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Pope places sanctions on bishop investigated over sexual harassment, lavish spending

The sanctions obligate the former West Virginia bishop to "make amends" and bar him from celebrating Mass or living in his former diocese.

Bishop Michael Bransfield in his office in Wheeling, W.Va., in 2005. (AP Photo/Dale Sparks)

(RNS) — Pope Francis has placed sanctions on retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, the former head of the Catholic Church’s West Virginia diocese, following an investigation that concluded that there was credible evidence that Bransfield sexually harassed adults and lavishly overspent church funds.

The sanctions on Bransfield, which were announced Friday (July 19), bar him from publicly celebrating Catholic Mass and prohibit him from living in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, where he served from 2005 to 2018. The document also calls on Bransfield to “make personal amends for some of the harm he caused.”

“The nature and extent of the amends (are) to be decided in consultation with the future Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston,” reads the announcement.

Bransfield resigned as bishop last year at age 75, shortly after an aide came forward with a report alleging years of financial scandal and sexual misconduct. The bishop was promptly placed under investigation by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who oversees the diocese in his absence.

Details of the investigation were outlined last month by The Washington Post. According to the report, not only did priests and seminarians accuse Bransfield of unwanted sexual advances and harassment, the bishop also gave roughly $350,000 in cash gifts to powerful cardinals and bishops in the Vatican and the U.S., including Lori, as well as some of the priests he is accused of mistreating.

According to the Post, Bransfield denied the harassment claims to investigators.

He and his staff also reportedly spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, and the diocese spent $4.6 million to renovate the cleric’s residence “after a fire damaged a single bathroom.” When Bransfield worked in one administrative building, he spent $100 a day on the delivery of fresh flowers.

Lori reportedly received a gift of $7,500 from Bransfield, which he said he is returning and asking that it be donated to Catholic Charities.

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