U.S.C.C.B. president disinvites Bishop Bransfield from fall assembly

 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. (CNS photo/Colleen Rowan, The Catholic Spirit) 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. (CNS photo/Colleen Rowan, The Catholic Spirit) 

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in consultation with the members of the USCCB Administrative Committee, has taken the highly unusual step of disinviting a fellow bishop from the conference’s fall general assembly.

The decision affects Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, retired bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, who left his position in September 2018 under a cloud of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. Pope Francis accepted Bishop Bransfield’s resignation Sept. 13, 2018.

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The USCCB meets Nov. 11-13 in Baltimore.

The action comes under one section of the recently adopted “Protocol Regarding Available Non-Penal Restrictions on Bishops.”

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Bishop Mark E. Brennan, who succeeded Bishop Bransfield, said he initiated the process under the protocol soon after he was installed Aug. 22 to head the West Virginia diocese.

Bishop Brennan told Catholic News Service Nov. 4 he sent his request to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, out of respect for the faithful of his diocese and to prevent any embarrassment to the USCCB if a bishop who is surrounded by serious allegations was welcomed to the fall assembly.

“The people of this diocese would be very upset and angry to think he [Bishop Bransfield] would be participating in decisions that might well affect them,” Bishop Brennan explained.

“I can’t say what the reaction of the bishops would be if he showed up,” he added. “I think, one, it would be kind of distressed. Would he be received with Christian charity? One would hope so, but one never knows.”

Bishop Brennan said he told his predecessor he would be making the request to the USCCB leadership. The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB.

“I communicated with Bishop Bransfield I would be making this request [to formally disinvite him], and he said both orally and in writing that he did not intend to go. I think that’s good. As he put it, it would be embarrassing for him and for everybody,” Bishop Brennan said.

“Lest there be any criticism that the bishops don’t care about it, well, yeah, we do,” he said. “So I took the formal action to ask that he not be invited. And he wasn’t. His best interest as well as ours as a bishops’ conference are best served by him not being there.”

The protocol was one of a series of responses adopted by the USCCB in June at its spring general assembly following reports in 2018 that detailed sexual abuse allegations against priests and prelates in several dioceses dating back decades.

Section 12 of the protocol allows the USCCB president to consult with the Administrative Committee and then instruct the conference’s general secretary to disinvite any retired bishop “who resigned or was removed from his office due to sexual abuse of minors, sexual misconduct with adults, or grave negligence in office.”

Bishop Brennan also said he continues to work with Bishop Bransfield on making financial “amends” to the diocese for the misappropriation of diocesan funds.

He has written two letters to parishioners in the diocese since his installation. The first, in September, provided an update and to “assure them it is true I am working on the whole matter of Bishop Bransfield making amends and hope to bring that to a conclusion soon.”

The second, dated Oct. 31, reiterated that he continued working with Bishop Bransfield to “make amends for harm he caused during his tenure.”

In July, Pope Francis announced disciplinary actions for Bishop Bransfield, prohibiting him from living in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and from presiding or participating anywhere in any public celebration of the liturgy.

As part of those disciplinary actions, a communique from the apostolic nunciature in Washington posted on the diocesan website in July also said Bishop Bransfield would be obligated “to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused; the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston.”

Since being installed, Bishop Brennan said he has been visiting parishes throughout West Virginia to “get to know the people of the diocese” and to “hear from them.”

He said he has been asking people about their thoughts about the church, learning what the church could be doing better and asking, "How can I be helpful?"

“I’ve been impressed with the strong faith, the commitment to community life and to service,” the bishop told CNS.

But underlying the visits is concern for the status of the church in a state that has been wracked by high levels of poverty, unemployment and opioid abuse.

“People want this issue to be resolved. They want the scandal to kind of go away,” he said.

“The other matters, including the Bransfield matter and some other issues that are on the table, they’re real. I am devoting some time and energy to them. But I don’t want them to distract from the main business, which is to become familiar with the people, what they're doing and what more the church could be doing.”

Correction, Nov. 5, 2019; 3:20 p.m. EDT: In an earlier version of this report, in paragraph 19 Bishop Brennan was misidentified as Bishop Bransfield.

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Martin Berg
6 months 3 weeks ago

"Since being installed, Bishop Bransfield said he has been visiting parishes throughout West Virginia to “get to know the people of the diocese” and to “hear from them.”" I think you meant Bishop BRENNAN?

JR Cosgrove
6 months 3 weeks ago

No, it's Bishop Bransfield, who I believe was an associate of McCarrick in Washington before going to West Virginia.

Martin Berg
6 months 3 weeks ago

"Since being installed, Bishop Bransfield said he has been visiting parishes throughout West Virginia to “get to know the people of the diocese” and to “hear from them.”" I think you meant Bishop BRENNAN?

Chris O'Leary
6 months 3 weeks ago

“I can’t say what the reaction of the bishops would be if he showed up,” he added. “I think, one, it would be kind of distressed."
Why wouldn't the same be true of a bishop like Finn or Mahony who abused the abused? Who participated in the cover-up of abuse? Why are financial crimes deserving of punishment but not the rape of children or the covering up of such acts?

JOHN GRONDELSKI
6 months 3 weeks ago

"Distressed?" Do we really have such namby-pambies in the Episcopate that they will be "distressed?"
The proper reaction should be outrage that such a grafting crook shows his face among their number. If they were real men, their reaction to the interloper would be slightly more than twisting their skullcaps and being "distressed." This is not a matter of Christian "charity" but of bearing witness to Christian values and preventing scandal.

Lloyd William
6 months 3 weeks ago

Why were the warnings about Bishop Bransfield ignored for so long? What is being done to prevent someone like him from being appointed and retained once wrongdoing is evident?

JOHN GRONDELSKI
6 months 3 weeks ago

The USCCB has "disinvited" Bransfield? Really? Are they really such episcopal irrelevancies?
1. Start being MEN and take responsibility for the continuing rot in the priesthood and episcopate, not by "disinviting" (i.e., sweeping under the rug) a grafting crook or even being "distressed" by his presence but having the moral outrage to demand real reform that pierces this moral boil. It's been almost 18 months since the McCarrick scandal broke--is the new normal in the Church to be who covered up what pervert?
2. The USCCB needs to do is demand accountability. It can start by reversing its vote of last year and demanding publication of the McCarrick investigation: who knew what where? It can also demand the same disclosure about Bransfield.
3. BTW, all these "stewards" of the Church's "resources" who are "renewing" their local churches by closing them down (and patting their backs to whiplash for their "lock and leave" approach to diocesan administration): how about somebody saving some high school or campus or big piece of property to be dedicated for bishops to assemble for their annual shindig rather than enriching Baltimore hoteliers? The Polish Episcopal Conference meets at a monastery in Czestochowa: the American Episcopal Conference hangs around in Sheratons and Hiltons. Says something already.

Craig B. Mckee
6 months 3 weeks ago

I find it somewhat "ironic" that the official disinviting was done by Cardinal Di Nardo, whose own episcopate has fallen under scrutiny and been found wanting. But as we all know, PROMOVERE AD REMOVERE remains the Vatican's unofficial HR policy and modus operandi when it comes to problematic clergy and hierarchs.

Craig B. Mckee
6 months 3 weeks ago

The document here:
http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-protocol-2019-06.pdf

JOHN FARLEY
6 months 3 weeks ago

Pension Bransfield off at $2k per month and apply all of the rest of his retirement and emeritus benefits (housing, office, secretarial help, etc) to his debt. And refer his case to law enforcement for pilfering and embezzlement investigation.

James Nowak
6 months 3 weeks ago

There once was a Rabbi in Nazareth who "distressed" the religious leaders of His Time. He was known as the "Friend of Sinners" and "even ate with them." Imagine if these present day disciples of this Rabbi imitated Him. How different would be their conduct toward their fallen brother.

Molly Roach
6 months 3 weeks ago

I think Bishop Bransfield should attend and be confronted!

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