Retired West Virginia bishop asked to return nearly $800,000 to diocese

Retired West Virginia bishop asked to return nearly $800,000 to diocese

Retired West Virginia bishop asked to return nearly $800,000 to diocese

In this 2017 file photo, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, then head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., is seen at Wheeling Hospital. The Vatican announced his retirement from the diocese Sept. 13, 2019. (Credit: CNS.)

The disgraced former bishop of West Virginia is being requested to pay back nearly $800,000 to the diocese he ran for 13 years.

NEW YORK — Disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield, who is accused of embezzling church funds while helming the poorest diocese in the country, is being requested to pay back to the diocese nearly $800,000 in restitution for his misdeeds.

In a letter dated November 26, Bishop Mark Brennan, who succeeded Bransfield in August, said that it is up to the retired bishop to choose to accept the request and to take responsibility for his actions during his 13-year tenure as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.

In the five-page letter, Brennan outlined nine measures that he was requesting of Bransfield. Among his requests are that Bransfield take the salary of a retired priest rather than that of a bishop, that he return the diocesan car, and that he be revoked his “privilege” of being buried in the diocese.

In addition to the $792,638 that Brennan has asked Bransfield to repay the diocese, he is expected to pay a penalty of $110,000 that he owes directly to the IRS.

Bransfield is also requested to apologize to the individuals he is accused of harassing physically and emotionally, diocesan employees he intimidated, and to the faithful for the “grievous harm” caused to the diocese.

Bransfield resigned in September 2018 one week before turning 75, the mandatory age when bishops are required to tender their resignation to the pope. On the day his resignation was accepted by Pope Francis, it was announced that Archbishop William Lori, who leads the archdiocese of Baltimore, was tapped to serve as apostolic administrator and conduct an investigation into Bransfield.

In June 2019, Lori released a report detailing both sexual and financial misconduct, including using diocesan funds to make personal contributions to other prelates, private air travel, luxury hotels, and expensive clothing and alcohol purchases.

RELATED: Report documents excessive spending, sexual innuendo by former W. Va. bishop

Last July, Francis imposed 19 sanctions against Bransfield, including taking away the faculties of celebrating Mass, mandating that he no longer reside in the diocese, and that he makes amends for the harm he has caused.

Brennan’s letter on Tuesday was in direct response to that charge, saying that he has communicated his requests to Bransfield, his legal counsel, and to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s representative to the United States.

“It is not my intention to impoverish the former bishop,” writes Brennan. “While not a dollar-for-dollar restitution for the former bishops’ excessive expenditure for diocesan funds, I believe that this amount reflects the spirit of Pope Francis’s requirement that Bishop Bransfield ‘make amends for the harms he has caused.'”

Earlier this month, Bransfield was barred by then President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel Dinardo, from attending the general assembly of bishops in Baltimore.

RELATED:  USCCB president disinvites Bishop Bransfield from fall assembly

“We regard the former bishops’ acceptance of this plan of amends as an act of restorative justice,” said Brennan. “It is also for his spiritual good and his own healing as a man who professes to follow Christ.”

Brennan also noted that funds collected from Bransfied will go toward a special fund meant to aid survivors of sexual abuse.

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212 


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