Pope Francis has placed a retired bishop in the United States under sanctions following an investigation that found he had sexually harassed adults and misspent church money.
Bishop Michael Bransfield, the former leader of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, in West Virginia, has been banned by Francis from taking part in any public celebration of the liturgy, from living in the diocese and has been ordered to make “public amends” for the harm that he has caused.
An internal investigation found that Bishop Bransfield spent $4.6 million on renovating his house and $350,000 of diocesan funds on cash gifts to high ranking figures in the Church.
Beneficiaries of significant amounts included Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Papal Ambassador to the United States and Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, who received $29,000 to help renovate his residence in Rome. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who carried out the investigation into the bishop, had also received a gift of $7,500, which he said was donated to charity. These details were first reported by The Washington Post.
Bishop Bransfield’s extravagant spending - including $1,000-a-month on alcohol and $182,000 on flowers for the diocesan office over 13 years - and a lavish lifestyle of extensive travel and drug and alcohol abuse was coupled by alleged sexual harassment of adults.
While the diocese is in one of the United State’s most impoverished region’s, it is wealthy thanks to a $230 million endowment from the proceeds of oil extracted from a Texas property given to the church in the early 20th century.
On 13 September 2018, the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Bransfield, and ordered an investigation into his leadership at precisely the time he began having crunch talks with leaders of the US church in the Vatican about the abuse crisis.
The sanctions against the retired bishop were announced in a communique from the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States.
“In taking these concrete actions,” it states “the Holy See expresses its sincere concern for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.”