur? It is a concern people of all faiths should share.

Reminders of Bransfield’s avarice and the fallout from it have come during the past week or so. Last Friday, Bishop Mark Brennan, who must continue cleaning up the mess left behind by his predecessor, announced the former bishop’s home in Wheeling had been sold for $1.2 million.

Acquired by the diocese for $63,000 in 1963, the house was damaged by fire in 2005. Bransfield spent $4.6 million on repairs and, clearly, lavish improvements.

Then came a report on Bransfield’s spending by The Washington Post. It is a tale of 13 years of incredible selfishness by the former bishop.

One line of the story says it all: Between 2005 and 2018, Bransfield spent nearly $1 million on chartered private jet aircraft to take him to a variety of locations. He visited London and Paris at least four times.

Another sample: Church investigators found that Bransfield spent $61,785 at a boutique jewelry store in Washington, D.C.

Asked about all this, Bransfield told the Post, “I didn’t have the opportunity in West Virginia to live the lifestyle I lived in Washington,” where he was a church official for several years.

Bransfield’s spending is but part of the story. Allegations he sexually harassed some priests and seminarians are the other half. Church investigators found them to be credible.

It defies belief that Bransfield could have behaved as he did for so long without his superiors in the church having at least a suspicion something was wrong. Perhaps the $350,000 — in diocese money, of course — he spent on gifts, including many to other bishops and to cardinals, had something to do with that.

Brennan and other Catholic officials insist safeguards against similar conduct by a bishop have been put in place. But without understanding more about why no one stopped Bransfield, that will be of little comfort.

Who knew? Why did they not act? These are questions that simply must be answered, and soon.

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