A penthouse, limousines and private jets: Inside the globe-trotting life of Bishop Michael Bransfield

A view from Le Sirenuse, a hotel where then-West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield stayed in Positano, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, for a side trip during a visit to the Vatican in April 2018. Bransfield racked up a $3,333 bill, records show.

By Shawn Boburg Robert O’Harrow Jr.

It was billed as a holy journey, a pilgrimage with West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield to “pray, sing and worship” at the National Shrine in Washington. Catholics from remote areas of one of the nation’s poorest states paid up to $190 for hotel rooms and overnight bus rides to the nation’s capital.

Unknown to the worshipers, Bransfield traveled another way. He hired a private jet and, after a 33-minute flight, took a limousine from the airport. The church picked up his $6,769 travel bill.

That trip in September 2017 was emblematic of the secret history of Bransfield’s lavish travel. He spent millions of dollars from his diocese on trips in the United States and abroad, records show, while many of his parishioners struggled to find work, feed their families and educate their children.

Pope Francis has said bishops should live modestly. During his 13 years as the leader of ­the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Bransfield took nearly 150 trips on private jets and some 200 limousine rides, a Washington Post investigation found. He stayed at exclusive hotels in Washington, Rome, Paris, London and the Caribbean.

Last year, Bransfield stayed a week in the penthouse of a legendary Palm Beach, Fla., hotel, at a cost of $9,336. He hired a chauffeur to drive him around Washington for a day at a cost of $1,383. And he spent $12,386 for a jet to fly him from the Jersey Shore to a meeting with the pope’s ambassador in the nation’s capital.

Pope Francis has said bishops should live modestly. During his 13 years as the leader of ­the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Bransfield took nearly 150 trips on private jets and some 200 limousine rides, a Washington Post investigation found. He stayed at exclusive hotels in Washington, Rome, Paris, London and the Caribbean.

Last year, Bransfield stayed a week in the penthouse of a legendary Palm Beach, Fla., hotel, at a cost of $9,336. He hired a chauffeur to drive him around Washington for a day at a cost of $1,383. And he spent $12,386 for a jet to fly him from the Jersey Shore to a meeting with the pope’s ambassador in the nation’s capital.

Bransfield was barred from public ministry in July after an internal church investigation found he had engaged in financial abuses and sexually harassed young priests, allegations Bransfield has denied. The Post previously obtained the investigative report and revealed its major findings, including that he spent $2.4 million of church funds on travel and gave $350,000 in cash gifts to other clerics.

To gain a deeper understanding of Bransfield’s travel expenditures, The Post reconstructed his movements in the year before he retired in September 2018. The reporting drew on receipts obtained by The Post, public flight records and the confidential findings of the church’s own investigation as well as interviews with some of Bransfield’s companions and travel company representatives.

Bransfield was outside of West Virginia for a total of almost four months, according to documents and interviews. Though most of that travel was not related to his duties in West Virginia, the diocese routinely covered Bransfield’s expenses as well as those of the young priests who accompanied him, The Post found.

“This is so much worse than we ever imagined,” Michael Iafrate, a church activist in West Virginia, said when told about The Post’s reporting. “It is profoundly, morally wrong.”

In an interview, Bransfield, 76, did not dispute the findings but defended his frequent vacations as necessary breaks from his religious responsibilities.

Bransfield said he never made travel arrangements for himself, and he blamed his aides for selecting luxury accommodations, including the penthouse in Palm Beach. “I did not arrange that room,” he said. “That was done by staff.”

He said much of his travel was related to his role as president of the Papal Foundation, a nonprofit entity that raises money from wealthy Catholics for Vatican initiatives.

“Usually it was business,” he said.

The church’s internal investigation, completed in February, found that three of Bransfield’s top aides had enabled him. After The Post reported on the probe’s findings in June, the diocese announced that the aides had resigned from their administrative positions. They have not responded to interview requests.

Bransfield could face financial consequences for his actions. Pope Francis has said the former West Virginia bishop must “make personal amends,” and in response to questions from The Post, the diocese said it may seek to recover money Bransfield spent inappropriately.

In a statement, the diocese said Bransfield’s successor, Bishop Mark Brennan, has launched an internal audit “to determine what, if any, of Bransfield’s expenses were connected to Church business.”

“If Bishop Bransfield is not cooperative, Bishop Brennan has stated he intends to exercise his unilateral authority to recover funds that we can determine were primarily used for personal benefit,” the diocese said.

Bransfield, at the time the bishop of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia, processes at the beginning of an antiabortion youth Mass at the Verizon Center — now known as Capital One Arena — in Washington on Jan. 22, 2016.

Bransfield arrived in West Virginia in 2005 after a quarter-century in Washington in various posts at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in North America.

Bransfield told The Post that he had grown accustomed to the comfortable lifestyle he led in those years. He had befriended celebrities and politicians, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who credited Bransfield and others at the National Shrine with helping convert him to Catholicism. His allies and friends included some of the most powerful clerics in the country.

In West Virginia, Bransfield took responsibility for a vast diocese in great need. Nearly 1 in 5 state residents lived in poverty, the opioid epidemic was spreading and even coal mining jobs — a mainstay of West Virginia’s hardscrabble economy — were hard to come by.

Bransfield had access to an obscure source of riches. More than a century ago, a New York heiress donated land in West Texas to the West Virginia diocese. The land turned out to be rich with oil, generating annual revenue of almost $15 million in recent years.

Bransfield did not call attention to that revenue publicly, but the diocese drew on it to cover his travel expenses and other personal spending, according to the confidential investigative report. During his 13 years in West Virginia, Bransfield spent $4.6 million on renovations to his church residence, almost $140,000 at restaurants, $62,000 on jewelry, and thousands on alcohol, the report shows.

By his final year, records show, Bransfield’s use of private jets and limousines had become routine — even as the diocese closed or cut funding for nearly two dozen parishes and parochial schools.

On Sept. 16, 2017, as parishioners traveled by bus for the pilgrimage to the National Shrine, Bransfield boarded an 11-seat Learjet.

When Bransfield arrived at Dulles International Airport, a hired luxury car was waiting outside a small terminal devoted to executive jets, according to receipts from the chauffeur service Limolink. The firm told The Post that its fleet is primarily made up of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs. The ride to the National Shrine and back to the jet several hours later cost $440, receipts show.

In his last year, Bransfield flew by chartered luxury jet at least 19 times at a cost of over $142,000, according to receipts from Skyward Aviation, a charter firm that provides “concierge” service for well-heeled travelers from an airport about 30 miles from the diocesan headquarters. During his entire tenure in West Virginia, Bransfield spent almost $1 million on private jets, according to the investigative report.

“Welcome to luxury and comfort at its finest,” Skyward Aviation says on its website.

Bransfield’s use of private jets was no secret to two of the pope’s close advisers. The Vatican’s diplomatic representative in the United States, Christophe Pierre, and his predecessor Carlo Maria Viganò each rode on a jet paid for by the diocese, according to receipts and interviews.

Pierre’s July 24, 2017, flight back to Washington from a Boy Scouts event in Charleston, W.Va., cost $7,596.

Pierre and officials in his office did not respond to requests for comment about the previously unreported flight.

Viganò previously told The Post he did not know his 2013 flight — also to a Boy Scouts event — was paid for by the West Virginia diocese.

A Vatican spokesman did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Bransfield also routinely traveled in luxury overseas. During his tenure, he visited Paris, London and Geneva, often flying first-class and staying in leading hotels, and was at times accompanied by young priests, according to records and interviews.

Fr. Andrew Fisher

One of those priests is the Rev. Andrew Fisher, the pastor at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Annandale, Va., who worked with Bransfield at the National Shrine. Fisher described the trips — including at least four to Paris and London — as “a blend of vacation and work.”

“After he moved to West Virginia, I was asked to take a number of trips as his guest and was told the trips were paid for out of the bishop’s personal finances,” Fisher said in a statement. “I had no role in selecting the accommodations or making travel arrangements, and I was unaware of the costs.”

In late October 2017, Bransfield asked a cleric in his mid-20s to accompany him on a trip to Rome, according to the confidential investigative report. The priest, based in West Virginia, only reluctantly agreed. He had confided to one of the bishop’s top aides that Bransfield had once slapped his buttocks during a summer party, the report said.

The Post generally does not name the victims of alleged sexual harassment. He declined to comment.

The pair visited Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside village south of Rome, according to the investigative report. During the visit, Bransfield upset the priest by again slapping him on the buttocks, the investigative report said.

Bransfield has denied any inappropriate contact with priests or seminarians.

Several weeks after returning to West Virginia, Bransfield took another charter jet to Washington, for a meeting of the Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation. The group is run by U.S. cardinals and was founded by a close ally of Bransfield’s, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked earlier this year for sexual abuse.

As president of the group, Bransfield helped manage more than $225 million in total assets, according to internal Papal Foundation documents. He also used private jets and limousines paid for by his diocese to visit wealthy Catholic contributors.

Bransfield arrived in the nation’s capital several days before the foundation’s December 2017 meeting. He racked up nearly $2,000 in bills at the Hay-Adams Hotel, which overlooks the White House. Bransfield dined at the Capital Grille in Chevy Chase, Md., and at Cafe Milano in Georgetown. He also spent $400 at Nieman Marcus, documents show.

In an interview with The Post, Bransfield lamented the lack of shopping opportunities in the Mountain State. “I didn’t have the opportunity in West Virginia to live the lifestyle I lived in Washington,” he said.

A favorite store in the nation’s capital was Ann Hand Collection, a boutique jeweler where he spent $61,785, according to the investigative report.

Owner Ann Hand said in an interview that Bransfield often visited the showroom and bought pins, cuff links and silk scarves for friends and colleagues. Bransfield blessed the shop when it moved to its location in Georgetown several years ago, she said.

Hand expressed surprise when told how much church money Bransfield spent on the gifts.

“That is shocking it would be that much,” Hand said. “I guess I honestly thought he was a priest who had his own money.”

On the final day of his D.C. visit, Bransfield attended the Papal Foundation meeting. The Dec. 12 gathering brought together top U.S. Catholic leaders and a handful of wealthy Catholic donors who helped steer the foundation.

Bransfield assured the donors that Pope Francis would meet with them to acknowledge their generosity during the group’s annual pilgrimage to Rome in the spring, according to minutes of the meeting.

Afterward, Bransfield stepped out of the Vatican’s embassy on Massachusetts Avenue and got into a limousine that took him to a private jet waiting to fly him back to West Virginia, according to a Limolink receipt.

Nearly two weeks later, at midnight on Christmas Eve, Bransfield was standing at the altar at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling, W.Va. He was surrounded by red and white poinsettias. He celebrated a Mass that was broadcast on television stations across the state.

Hours later, he was gone again.

On Christmas afternoon in 2017, he flew by private jet to Philadelphia, his hometown. He hosted a holiday soiree at a catering hall not far from a Philadelphia home he owns — at a cost to the diocese of more than $5,000, according to a person familiar with the event who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private matter.

Monsignor Charles P. Vance

On Dec. 28, Bransfield and another Philadelphia priest, the Rev. Monsignor Charles P. Vance, flew on American Airlines to Palm Beach International Airport. Records show Bransfield routinely took winter vacations at the diocese’s expense — and not just to Florida but to the Cayman Islands, St. Maarten and St. Barthelemy in the Caribbean.

As a tax-exempt charity, the church is prohibited from spending on luxuries or services that unduly benefit an individual.

A general view of the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., in May 2011. Over the years, Bransfield spent almost $50,000 of his diocese’s money at the boutique hotel, sometimes for multiple rooms, records show.

In Palm Beach, Bransfield and Vance stayed for a week at the Colony, a boutique hotel that hosted Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. and George W. Bush and once was a favorite of British royalty.

From Dec. 28, 2017, to Jan. 4, 2018, the two clerics stayed in the Presidential Penthouse, a 1,640-square-foot spread with two bedrooms as well as living and dining rooms and a private sun deck, according to a hotel executive, accounting manager Mimi Hector.

Over the years, Bransfield spent almost $50,000 of the diocese’s money at the hotel, sometimes for multiple rooms, records show.

In his Post interview, Bransfield described the hotel as “a very classy little place,” convenient to the beach and Palm Beach’s legendary shopping district. Yet he called the choice of the suite an error of judgment by his staff.

“It only happened once,” Bransfield said. “I made sure it was not repeated.”

Hector told The Post that Bransfield had previously stayed in another of the Colony’s premium suites — the Duke of Windsor Penthouse.

For the return flight from Palm Beach, Bransfield did not use his round-trip ticket on American Airlines. He never sought a refund for the return portion of the $2,854 trip, an airline representative said.

Instead, he took a private jet from Palm Beach International Airport to the airport near his residence in Wheeling.

Bransfield said he did not recall forgoing the commercial flight.

“I had nothing to do with arranging the flights,” he said. “That was staff.”

Vance, the pastor of St. Philip Neri Church in Lafayette Hill, Pa., traveled to Palm Beach with Bransfield for winter vacation four times in recent years. He told The Post that he assumed that the trips and related expenses were “gifts” from Bransfield’s diocese.

“I never felt comfortable in Palm Beach,” he said. “It was just too extravagant for me.”

Vance said he had nothing to do with the arrangements.

“I was just a guest,” said Vance, who had attended seminary with Bransfield. “As far as I knew, it was something they were doing for him. It was arranged by his staff.”

Bransfield flew south twice more last winter at church expense.

In late January, he visited Miami Beach for a week-long vacation with the same young priest who accompanied him to Rome. Bransfield’s aide, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, the judicial vicar of the West Virginia diocese, instructed the priest to accompany Bransfield because “there is no one else” willing to go, according to the investigative report. The priest reluctantly agreed, according to the investigative report.

Quirk did not respond to requests for an interview.

Monsignor Kevin Quirk

Bransfield also spent four days in Aruba in March. In an interview, he described the visit as “a small vacation.”

In April 2018, when Bransfield returned to Rome with Papal Foundation contributors, he took a side trip to relax. This getaway was in the seaside village of Positano, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

“I was working very hard,” Bransfield told The Post. “And I took two or three days off. That was strictly personal.”

Bransfield racked up a $3,333 bill staying at Le Sirenuse, regularly ranked in leisure magazines as one of Europe’s finest hotels, records show.

“I did not pick the hotel,” Bransfield said. “Someone else did.”

Bransfield declined to say who selected the hotel.

Two weeks after returning to West Virginia, Bransfield was again headed to Washington aboard a private jet. A limousine picked him up at 11:09 a.m., a receipt shows. Bransfield stopped at the Vatican diplomatic office and another church facility. While the limousine waited, he got a haircut at Salon ILO in Georgetown, according to a salon employee. The diocese covered the $80 haircut, records show.

A growing number of Bransfield’s subordinates, including some of his closest aides, were privately grumbling about his financial and sexual conduct, according to interviews and the investigative report.

Complaints about Bransfield’s financial activity were not new. Parishioners in the state had sent letters to Vatican officials six years earlier seeking an investigation of his spending, The Post previously reported. Four senior clerics in the United States and at the Vatican who received written complaints about Bransfield in previous years had also received cash gifts from the bishop.

But in the summer of 2018, the allegations took on a new significance.

Two young priests who had traveled with Bransfield overseas had gone to Baltimore Archbishop William Lori with claims that Bransfield sexually harassed them. In August, Quirk wrote an eight-page letter with allegations about financial abuses, including that Bransfield spent money excessively on travel, according to a copy obtained by The Post.

Quirk made many of the travel arrangements, according to the travel receipts.

At the time of Quirk’s Aug. 8 letter, Bransfield was on his annual vacation on the Jersey Shore, where he regularly spent up to a month with family members and friends, with the diocese footing many of the bills. He made a $276 purchase at one of his regular stops each summer: a liquor store in Somers Point, N.J. He spent $1,002 at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City, and he rented a car for the month at a cost of $2,975.

On Aug. 25, Bransfield was summoned to the nunciature in Washington. Instead of driving down Interstate 95 — a trip that could take up to four hours — he chartered a private jet from Atlantic City. He hopped into a limousine for the trip to the nunciature, the Vatican’s diplomatic office in Washington, receipts show.

Bransfield told The Post that that was when he first learned that his job was imperiled.

“It was the worst day of my life,” Bransfield said.

He took the jet back to the Jersey Shore.

Complete Article HERE!

If there’s a cardinal sin to be made, count on the Catholic church

Its errors run from toting a saint’s relics around Scotland to an invitation to a reactionary priest

Bishop Joseph Toal, the bishop of Motherwell, blesses the relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux at their first stop at St Francis Xavier’s, Carfin, North Lanarkshire.

By

A grim little vaudeville act is currently touring some of Scotland’s Catholic parishes, featuring the remains of Thérèse of Lisieux, a long-dead French nun. Thérèse died of tuberculosis at the age of 24 in 1897 and was canonised in 1925, becoming Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. By all accounts, this young woman developed an exemplary devotion to her faith and was the author of some beautiful (if slightly ripe) spiritual tracts. I’m not sure she deserved the fate of having some of her remains bumped in and out of cars and through the hills of South Lanarkshire and Paisley for the devoted titillation of the faithful.

These relics of Saint Thérèse are considered to be “first class”, this being the ultimate seal of Vatican authentication. To be accorded this distinction, they must be parts of the bodies of the saints, such as fragments of bone, skin, blood, hair or ash. Apparently, poor dead Thérèse (or parts thereof) has been getting ferried like this throughout the Catholic world since 1994. Is there no one to call a halt to this unedifying distortion of faith? Can we not let this blameless lassie rest in peace?

In secular society, we similarly raise up those who have performed feats of heroism that inspire us to make more of ourselves or to come to the aid of those in need. Behold the Scotland national football team. Our squad hasn’t qualified for a proper international tournament for 21 years and has long been tormented by the feats of better generations. The ghosts of great Scottish managers and players still haunt Hampden Park and our modern performers seem mesmerised by their shadows as they struggle to master the basics of the game. Thus, there were more people interested in attending Scotland’s rugby international against Georgia than our footballers’ encounter with Russia on Friday night. Perhaps we could seek permission from the families of Bill Shankly, Jim Baxter and Jimmy Johnstone to exhume their bodies in the national interest.

A lock of Shankly’s hair or Baxter’s left metatarsal or a bone fragment from Jinky’s hips, which he used to swivel and pirouette away from defenders, could be secured and placed in a casket. These could then be borne aloft through the neighbourhoods that reared these great footballers for the purposes of rekindling interest among these communities for our national sport. Perhaps, too, something of the sorcery interred in their bones might escape into the feet of a passing urchin and transport him to greatness in a dark blue jersey.

When the church’s spinmeisters urge its followers to bow down in medieval veneration to the bleached fragments of dead heroes you know that political machinations lie beneath. Our secular aristocracy relies on the fecundity of the royal family or the sacrifice of its soldiers in contrived theatres of war to avert our gaze from problems nearer to home. And the Roman Catholic church, still reeling from the global crisis of clerical sex abuse, is keen to encourage supernatural devotion like this for the purposes of redirecting scrutiny of its own grievous failings.

The success of the Reformation lay in freeing people from the spiritual slavery of Rome, where the bones of saints and counterfeit fragments of the Holy Cross had become an industry. The profits from this paid for the ruinous and brutal Crusades (and the beginning of Islamophobia).

The reformers offered a purer and less unequal route to heaven and the mercy of God, unencumbered by profiteering, exploitation and superstition. It wasn’t just a theological revolution, but a temporal one, which seemed to say that you didn’t need to wait until you entered paradise to experience equality and fairness.

Cardinal Raymond Burke: ‘a totem for rightwing Catholic conservatives’

While Saint Thérèse’s relics continue on their ghostly tour up and down the hills and glens, the visit to Scotland takes place of the American cardinal Raymond Burke, perhaps the most powerful Catholic churchman after Pope Francis. Burke, who has long viewed the current pope’s relaxed and compassionate views on human sexuality and the environment with deep suspicion, has become his greatest critic. He has thus become a totem for rightwing Catholic conservatives, a powerful and influential lobby, which is currently being wooed by Donald Trump and his chosen acolyte in this field, Steve Bannon. Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence that Thérèse’s posthumous visit to Scotland is occurring at the same time as Burke’s live one, but I hae ma doots.

Among the cardinal’s wide range of reactionary views is that female altar servers are a wretched sign of the increased “feminisation” of the church. “The introduction of girl servers led many boys to abandon altar service,” he has said. “Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural.” This is rubbish, of course. Where I grew up, if young female altar servers had been allowed there would have been a stampede among the boys to toil in the Lord’s vineyard alongside them. Burke also views any form of gay relationships as “evil” and has encouraged Catholics not to expose their children to close relatives who are actively gay. He’s had less to say about why the God he purports to serve and who does not make mistakes created, in His wisdom, gay people.

The familiars and acolytes attending this false prophet will include a shadowy assortment of arcane organisations that seek to preserve unfettered clerical control and power by means of exclusion and unholy inquisition. Spare a thought for us Catholics at this time. Not only are we seeking to deal with Brexit in the secular world but leave this shower of ecclesiastical Blimps in the spiritual one.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican bans W.Va. bishop accused of sexual and financial misconduct from public ministry

Michael J. Bransfield, then-bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., in 2015.

By Michael Brice-Saddler

The Vatican on Friday announced sanctions against retired West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield, but stopped short of defrocking him, after investigating accusations of sexual harassment and financial misconduct.

The sanctions, ordered by Pope Francis and detailed in a letter posted to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s website, prohibit Bransfield from public ministry and from residing in his former West Virginia diocese Bransfield also has “the obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused,” the nature of which will be decided by the new bishop.

Bransfield stepped down in September when an aide came forward with an inside account detailing years of alleged sexual and financial misconduct, including a claim that Bransfield sought to “purchase influence” by giving hundreds of thousands in cash gifts to senior Catholic leaders. News of the allegations rocked parishioners in Wheeling-Charleston diocese, which Bransfield has led since 2005, and left over Catholics in the state feeling betrayed.

The Friday statement, under the letterhead of the Apostolic Nunciature United States of America, said the sanctions were determined based on the findings of the investigation of “allegations of sexual harassment of adults and of financial improprieties by Bishop Bransfield.”

The Washington Post previously reported that senior Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican had received warnings about Bransfield as early as 2012. In letters and emails, parishioners claimed that Bransfield was abusing his power and misspending church money on luxuries such as a personal chef, a chauffeur, first-class travel abroad and more than $1 million in renovations to his residence.

The Vatican on Friday announced sanctions against retired West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield, but stopped short of defrocking him, after investigating accusations of sexual harassment and financial misconduct.

The sanctions, ordered by Pope Francis and detailed in a letter posted to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s website, prohibit Bransfield from public ministry and from residing in his former West Virginia diocese Bransfield also has “the obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused,” the nature of which will be decided by the new bishop.

Bransfield stepped down in September when an aide came forward with an inside account detailing years of alleged sexual and financial misconduct, including a claim that Bransfield sought to “purchase influence” by giving hundreds of thousands in cash gifts to senior Catholic leaders. News of the allegations rocked parishioners in Wheeling-Charleston diocese, which Bransfield has led since 2005, and left over Catholics in the state feeling betrayed.

The Friday statement, under the letterhead of the Apostolic Nunciature United States of America, said the sanctions were determined based on the findings of the investigation of “allegations of sexual harassment of adults and of financial improprieties by Bishop Bransfield.”

The Washington Post previously reported that senior Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican had received warnings about Bransfield as early as 2012. In letters and emails, parishioners claimed that Bransfield was abusing his power and misspending church money on luxuries such as a personal chef, a chauffeur, first-class travel abroad and more than $1 million in renovations to his residence.

[W.Va. bishop gave powerful cardinals and other priests $350,000 in cash gifts before his ouster, church records show]

Church records showed Bransfield spent more than $2.4 million in church money on travel, including chartered jets and luxury hotels. Documents also revealed Bransfield spent $182,000 in daily fresh flower deliveries and doled out $350,000 in cash gifts to powerful cardinals, in addition to young priests who had accused him of sexual harassment.

The Post found that Bransfield wrote checks from his personal account and was reimbursed by the West Virginia diocese, which boosted his compensation in accordance with the value of the gifts. Bransfield has defended his spending as bishop, previously telling The Post it was justified and approved by financial managers at the diocese.

In 2012, news accounts reported that Bransfield was mentioned by a witness in a Philadelphia sexual abuse trial involving a local priest. The witness testified that the priest on trial once told him that Bransfield had sex with a teenage boy. Bransfield issued a statement denying the claim. That same year, Bransfield was the subject of news reports when authorities in Philadelphia reopened an investigation of a separate allegation that he had fondled a teenage boy decades earlier while working as a teacher at a Catholic high school. Bransfield denied ever sexually abusing anyone. No charges were brought.

Bransfield told The Post that a Philadelphia archdiocese investigation into the allegations cleared him of wrongdoing.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church Offers Cash to Settle Abuse Claims—With a Catch

A potential flood of lawsuits has spurred the Catholic Church to offer mediation, only if accusers agree not to sue

Jimmy Pliska is back living at home with his parents in Scranton, Pa.

By Ian Lovett

Four decades ago, Jimmy Pliska says, he was sexually assaulted by his local parish priest on an overnight fishing trip. Now, he has an agonizing decision to make.

Amid a recent wave of sexual-abuse investigations and allegations against the Catholic Church, Mr. Pliska wants to sue the Diocese of Scranton, which employed the priest. But the case is too old to bring to court. Although state lawmakers have proposed lifting the statute of limitations on the sexual abuse of children, it is unclear when—or if—that will happen.

The diocese, meanwhile, has set up a program to financially compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse. In exchange for accepting money from the program, the diocese won’t have to release any documents that might show what church officials knew about the alleged abuse. Mr. Pliska also would be barred from suing the church.

Time is running short for Mr. Pliska, 55 years old, to decide. The church has set a July 31 deadline. “The church shouldn’t be the judge,” he said of the program. “They should be held accountable.”

The Catholic Church has a great deal riding on whether alleged victims take part in compensation programs like the one in Scranton.

Since a widely publicized report last year from the Pennsylvania attorney general, which documented the abuse of more than 1,000 children by Catholic clergy in the state over half a century, public officials around the U.S. have looked for their own ways to pursue allegations made against the church.

More than a dozen states are considering lifting the civil statute of limitations on child sexual abuse or already have done so. The legislation, if passed, would unleash a surge of new lawsuits against the church.

A new wave of sexual abuse litigation would present a serious threat to both the church’s finances and its reputation. Large jury awards and settlements could cost the church millions, while legal discovery could make public documents showing how dioceses dealt with abuse.

*There were six other settlements in Boston at later dates †Assumes a 40% deduction for attorneys’ fees and expenses except in cases where the fees were disclosed.

As lawmakers debate the measures, Catholic dioceses in at least six states have tried to stem the tide by offering victim compensation programs.

“While no financial compensation can change the past, it is my hope that this program will help survivors in their healing and recovery process,” Joseph C. Bambera, the Scranton bishop, said when the diocese launched its program last fall.

The programs, which are run by third-party administrators outside the church, offer swifter resolution than trials, and alleged victims are less likely to walk away empty-handed. They also shield the church against lawsuits that could cause greater damage.

Payouts pale compared with what victims have won in court. Those who accept settlements must agree not to sue the church in the future.

The programs could ultimately save Catholic institutions hundreds of millions of dollars, said Marci Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who also has worked on clergy abuse cases as a lawyer.

“Settle as many cases as you possibly can, because statute of limitations reform is inevitably going to pass,” she said. “It lets them have the dual action of looking generous but protecting as many assets of the organization as possible.”

Eric Deabill, a spokesman for the Diocese of Scranton, said helping survivors of abuse was the priority. “Across the country, dioceses facing abuse litigation have been forced into bankruptcy,” he said. “This program balances the sincere desire to promote healing for sex abuse survivors while enabling the core mission of the Diocese to continue.”

But for some, the money isn’t enough, raising the prospect that the crisis could drag on for years. Many alleged victims want access to church records about their alleged abusers. Taking a case to court is a chance to make public any evidence that church officials hid the abuse.

When Paul Dunn was offered $200,000 in the Diocese of Brooklyn victim compensation fund, he rejected it. Instead, he plans to sue under New York’s new law. The priest who allegedly abused him is dead, but anyone who knew about it and did nothing should be punished, Mr. Dunn said.

“Once I go to court,” he said, “I’m sure the documents will come out on who was protecting him.”

In a statement, the diocese “denies any cover-up as to Mr. Dunn.”

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After the Catholic Church scandal erupted in Boston in 2002, California became the first state to temporarily lift the statute of limitations, giving adult victims of childhood sexual abuse 12 months to file lawsuits, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.

The church is still paying off loans from the legal settlements that followed.

During the one-year window, hundreds of people filed lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which eventually settled with more than 500 plaintiffs for $660 million.

Faced with more than 140 lawsuits, the Diocese of San Diego filed for bankruptcy in 2007. The plaintiffs eventually received $198 million, less lawyers’ fees and expenses.

St Joseph’s Church/Divine Mercy in Scranton, Pa.,

In both cases, the diocese covered about half the cost. Insurance and other defendants, including religious orders, paid the rest. Documents showing how church officials covered up abuse in some instances were made public during the proceedings.

Catholic officials around the U.S. have long lobbied against lifting the statute of limitations, arguing that cases from decades ago can’t be fairly adjudicated.

Yet more states are following California’s lead. New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, Vermont and Washington, D.C., passed similar laws this year.

In August, when New York’s one-year window opens to file sex-abuse suits in older cases, hundreds of alleged victims will be unable to sue because they have already accepted settlements from one of five compensation programs in the state.

The Archdiocese of New York in 2016 became the first in the U.S. to open a victim compensation fund. The church hired Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, who ran the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, to administer the program. Though they are hired and paid by the archdiocese, Ms. Biros said, they operate independently.

Alleged victims tell their stories to the mediators—some in person at offices, and others by phone, over video calls or through their lawyers. No church officials are present. If there is corroboration, such as a police report or another accusation against the priest, the mediators make an offer, Ms. Biros said. Settlement amounts depend on such factors as the victim’s age and the type of abuse, she said, and range from about $500,000 to “considerably lower.”

More than 400 people have submitted claims to the archdiocese, according to Ms. Biros. As of July, in cases already decided, 84% of the victims were offered compensation money. Just over $65 million has been paid to 324 victims, an average of about $200,000 each.

“Our attention and sensitivity as a state and wider community must be to the victim-survivors, not to institutions,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said of the compensation programs.

All the dioceses in New Jersey are following the model established in New York, as are seven of the eight in Pennsylvania. Every diocese is Colorado is starting a program. So are six in California, including Los Angeles, the largest archdiocese in the U.S. In each state except Colorado, the legislature is considering or already passed legislation lifting the statute of limitations.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of clients in legal proceedings against the Catholic institutions around the U.S., said participants in the compensation programs are often left with “a feeling of emptiness, a feeling something is missing.” Though they appreciate that past abuse is recognized by the church, he said, many are disappointed to never find out if anyone in the church knew about it and could have stopped it.

One of his clients, Thomas McGarvey, accepted a $500,000 settlement from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y. He said it was better than going to trial and being cross-examined about the abuse he endured as a teenager.

“At the trial, then you would have had their attorneys grilling me, kind of putting the blame on me,” Mr. McGarvey, 53, said. “It was a hard decision. I would have liked to have sued to express my disgust against the diocese.”

Michael Meenan accepted a settlement of $175,000 from the New York program that he called a lowball offer. He said a priest carried on an inappropriate relationship with him for years in the 1980s, an ordeal he blames, in part, for his financial and psychological problems.

“I never would have taken the settlement had I not been desperately in need of money to survive,” Mr. Meenan, 52, said. “I’m an Ivy League graduate living on food stamps.”

‘I’m very sorry’

Like many alleged victims of sexual abuse, it took Mr. Pliska decades before he discussed it with anyone. “Back then, you didn’t talk about it,” he said.

From afar, it looked like Mr. Pliska was thriving. He finished high school, worked as an auto mechanic in Scranton, got married and bought a house.

Yet the effects of the alleged abuse trailed him during his long silence, he said. After he had two children of his own, he hardly let them out of his sight. They weren’t allowed to sleep over at friends’ houses.

“When they were out in the backyard,” he said, “I was in the backyard overseeing them.”

In 2014, Mr. Pliska said for the first time that Father Michael J. Pulicare, his local parish priest, had raped him. Some members of his family didn’t believe him, and he had no way to corroborate his claim. Father Pulicare died in 1999, and Mr. Pliska didn’t know if the priest had abused anyone else.

Then, a month after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report last year, he read an article in The Wall Street Journal about John Patchcoski, who had grown up just a few blocks away in Scranton.

Mr. Patchcoski also accused Father Pulicare of abusing him on a fishing trip, and Mr. Pliska said the details were similar to his own experience. Both men recall waking up at night with the priest on top of them.

Another childhood friend of Mr. Pliska’s, Mike Heil, read the article and said Father Pulicare also had abused him on a fishing trip.

At least one other accusation has been made against Father Pulicare, according to Diocese of Scranton officials. After the Journal article, Father Pulicare’s name was added to the list of clergy credibly accused of abuse.

As they considered whether to join the victims fund, Mr. Pliska and the others who accused Father Pulicare said the money wasn’t as important as an accounting of who in the church knew about what happened to them. They hope the scrutiny would discourage other institutions from hiding abuse.

At least one diocese, in Erie, Pa., offers victims church documents about their alleged abusers. “One of the big concerns for victims was, ‘We want to see the files,’” Lawrence T. Persico, the Bishop of Erie, said. “It’s very important to be able to do what we can for these victim-survivors.”

Mike Heil said he was abused by the same priest who allegedly sexually assaulted Jimmy Pliska.

Scranton, like most other dioceses offering compensation programs, won’t open its files on accused clergy. “We chose not to engage in time consuming and contentious legal discovery,” said Mr. Deabill, the diocese spokesman.

“They’re just trying to lower their costs” in case the law changes, Mr. Patchcoski said. “They’re taking advantage of us.”

The money is hard to turn down, though. The three men said they would likely file a claim and see what the diocese offered, then decide.

Mr. Pliska, who is recently divorced and living with his parents, struggles to make child-support payments. He could use the money, he said, but would rather go to court, where the proceedings would be public.

In May, Mr. Pliska visited the Scranton cathedral. By chance, he saw the bishop outside and told him about the alleged abuse and its effects on his life, his marriage, his children and his faith in the church.

“It’s been 40 years of hell,” Mr. Pliska said. “It felt as if I could deal with it, but I couldn’t. It’s like a cancer.”

“I’m very sorry,” Bishop Bambera said. “Please know, if it’s any help, that the compensation fund is available.”

“What we would much rather see is it go to the courts,” Mr. Pliska said.

“I understand,” Bishop Bambera said. “A dollar amount never makes anything up. But there is a need for us to be able to say to you, ‘This is something that we can give you.’ ”

Complete Article HERE!

A priesthood of all believers?

Ireland’s Catholic bishops have been too slow to address the problems of a clericalised Church and a laity that often feels disconnected or is absent altogether.

Pope Francis, pictured praying inside St Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin during his visit to the World Meeting of Families last year, has repeatedly called for the Church to be more humble and less clerical. He is allowing Brazil’s bishops to consider the ordination of mature married men.

by Sean O’Conaill

“WE have a lot of priests in Ireland who are in their seventies, who are working right now. Some are in their eighties… We’re at the edge of an actuarial cliff here, and we’re going to start into a free fall.”

So said the Pope’s representative in Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, in March 2017. Back then it was still possible to believe that Irish bishops could reappraise a clericalised Church system that has scandalised most Irish people – and left many unanswered questions for those who still go to Church.

By the summer of 2019, however, it seems that not even a majority of Irish bishops has absorbed the most important lessons of the scandals that began in Ireland in 1992.

Though Pope Francis is allowing Brazil’s bishops to consider the ordination of mature married men, most Irish bishops still apparently believe that Irish Catholic families must somehow be persuaded to encourage their young people to head for seminaries and convents and celibate lives.

Consider, for example, To Follow Jesus Closely, a pastoral letter published in the Diocese of Down and Connor in April 2019, and covered extensively in Faith matters.

It tells us that young people cannot do without the ordained celibate priest to “reassure them that life does make sense, that there is a God who loves them, and that in the end, all will be well”.

Given that this is basic Christian wisdom – and that ordained priests can also suffer from depression, addiction and loss of faith – what does this assert about the Christian competence, gifts and potential of Irish Catholic lay people, parents especially?

In all but one instance the word “priest” is used in this document to denote solely the ordained priest.

Only once are we reminded that by baptism all Christians – including all teenagers – already also have a priestly calling; but here again, according to the pastoral letter, only the seminary-trained priest can explain this to us.

Otherwise we would never know how to exercise “faithfully and fully the common priesthood… received in baptism”.

Nowhere in this document is the role of this “common priesthood” – the priesthood of all of the faithful – explained.

This does not surprise me. In over seven decades of Massgoing I have never heard an Irish diocesan priest express the slightest interest in it.

The word ‘priest’ derives from the Latin ‘pontus’ – a bridge – so a ‘priest’ in the religious sense is one whose calling is to bridge for others the distance between themselves and God.

The priesthood of Jesus was unique in the ancient world. He not only initiated the sacred Christian sacrificial ritual – the Eucharist – but he was also himself the sacrificial gift, in his surrender to judgement and crucifixion.

According to the Gospels, Jesus had provoked his own crucifixion by challenging an abusive religious system that privileged the well-to-do and therefore distanced the poorest from God.

It follows that all of us Catholics are called not only to attend Mass but to offer ourselves in that same cause – the closing of the distance between the poorest and God, a distance obviously growing in Ireland.

Members of the St Vincent de Paul and of other Catholic charities are therefore faithfully exercising their priestly calling, as are all who answer the call to social justice and to service of the needy.

And so were those Catholic parents who blew the whistle on the most devastating spiritual abuse ever perpetrated against Irish Catholic children – sexual abuse by professedly celibate Catholic ordained clergy.

In exercising the most elemental duty of a Christian parent – the protection of the child’s right to believe in their own sacred dignity – those parents were protesting against the abuse of that right by ordained men, a possibility they had never been warned about by their bishops.

In many cases those parents then suffered what Jesus suffered – isolation within their own communities.

Have the bishops taken time to consider what ‘help’ those parents had ever received from ordained clergy in understanding and exercising their Christian duty – their priesthood – in that way?

Do they remember that Irish bishops first gave priority to the cause of protecting Catholic children from clerical abuse only in 1994 – at precisely the moment that the whole island first learned, from those injured parents – and that Irish bishops had until that very moment given a higher priority to the sheltering of abusive priests?

Other obvious questions follow:

  • If criminally abusive breaches of priestly celibacy did not bar ordained men from celebration of the Eucharist in Ireland until those breaches were publicly known, why is Christian marriage still a barrier to that ordained Eucharistic role in Ireland?
  • Why should a religious life deliberately sundered from any parental role continue to have higher status in the Church than the witness of married lives of integrity – especially those of mothers whose self-sacrificing love, as Pope Francis has observed, is indeed often the best witness a child will ever have of the Father’s unconditional love?
  • If the ordained priest is indeed best placed to help lay people to understand their common priesthood, why has Catholic social teaching always been a closed book for most diocesan clergy in Ireland?
  • From Confirmation on, why can young people expect to be bored rigid at Mass, instead of reminded of their own priesthood and challenged to pray to the Holy Spirit for the courage, wisdom and whatever other spiritual gifts are needed to meet together the dangers of their young lives – everything from schoolyard bullying, substance abuse, internet trolling and climatic collapse to media celebrity culture, institutional corruption, sexual harassment and white supremacist ideology?
  • Why have Irish bishops not yet initiated and published reliable research into the reasons for the widescale abandonment of religious practice here, especially among the young, by the Irish majority that still identifies as Catholic?
  • Why are there still no regular opportunities to raise such questions openly in Irish Catholic parishes and dioceses, when they could be asked by any alert teenager contemplating a life calling?
  • If seminaries are truly the best places to train men to be ‘in persona Christi’, why was no Catholic bishop anywhere in the world a whistleblower against clerical child abuse before parents and victims had to act?

To Follow Jesus Closely suggests that some Irish bishops believe that Catholic parents and grandparents have no access to reliable news media, no powers of observation or reflection, no memory, no access to the many gifts of the Holy Spirit and – after all that has happened in their own lifetimes – no such questions.

And it might also suggest that Irish teenagers who can qualify for university are naïve when it comes to recent Irish history. Are we all thought to be living in a 1944 bubble, preserved by nightly amazement at Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O’Malley in Going My Way?

How can Irish Catholic parents ever forget that it was other parents – never their bishops – who alerted them to the deadly danger of believing that seminaries and ordination would make men incapable of harming children?

It is from whistleblowers against institutional abuse and other men and women of integrity that we Catholic laypeople best learn the meaning of the common Christian priesthood of all of the faithful – people such as Marie Collins, Mary Raftery, Peter McVerry, Gordon Wilson, Michael McGoldrick, Martin Ridge, Catherine Corless, Maurice McCabe, Tom Doyle, Veronica Guerin, Ian Elliott, the founding CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, and Sister Consilio of Cuan Mhuire.

That understanding, guided by the Holy Spirit, will in time reshape the ordained Catholic ministry and renew the Irish Church, when all Irish bishops have fully accepted what is plainly visible to all.

Complete Article HERE!