Catholic bishop suspends priest and issues trespass order over blog about clergy sex abuse

Because of content on his blog, the Rev. Mark White of Martinsville was suspended by his bishop as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Martinsville and St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, Va.

By Michelle Boorstein

A months-long standoff between a Catholic bishop in Virginia and a priest who blogs frequent, strident criticism of the church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse has boiled over, with the diocese suspending the priest from ministry and changing parish and residence locks where he was assigned, the priest said Saturday.

The Rev. Mark White, who has been assigned to two southwest Virginia parishes, had refused to leave the church properties despite a trespass order, saying Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout is the one violating canon law by not giving more details about what Knestout considers White’s wrongdoing and by not waiting for an appeal to the Vatican to play out.

White Saturday blogged that the diocese changed the locks on the two parishes — St. Joseph in Martinsville and St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount — and on one of the residences. The two parishes are half-English, half-Spanish and have about 400 families each, he said. White was pastor to the two parishes from 2011 until April 13, when Knestout ordered him transferred to prison ministry in the midst of their conflict. White told The Post he is waiting for the appeal and is not leaving.

The diocese’s spokeswoman couldn’t be reached immediately for comment Sunday.

The dispute between the two men has been watched by the hundreds and sometimes thousands who read White’s blog, which is a mix of homilies and spiritual musings and frequent lambasting of church officials from Knestout to Pope Francis to disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who ordained White in May 2003.

While a priest being removed by a bishop isn’t unusual, the White-Knestout standoff taps into remaining deep mistrust and anger over the McCarrick scandal and how few bishops and cardinals have been held accountable for his long rise — particularly those who have worked along the New York-New Jersey-Washington, D.C. corridor where rumors of McCarrick’s sexual misbehavior percolated for decades.

The case also reflects the challenge posed to the world’s largest church — one accustomed to tight, top-down control — by the power of social media. The Vatican is increasingly calling social media an essential part of ministry and evangelization, but metrics of what is effective vs. what is divisive are growing more subjective. White had paused his blog last fall at Knestout’s order but restarted it in March because of the coronavirus shutdown, saying online ministering is crucial while parishes and Mass are shut off.

“I can’t recall a case when a pastor was removed because he was blogging,” said Kurt Martens, a canon law expert at Catholic University. “Blogging is a new way of ministry, so how do you stop a priest?”

At the time of White’s ordination, Knestout was priest-secretary to McCarrick. White argues that Catholic Church leaders haven’t come fully clean on what they knew about McCarrick, a former D.C. archbishop and towering leader in the U.S. church until 2018, when he was accused of sexual misconduct with young boys, seminarians and young priests. McCarrick was later defrocked, and it’s become clear that top leaders at least knew of the misconduct and abuse-of-power allegations involving adults who worked under McCarrick. A Vatican report into McCarrick’s career and how he rose to the top amid such complaints is pending.

White’s blog includes items on the role of redemption, St. Paul’s writings and the importance of keeping up spiritual training during quarantine, as well as many posts focused on the hierarchy’s actions as it pertains to clergy sexual abuse. He calls Knestout’s office “opaque” and says on the topic of sexual abuse it puts out “morale-sapping groupthink propaganda.” Bishops who don’t demand details about McCarrick from the Vatican are “feminized cowards.” His home archdiocese — of Washington — is an “edifice of lies.”

Knestout, offering a rare public explanation by a bishop, wrote a letter to parishioners in March that was published in the Martinsville Bulletin newspaper. In it he said White “has worked against the unity of the Church, promoted disrespect for the Holy Father, the Church hierarchy, his bishop, and has demonstrated a will adverse to obedience to the bishop of his diocese, which he took an oath to uphold at his ordination.”

But White, his church lawyer and some parishioners say White is the one promoting unity by pressing for justice and transparency and that Knestout is the one being divisive.

Priests are obliged to work for the “building up of the body of Christ,” concurs a March 27 letter from canon lawyer Michael Podhajsky to Knestout. “In fact, the very blog posts Your Excellency will later criticize were written with this very purpose in mind.”

The Wednesday suspension from ministry and Thursday trespass order are the apex of tension for two men who crossed paths uneventfully in D.C. nearly two decades ago.

White, who grew up in Northwest D.C., began his blog in 2008 and posted apparently without controversy until 2018, after the McCarrick scandal broke.

The revelations “completely threw me and changed my point of view on everything,” White told The Post. “All the outstanding cases, that victims weren’t accommodated, cases were shelved and treated as statistics — it all started to dawn on me.”

In a letter to the Richmond Diocese in July 2018, Knestout laid out the time the two men worked together and wrote that while he was in D.C., “I can tell you I was not approached by anyone with any allegations or evidence of sexual harassment or abuse involving the Cardinal.”

In the fall of 2019, Knestout ordered White to stop blogging or he would be suspended. In late November, White shut down the site.

The two men met twice about the conflict, White says — in November and February — but no agreement was reached. White says the bishop would not be specific about what posts were problematic and in what way. Knestout responded through his spokeswoman, Deborah Cox, who pointed The Post to some of White’s posts most confrontational and critical of church leadership.

Once the coronavirus shutdown began, White appealed to reopen his blog as a way to communicate with the parishioners he could no longer see. He says Knestout was unresponsive, and the bishop says his efforts to communicate with White were rebuffed. Without explicit permission, White restarted the blog.

Tensions continued, and in March the bishop wrote the letter to parishioners explaining his displeasure with his priest.

“From the beginning it has been my desire that Father White’s ministry in the diocese would be fruitful and effective, and that he provide that ministry as a happy and healthy priest. … This ministry is needed even more during a time of distress for so many of our people.”

In April, Knestout announced he was transferring White to prison ministry, but White has refused to leave.

Last week Knestout announced he was suspending the priest’s permission to operate his ministry in the diocese and sent White a trespass warning. Cox would not say explicitly why, calling it a personnel issue, but Podhajsky said it was because White had not moved to his new assignment.

Irma Harrison, second vice chair of the parish council at St. Joseph, said the parishes are strongly behind White. With the pandemic keeping them apart and Mass suspended, the removal of the priest to the communities is “devastating,” she said.

“Father Mark is a good pastor, a good man, and the bishop is not being adult about this,” she said. Of the pastor’s blog posts, she said he “was just speaking truth about the lack of transparency about sexual abuse, and he stepped on a few toes.”

Complete Article HERE!

I lost my faith trying to ‘pray myself straight’

The author was 13 years-old the first time he tried to “pray the gay away”. Lying in bed one night, he started talking to God, and begged him to make him straight.

by Patrick Kelleher

I had a number of theories about my sexuality in my early years. At one point, I believed that God had made me gay as a challenge to see if I could overcome my same-sex desire. Later, about a year and a half into my efforts to pray myself straight, I thought that he might have just made some horrendous mistake. But even believing that was difficult, because I knew that God didn’t make mistakes. So, the theory I ultimately settled on was that my attraction to other boys was actually just a phase – it would pass in time and then, finally, I would be just like everybody else.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

Today, I am 26 years-old and I am openly and confidently gay. But I still look back on that teenager who so desperately wanted to change who he was and wonder: how did it get to that point? There were many reasons, of course; homophobic bullying, a hostile society – but my intense Catholic faith also played a big part in making me hate myself.

Many of us in Ireland talk about being “raised Catholic”, but this means different things for different people. Some people have intense religious childhoods where any deviation from their faith is met with punishment and shame. For others, it means stepping into a church for the odd communion or confirmation, but little else.

My childhood fell somewhere in the middle of these extremes. My parents, while not exactly devout Catholics themselves, brought us to mass most weekends. We were cultural Catholics, but religion was also a big part of our lives. It was how we came together and it allowed us to connect to something bigger than ourselves.

I lapped it all up. I was a voracious reader, and while I never successfully managed to read the Bible (I tried), I adored the stories I heard in mass. When I was a child, religion seemed exciting, thrilling, and – at its core – obvious. Why wouldn’t I believe in God? He loved me unconditionally. It was a glorious safety net for a child who was, from an early age, prone to anxiety.

I started praying to God every night early on in childhood. Prayer was part of my daily ritual and I looked forward to it. When I think back on that time, I remember feeling so close to God – I felt innately connected with something important. It was a comforting feeling, and I still miss it sometimes.

I didn’t yet know I was gay, but there were plenty of signs indicating that I was different from other children. When I was nine years old, in the playground, another child referred to something as “gay”. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew by the way he said it that it was a bad thing. When I asked, he explained that it was when two boys liked each other. I distinctly remember how I squirmed and thought to myself: “I hope that isn’t me.”

At 11 years-old, when most boys my age started having crushes on girls, I started having crushes on boys. By the time I was 12, my sexuality was in full swing – and I despised myself for it. I ventured onto Google and quickly established that being gay was not only socially unacceptable, but my church – the religion I cared so passionately about – strictly forbade it. I became increasingly aware of just how hated gay people were within Catholicism. It was an incredibly isolating and alienating feeling, to feel rejected from a place in which I had always felt so at home. I was too young to see the Catholic church’s anti-LGBT+ views for what they are: bigoted, normative, hateful. Instead, I told myself that I was the problem – that I needed to be fixed.

It was in that context that I started asking God to help me, to try to pray myself straight. My efforts were not without their complications; by that point, my faith was starting to crumble around me. I had backed myself into a theological corner, and it was patently clear that there was no easy way out of it. If God never makes mistakes, and makes us in his image, how could he have gone so far wrong with me? Why would he voluntarily create somebody who was intrinsically disordered when he makes everybody in his image? And if he truly loved me, as I had always been told he did, then why would he put me through this unbearable suffering? These questions did not have easy answers, and even while I continued to pray myself straight, they pushed me gently towards the exit door of atheism.

But I held out some hope. I took to crying myself to sleep, forgoing my nightly prayer routine for songs that made me feel less alone. When I was 13, I finally came up with a plan of action – I decided I would ask God to take this burden from me. To my dismay, my efforts to pray myself straight only made me more miserable. I felt utterly hopeless, and started to wonder if I would be better off dead. I contemplated suicide on numerous occasions as a teenager; whether to die or stay alive became a constant grappling point. I often wondered which would hurt my parents more: me dying or me coming out as gay.

Just before my 15th birthday, as I yet again tried to pray myself straight, I told God it would be the last time I would ask him to fix me. I told him I had had enough – I had tried hard enough to rid myself of these feelings. I asked him to rescue me – and he didn’t. That finally put an end to my belief in a higher power.

I’m sure that I will never fully understand the extent of the damage growing up Catholic and gay had on me. Like many queer people, I still, on occasion, feel a deep, internalised shame about my sexuality, and I still feel hatred, anger and betrayal wash over me every time I step inside a church. It is like visiting a childhood home and learning that things are not the same as they were. It is an intensely alienating feeling, standing in a beautiful Catholic church, remembering all the times I tried to pray myself straight, all the times I asked God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary to rescue me.

Today, I am firmly an atheist and the only masses I attend are the odd Catholic wedding. I’m not necessarily happy I’m an atheist, but I am happy that I’m no longer part of an organisation that is not just intolerant, but is actively hostile to LGBT+ people. I now understand that I, like all queer people, deserve so much better than what the Catholic church is prepared to offer us. I still hold out hope that one day, the church will change its teachings on LGBT+ issues, but that hope dims by the day. Every time it looks like Pope Francis is starting to move towards greater acceptance, he imminently throws more discrimination our way.

While my hope has dimmed, it has not died completely. I don’t keep that flame alive for my own benefit – I no longer care what the Catholic church thinks of me. I keep my hope alive for all the other children growing up in that institution. It breaks my heart that they have to learn that they are not loved unconditionally like their straight and cisgender peers. I hope that one day, young queer people will no longer contemplate suicide because the church that was supposed to love them rejected them. I hope that they will be able to go to mass and won’t feel alienated in the way so many queer people do.

But right now, change looks a long way off. The Catholic church of today is an intensely backwards organisation that endeavours to keep people inside tiny boxes. But queer people cannot – and will not – thrive inside boxes.

If you have been affected by this story, you can contact any of the following by clicking on the link:

LGBT Helpline
Aware 
Pieta House 
Mental Health Ireland

Complete Article HERE!

Priest who said gay marriage “immoral” arrested over hard drive contents

A well-known County Mayo priest who is an outspoken critic of same-sex marriage and labelled himself as a “beholder of all moral virtues” has been arrested due to the inappropriate contents of his laptop hard drive.

Police confirmed today to Meanwhile in Ireland that Father Doyle (63) was caught by peers watching illicit content on his laptop, who then informed the police of the priest’s questionable conduct.

Father Doyle remains in police custody and is facing charges of holding, viewing and distributing illegal content. State prosecutors remain confident of securing a conviction, with the judge presiding over the case said to have an aversion “for them slimy b***ards”.

Opposition to same-sex marriage

Father Doyle first shot to national prominence during the 2015 referendum on whether or not to legalise same-sex marriage in Ireland. The Mayo man had signalled from the start his opposition to the move.

Father Doyle labelled the idea of same-sex marriage as an “affront to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ” and that it would be “the most immoral sin our nation has committed since we legalised divorce”.

He campaigned vigorously across the country, moving from parish to parish, and spouting homophobic after homophobic comments after another. He could be heard hissing “Those gays” when in the presence of a homosexual couple.

Directions to his clergy

Speaking to his clergy in a speech that was aired live on social media, the priest rolled back the centuries with his homophobic rhetoric. In no uncertain terms, Father Doyle forbade his clergy vote in favour of the move.

“Do not dare any one of you vote “Yes” to ‘marriage equality’. Saying the term makes my skin wrinkle. What right-thinking Christian would think they deserve equality in our churches? We are only men and women of a strong moral compass.

“As good Christians, we have a duty to live by the Bible and its teachings. Now, it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that gay people cannot marry. But you can ignore that part, cause I said so.”

Father Doyle was close to quitting the priesthood after Ireland voted overwhelmingly to legalise same-sex marriage, in a vote that was widely accepted across society. Ireland had “lost all moral right of speech” Father Doyle proclaimed after the results.

Father Doyle exposed

However, in a radical turn of events, Father Doyle soon hit the national screens again, but this time he was in handcuffs en route to the Gardaí police station after his phone, laptop and other personal belongings were seized for inspection.

Child pornography, amongst a range of other disturbing content, was found by police on his phone and laptop. It is not worth putting into words what else was found on the devices, but it is believed messages of support to disgraced fellow priests were saved on his documents.

Not so moral anymore

Meanwhile in Ireland have since learned that Father Doyle no longer claims to be “holier than thou” and has admitted that all of his moral rhetoric was a false pretence to cover up his actions. It may not be the last time we report this.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican women’s magazine blames drop in nuns on abuses

Pope Francis touches his ear as he meets faithful in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican during his weekly general audience, Wednesday Jan. 22, 2020.

By Nicole Winfield

The Vatican women’s magazine is blaming the drastic drop in the number of nuns worldwide in part on their wretched working conditions and the sexual abuse and abuses of power they suffer at the hands of priests and their own superiors.

“Women Church World” dedicated its February issue to the burnout, trauma and exploitation experienced by religious sisters and how the church is realizing it must change its ways if it wants to attract new vocations.

The magazine published Thursday revealed that Pope Francis had authorized the creation of a special home in Rome for nuns who were kicked out of their orders and all but left on the street, some forced into prostitution to survive.

“There are some really tough cases, in which the superiors withheld the identity documents of the sisters who wanted to leave the convent, or who were kicked out,” the head of the Vatican’s religious orders congregation, Cardinal Joao Braz di Aviz, told the magazine.

“There were also cases of prostitution to be able to provide for themselves,” he said. “These are ex-nuns!”

“We are dealing with people who are wounded, and for whom we have to rebuild trust. We have to change this attitude of rejection, the temptation to ignore these people and say ‘you’re not our problem anymore.’’”

“All of this must absolutely change,” he said.

The Catholic Church has seen a continuing free fall in the number of nuns around the world, as elderly sisters die and fewer young ones take their place. Vatican statistics from 2016 show the number of sisters was down 10,885 from the previous year to 659,445 globally. Ten years prior, there were 753,400 nuns around the world, meaning the Catholic Church shed nearly 100,000 sisters in the span of a decade.

European nuns regularly fare the worst, Latin American numbers are stable and the numbers are rising in Asia and Africa.

The magazine has made headlines in the past with articles exposing the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and the slave-like conditions sisters are often forced to work under, without contracts and doing menial jobs like cleaning for cardinals.

The drop in their numbers has resulted in the closure of convents around Europe, and the ensuing battle between the remaining sisters and diocesan bishops or the Vatican for control of their assets.

Braz insisted the assets don’t belong to the sisters themselves, but the entire church, and called for a new culture of exchange, so that “five nuns aren’t managing an enormous patrimony” while other orders go broke.

Braz acknowledged the problem of nuns being sexually abused by priests and bishops. But he said in recent times, his office has also heard from nuns who were abused by other nuns — including one congregation with nine cases.

There were also cases of gross abuses of power.

“We’ve had cases, not many thank goodness, of superiors who once they were elected refused to step down. They went around all the rules,” he was quoted as saying. “And in the communities there are sisters who tend to blindly obey, without saying what they think.”

The international umbrella group of nuns has begun speaking out more forcefully about the abuses of nuns and has formed a commission with its male counterpart to take better care of their members.

Complete Article HERE!

‘They looked the other way’:

Sexual abuse claim dismissed by church foreshadowed years of allegations against Catholic bishop

Michael J. Bransfield, seen in 2016, stepped down in September 2018 as bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia, as church officials announced an investigation into claims of sexual and financial misconduct over his 13-year tenure.

By Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg

Michael J. Bransfield was just a couple of years into his tenure as West Virginia’s bishop in 2007 when one of his former students called a church sexual abuse hotline. Decades earlier, at a Catholic high school, Bransfield had repeatedly summoned him from class, escorted him to a private room and fondled his buttocks and genitals, the caller said.

The former student said he was a freshman when the unwanted touching began.

It was a stark warning about a cleric who allegedly went on in the next decade to grope and sexually harass seminarians and young priests in West Virginia.

The former student’s allegation, first reported to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where Bransfield taught, was eventually referred to the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church and the Vatican, as well as to the police, according to the findings of a recent church investigation obtained by The Washington Post.

But no action was taken against Bransfield — and the church’s own investigators now say the allegation may warrant further examination.

The former student, speaking to reporters for the first time, told The Post that church officials might have prevented Bransfield’s alleged wrongdoing in the years since if they had taken his claim more seriously.

“They looked the other way,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he has not told his family about his experience. “More people got victimized.”

Bransfield had close ties to two high-ranking clerics in Philadelphia who had responsibility for assessing sexual abuse claims at the time, a Post examination found. The cardinal in Philadelphia and one of his top aides received thousands of dollars in cash gifts from Bransfield before or after he was absolved of the hotline allegation in a process that was never made public, according to internal financial documents.

The Post has previously reported that Bransfield gave $350,000 in cash gifts, using church money, to clerics in the United States and at the Vatican over more than a decade. This is the first reported example of Bransfield giving money to a cleric involved in ruling on a sexual abuse claim against him before his retirement.

Bransfield stepped down as bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in September 2018, as church officials announced an investigation into allegations of sexual and financial wrongdoing spanning his 13-year tenure.

In February, a team of lay investigators, led by outside attorneys, concluded that he subjected eight young clerics in West Virginia to unwanted sexual overtures, sexual harassment and sexual contact.

The alleged sexual and financial misconduct was documented in a confidential report that was sent to the Vatican. Those findings remained secret until June, when The Post published the first in a series of stories drawing on the confidential report and other internal church documents.

The existence of the hotline complaint became public several years ago during an unrelated sexual abuse trial of two priests, but details of the allegation and the church’s handling of it have not been previously reported.

In a recent interview, Bransfield denied any sexual or financial misconduct. He said the former student’s allegations were untrue and probably motivated by a desire for financial payment.

“They investigated the whole thing, and he’s a wack job,” Bransfield said. “There was never any grounds to it.”

Bransfield said that while teaching at Lansdale Catholic High School in the late 1970s, he regularly took students out of class and privately interviewed them about their school and family lives but that nothing untoward happened.

“I was chaplain, and I’d ask them how they were doing,” he said. “It was a normal thing.”

Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, defended the handling of the claim but did not respond to specific questions about the process.

“I can say with certainty that this matter was not only investigated internally,” he said in a statement. “It was reviewed by law enforcement on two occasions and no criminal charges were filed.”

At the time, church officials privately concluded there were inconsistencies in the former student’s account, but the recent church investigation raised questions about that conclusion, according to the confidential report. Investigators wrote that such inconsistencies in decades-old accounts of sexual abuse are common.

The former student told The Post that the law enforcement investigations stalled because police told him they could not guarantee his identity would not become public. Law enforcement authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

He recently filed a claim to a victims compensation fund in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
‘He told me to relax’

By the time of the hotline complaint, Bransfield had risen to prominence in the Catholic Church.

In the 1970s, he served as a religion instructor and chaplain at Lansdale High School in Montgomery County, Pa., about 30 miles from downtown Philadelphia. He went on to assignments at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, where he eventually rose to rector. In 2005, he was installed as bishop in West Virginia.

That year, though, a landmark grand jury report about sexual abuse of minors by Philadelphia clerics mentioned Bransfield, saying that a priest who was a friend of his had sodomized a teenage boy at Bransfield’s New Jersey beach house.

The former Lansdale student saw news coverage of the grand jury report in the Philadelphia press and began considering whether to come forward, he told The Post.

“This is something I was going to take to my grave,” he said. “You feel shame. It’s sad. It’s very sad.”

The Post located the former student — whose name is not included in the confidential investigative report — with help from a Catholic advocacy group. He agreed to be interviewed at his attorney’s Philadelphia office.

The Post generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their permission.

Now in his mid-50s, he has worked a variety of blue-collar jobs. He comes from a large family of devout Catholics. Since graduating from Lansdale, he said, he has struggled with depression and drug and alcohol abuse.

In 2007, he decided to call the hotline established by the Philadelphia Archdiocese several years earlier in response to the church’s sexual abuse crisis. That call was the beginning of a long effort by the former student to hold Bransfield to account, he said.

He told a private investigator working for the archdiocese that Bransfield started singling him out for extra attention soon after his freshman year began. Bransfield summoned him out of classes, sometimes by knocking on the classroom door and beckoning him by crooking his finger, he told The Post.

At first, Bransfield took him on walks and showed him around the school. Eventually, Bransfield steered the teen into a small office he used near a teachers’ lounge. It was there, he said, that Bransfield directed him to stand behind a desk, beside Bransfield’s chair, and read a passage from a book.

“He told me to relax and read and calm down,” the former student said in the interview.

Bransfield put his hand on the teenager’s lower back, then moved it to his buttocks and began fondling his genitals over his clothing, the former student said. Similar episodes happened at least five times during his freshman and sophomore years, he said.

He said he told no one about the encounters until the day he called the hotline.

After speaking with the archdiocese’s investigator, the former student asked for a copy of his report. He said it never arrived.
A different investigative path

In the years following his complaint, Bransfield’s accuser said he was left in the dark.

Behind the scenes, Cardinal Justin Rigali, then the archbishop of Philadelphia, and other ranking clerics were handling his complaint, according to the confidential report.

Under procedures established after the clergy sexual abuse scandal, each diocese and archdiocese set up an independent review board to assess sexual abuse claims against priests. The accusation against Bransfield took a different path because he had been elevated to bishop before the complaint was made, church investigators wrote in the recent confidential report.

In October 2009, behind closed doors, Rigali formally declared the allegations were unsubstantiated because of inconsistencies in the former student’s account, including precisely when and where the alleged abuses occurred, according to the confidential report.

Rigali, who is now retired, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Before and after the secret pronouncement about his fate, Bransfield maintained warm relations with leaders of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where he started his career.

Using money from the West Virginia diocese, Bransfield gave some of those clerics thousands of dollars in cash gifts. Among them was Rigali, who in 2011 received a check for $1,000, internal documents show.

From February 2009 through last year, Bransfield gave five checks totaling $3,750 to then-Monsignor Timothy C. Senior, the vicar for clergy in Philadelphia, whose responsibilities included helping to assess sexual abuse claims against clerics.

Gavin, the spokesman for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, declined to say whether Senior played a role in Bransfield’s case.

Among Rigali’s top aides was a nephew of the bishop’s, the Rev. Sean Bransfield, an assistant judicial vicar. Starting in 2013, Bishop Bransfield gave his nephew more than $9,000 over five years.

In a statement earlier this year for an article about the gifts, Senior said that he thought the money was Bransfield’s and that he had “done nothing wrong” in accepting it.

Sean Bransfield said through a spokesman in June that “he logically assumed gifts from a family member came from Bishop Bransfield’s personal funds” and denied wrongdoing.

Michael J. Bransfield said the cash gifts had no connection to the claim against him. He described himself as a “very close friend” of Senior and said they had exchanged gifts over the years.

“I was very friendly with him,” Bransfield said.

In the mid-1970s, Senior was a student of Bransfield’s at Lansdale High School, graduating before the alleged abuse happened. In July 2009, shortly before Rigali absolved Bransfield of wrongdoing in connection with the hotline complaint, Rigali and Bransfield jointly led the ceremony for Senior’s ordination as auxiliary bishop.
Reporting his accusation again

A few details of the hotline claim became public in 2012, during a sensational trial of two Philadelphia priests accused of sexual abuse and child endangerment.

In April that year, newspapers reported that a witness had mentioned rumors about Bransfield, catching the attention of the former Lansdale student who had called the hotline five years earlier.

He decided to contact the archdiocese to again tell his story to a church official. “I’m like, ‘This still has to be addressed. I want to do something here,’ ” he said.

In response to media questions, church officials publicly acknowledged the 2007 hotline complaint but released few details. The officials said they were reexamining the allegation and had notified law enforcement authorities in Montgomery County, Pa., as they did immediately after the hotline call several years earlier.

County detectives spoke with the former student and took him to Lansdale High School to talk in more detail about the claims. But the former student said he saw an administrator he knew and balked at going in. The former student feared he might be recognized and did not want anyone to know he had been abused.

Montgomery County authorities “determined further investigation was unwarranted,” the recent confidential church report said.

The archdiocese sent the allegation to the Vatican, according to previously unreported details in the report.

The matter was reported first to the apostolic nunciature, the Vatican’s diplomatic outpost in Washington, D.C. It was then forwarded to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican office that oversees bishops worldwide, the investigative report said.

“The investigative file we reviewed does not reflect any further action,” the report said.

A Vatican spokesman did not respond to questions about the handling of the complaint or to requests for an interview with Ouellet.

Bransfield, meanwhile, was living extravagantly as head of the diocese in West Virginia. Church investigators found that he spent millions of dollars in the diocese’s money on personal expenditures, including travel by private jet and renovations to his church mansion, according to internal church documents.

Bransfield also cultivated seminarians and young priests and subjected them to unwanted attention, including sexual remarks and intimate touching, according to the confidential investigative report. In some cases, he groped or kissed them, it said. He also allegedly exposed himself and made sexually charged remarks about their bodies. Bransfield asked that some of the young men accompany him on lavish trips to Florida, the Caribbean, Paris, London and Rome.

Some of the young clerics “were broken by the experience,” suffering depression or fear as a result of their interactions with Bransfield, the investigative report said.

At the same time, Bransfield was drawing on diocese funds to send cash gifts to influential clerics who had sway over his career. They included tens of thousands of dollars sent to the nuncios in Washington and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican, some of them aides to the pope.

During the recent investigation, Bransfield’s accuser spoke several times with a church investigator.

The former student’s attorney, David Inscho, insisted the church could have done much more to stop Bransfield when his client came forward. “The church had everything they needed . . . to start canonical proceedings, to have had him removed from active ministry,” Inscho said.

In their recent report about Bransfield, the church investigators cast doubts on the thoroughness of the earlier investigations of the former Lansdale student’s claims. They said that the inconsistencies in the victim’s accounts are “typical of these types of cases when a substantial amount of time has passed” and that they believed the matter “may warrant further inquiry.”

“The victim remains willing to be cooperative in any further investigation that the Philadelphia Archdiocese may feel is warranted,” they wrote.

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