West Virginia's Roman Catholic diocese wants a former bishop to pay back more than three-quarters of a million dollars following accusations of sexual and financial misconduct.
Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Mark Brennan detailed a "plan of amends" presented to former Bishop Michael Bransfield at the request of Pope Francis.
Among several details, the plan calls for Bransfield to issue apologies to those he's accused of sexually harassing and intimidating, and pay the church almost 800-thousand-dollars in financial restitution. His retirement stipend is set to be reduced to what a retired priest gets -- about 740 dollars a month -- and he has to pay the IRS 110-thousand in back-taxes for previously unreported income.
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston's "plan of amends" includes the following list:
- Apologies to the people the former bishop sexually harassed and for the severe emotional and spiritual harm his actions caused them.
- An apology for the grievous harm he caused to the faithful of the Diocese and the reputation of the Catholic Church here in West Virginia.
- An apology to Diocesan employees who suffered from a culture of intimidation and retribution which the former bishop created.
- Rather than receiving a monthly stipend based on the standards recommended by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Guidelines for the Provision of Sustenance to Bishops Emeriti,” Bishop Bransfield will receive only a monthly stipend equal to what a retired priest would receive as a pension benefit with 13 years of service within the Diocese. That amount is $736 per month.
- Although the Diocese will continue to provide for his Medicare supplemental health care coverage consistent with what would be provided for a retired priest of the Diocese, Bishop Bransfield will now be liable for his own pharmacy benefit plan. He will now also be personally responsible for his long-term health care policy and a disability policy.
- We have required Bishop Bransfield to either return or purchase the car he was provided upon his retirement at today’s fair market value.
- Bishop Bransfield will not be afforded the privilege of being buried within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston upon his death as is the custom for former bishops.
- As part of our thorough review of financial accounts and records during Bishop Bransfield’s tenure, our finance team determined that $441,492.00 in Diocesan funds was allocated for the bishop’s personal expenses, and apparently unrelated to his official responsibilities during the years of 2013-2018 which were not previously reported as taxable income to him. This amount reflects personal travel, vacations, clothing, alcohol and luxury goods. As such, this amount was an excess benefit to the former bishop subject to taxation. It was only as a result of our in-depth internal financial review that this amount was identified as related primarily to the former bishop’s personal expenses. The review involved a detailed analysis of his schedule for this period and a determination that no discernable official Church business was associated with these expenditures. To ensure adherence to Federal tax laws, the Diocese has self-reported for Federal tax purposes, and it is now the requirement that Bishop Bransfield reimburse this amount to the Diocese, along with any penalties incurred by the Diocese for not reporting these amounts at the time. In addition, Bishop Bransfield will be required to pay an excise tax in the approximate amount of $110,000.00 directly to the IRS. The consequences for non-compliance are severe and will be entirely the responsibility of Bishop Bransfield and not the Diocese of WheelingCharleston.
- In reviewing the earlier period of the former bishop’s tenure, beginning in 2005, we have determined that an additional amount of $351,146.00 was attributable to the former bishop’s luxurious lifestyle. We have likewise requested Bishop Bransfield to reimburse the Diocese for this $351,146.00 as a matter of moral restitution.
A press release from the diocese says the goal was not to impoverish the former bishop, admitting the restitution falls well short of “a dollar-fo-dollar restitution for the former bishop’s excessive expenditure of Diocesan funds.” It said former bishop Bransfield will now need to decide whether to accept the measures of restitution.
Investigations earlier this year found sexual misconduct allegations against Bransfield to be credible and determined that he misused diocese funds on personal vacations, alcohol and luxury goods to the tune of millions of dollars.
Bransfield resigned last year, but has previously denied wrongdoing. A voicemail left on a number listed for Bransfield wasn't returned.