New Information Comes to Light about Bishop Michael Bransfield
A deeper dive by journalists into the West Virginia church sex and finances scandal reveals even more corruption than previously known. In light of this new and disturbing information, we call on every one of the 500 clerics who got checks from West Virginia’s bishop to return that money to West Virginia Catholics, and we call on law enforcement officials – in the state and elsewhere – to look more vigorously and skeptically at church funds.
The disclosures should also force church officials at the USCCB and Vatican to make amends for Bishop Bransfield’s wrongdoing. For starters, we recommend that $15 million be spent on helping to prevent clergy sex abuse in West Virginia, helping West Virginia church whistleblowers and helping West Virginia clergy sex abuse victims. Some of it should also be used to set up a whistleblower protection fund for future church whistleblowers.
Why that figure? Because Bishop Bransfield’s extravagance was enabled in part by “a little-known source of money. . . (Texas) oil wells. . .that yielded an average of about $15 million annually in recent years.”
Such a move would be a measure of justice and closure for survivors and a measure of reassurance of reform for Catholics. Apologizing for this level of corruption requires more than just words at this point, but demands direct action.
The Post reports that a number of church members and employees wrote high ranking church officials warning them about Bishop Bransfield’s improper conduct, but were essentially ignored. We are grateful to these whistleblowers. Church officials should laud them. And we share their pain, because many of those who were sexually violated by clergy also tried to warn the Catholic hierarchy but were disbelieved, ignored and rebuffed.
The Post also reports that “Bransfield wrote more than 500 checks to other clerics during his 13 years in West Virginia.” If church officials are to be believed that this kind of financial gift-giving is out of the ordinary, then every single one of those clerics should return money they received to West Virginia Catholics. The returned checks should be included alongside a letter of apology.
Finally, we disagree with Lori: there IS an explanation for the corruption that Bishop Bransfield and others secretly engaged in for years. It is the decades of unhealthy deference given to bishops by their colleagues and their flock and sometimes even secular officials. It is because even church officials who supposedly are sent to ‘clean up’ scandals by their brethren can’t bring themselves to be honest, as evidenced by Archbishop William Lori’s initial redaction of the names of church staff who got quiet payments from Bransfield.
This deference must stop. Bishops aren’t above the law. No one should treat them as though they are.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)