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Investigation into Former Wheeling Bishop Reveals Allegations of Sexual Harassment, Misuse of Funds

Dale Sparks
AP Photo
This Feb. 21, 2005 file photo, shows then-incoming bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, W.Va, Michael Bransfield in his new office, in Wheeling, W.Va.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston released its findings Wednesday of an internal review investigating allegations made against former Bishop Michael Bransfield. The church says it found allegations of sexual harassment and financial improprieties to be credible.

Upon receiving the resignation of Bransfield last September, the Pope assigned the archbishop of Baltimore, William Lori, to lead the Catholic Church in West Virginia as well as an investigation into allegations lodged against Bransfield.

Lori addressed a letter to Catholics in West Virginia revealing the findings of his internal investigation. In that letter, he described a culture of fear Bransfield’s leadership fostered that enabled the abuse to go unchecked for more than a decade.

The five-month review showed that -- during his 13-year tenure in West Virginia -- Bransfield regularly made sexual innuendos and overtly suggestive comments and actions toward those he oversaw. The investigation also revealed patterns of excessive and inappropriate spending on renovations to his personal residences, as well as personal travel, dining, liquor and gifts.

Lori indicated that known victims of abuse will be reimbursed for the costs of mental health assistance, and that he’s mandating implementation of a third-party reporting system for any allegations against a bishop of the diocese. He also wrote that the bishop’s renovated residence in Wheeling will be sold.

As part of Bransfield's lavish spending over the years, Lori says he himself received gifts that totaled $7,500. He says he has donated that money back to the church and asked that it be given to Catholic Charities, a non-profit focused on reducing poverty.

Glynis Board hails from the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and is based in Wheeling at the First State Capital Building. She’s been reporting full time for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2012. She covers a broad range of topics but focuses on producing and hosting the West Virginia Public Broadcasting's daily news show West Virginia Morning.

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