His successor says Bransfield has gone incommunicado.
Last Tuesday, MetroNews, a West Virginia news site, quoted Bishop Mark Brennan as saying that he had not heard from Bransfield in “many months, and I would not expect to. … Whatever he is doing, he is doing and is in a dark hole. We do not know exactly what he is up to; we have not been in communication.”
In July 2019, Francis forbade Bransfield, a well-connected Philadelphian who had held prominent national spots in the Catholic Church, from celebrating Mass and from living in West Virginia. Bransfield had led the church there for 13 years. In November, Brennan had proposed, per Francis’s demand, a specific proposal for Bransfield’s restitution.
Some experts say the restitution package was a first for a bishop. Brennan called for his predecessor, now 76, to pay the diocese nearly $800,000, to apologize to victims, to lose his place in the diocesan cemetery, and to lose the normal bishop retirement package and instead receive a lower stipend equal to that of someone who had been a priest for 13 years.
Diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop on Monday referred The Washington Post to a July 28 letter Brennan wrote to the diocese. The letter only briefly mentioned Bransfield, saying that neither Brennan nor the papal nuncio — the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States — had heard back from Rome since November “on the plan of amends I submitted.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Brennan in the MetroNews report is saying Rome needs to approve of Brennan’s plan, Bransfield’s response or both.
Bransfield declined to comment Monday, and his lawyers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Post in 2019 obtained an internal church investigation that found Bransfield, as bishop in one of the country’s poorest states, spent millions of dollars of diocesan money on chartered jets, lavish furnishings at his official residence and nearly 600 cash gifts to fellow clergymen. The Post also found that $21 million was moved from a church-owned hospital in Wheeling, W.Va., to be used at Bransfield’s discretion. The money was moved into the Bishop’s Fund, a charity Bransfield created with the stated purpose of helping residents of West Virginia, tax filings showed.
MetroNews quoted Brennan last week as saying Bransfield “would not come up with his own plan and did not admit to his actions. Brennan previously told MetroNews that Bransfield told him he did not know who he needed to apologize to.”
Francis was the one who initially called for Bransfield to make amends, Brennan said told MetroNews.
“I wasn’t sent in to demand that. They demanded that. They asked me to work with him, and let me tell you, that was not easy to do,” Brennan said.
Bransfield has denied wrongdoing, saying that his staff in Wheeling was responsible for diocesan finances and which accounts checks came from. He has told The Post that he thinks he greatly improved the financial health of the diocese during his tenure and that gifts and lavish perks were within church culture norm. He has denied the claims of seminarians and priests who said he sexually harassed them.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
By In the latest attempt to address its long-running crisis over clergy sex abuse, the Vatican on Thursday published guidelines for bishops that lay out how to handle such cases and direct them not to dismiss accusations that are submitted anonymously, seem vague or appear initially dubious.
The guidelines do not include any changes to church law, and they continue to give bishops some latitude as they conduct preliminary investigations into abuse claims. But they amount to a formal manual for what the Catholic Church considers best practices — at a time when it has pledged to act with more transparency after years of bruising scandal.
Church officials are not explicitly mandated to inform police of claims, but some analysts pointed to the new handbook as a sign that the idea of cooperation might be prevailing within the church.
“This is something that, little by little, is gaining ground,” said Davide Cito, a canon lawyer at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. “Instead of keeping it in-house and not telling anybody, you’re told to inform the civil authorities.”
The church has struggled for years with how to help its leaders field and investigate abuse claims, with some advocates and abuse victims saying that some bishops’ impulses are still to shield the church from scandal and disrepute. Several high-profile cases in recent years have exploded as a result of bishops, who are answerable only to the pope, covering up claims.
In a question-and-answer document released alongside the guidebook, a Vatican communications official noted that in the past, abuse complaints received anonymously were “simply thrown out.”
“Ignoring [a claim] just because it is not signed would be wrong,” said Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, an official in the Vatican’s disciplinary department.
The level of outside pressure on the church has diminished during the pandemic, with global attention focused on the virulent coronavirus that has killed hundreds of thousands, and advocate groups have been unable to hold events. But the guidebook was more than a year in the making; some officials had talked about the idea in February 2019, when Pope Francis convened leading bishops from across the world to discuss the church’s clerical abuse crisis.
Since that summit, Francis has overhauled how the church is supposed to investigate abuse claims against bishops and has abolished a “pontifical secrecy” rule in an attempt to open the door for information-sharing with civil authorities.
The document released Thursday treads into new territory primarily by detailing guidance for all the small decisions a bishop might face when handling a claim.
In practice, bishops conduct preliminary investigations and then hand over their findings to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a final decision and possible trial.
According to the guidelines, bishops should keep documentation if a claim is deemed to be unfounded. They should avoid simply transferring an accused priest under “the idea that distancing him from the place of the alleged crime or alleged victims constitutes a sufficient solution of the case.” If they make public statements, the comments should be “brief and concise, avoiding clamorous announcements.”
One particularly “sensitive” task, according to the guidelines, is determining when to inform the priest who is being accused.
The church said that there is no uniform criterion and that bishops must essentially make a judgment call — one that takes into account protecting “the good name of the persons involved,” the possibility of compromising the preliminary investigation or “giving scandal to the faithful.”
Once a preliminary investigation has finished, the bishop must send the relevant information to the Vatican, along with suggestions about how to proceed. The documents, the Vatican said, should be sent in a “single copy,” authenticated by a notary.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
By REESE DUNKLIN and MICHAEL REZENDES
The U.S. Roman Catholic Church used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid, with many millions going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.
The church’s haul may have reached — or even exceeded — $3.5 billion, making a global religious institution with more than a billion followers among the biggest winners in the U.S. government’s pandemic relief efforts, an Associated Press analysis of federal data released this week found.
Houses of worship and faith-based organizations that promote religious beliefs aren’t usually eligible for money from the U.S. Small Business Administration. But as the economy plummeted and jobless rates soared, Congress let faith groups and other nonprofits tap into the Paycheck Protection Program, a $659 billion fund created to keep Main Street open and Americans employed.
By aggressively promoting the payroll program and marshaling resources to help affiliates navigate its shifting rules, Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries have so far received approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans, AP found.
The Archdiocese of New York, for example, received 15 loans worth at least $28 million just for its top executive offices. Its iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue was approved for at least $1 million.
In Orange County, California, where a sparkling glass cathedral estimated to cost over $70 million recently opened, diocesan officials working at the complex received four loans worth at least $3 million.
And elsewhere, a loan of at least $2 million went to the diocese covering Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, where a church investigation revealed last year that then-Bishop Michael Bransfield embezzled funds and made sexual advances toward young priests.
Simply being eligible for low-interest loans was a new opportunity. But the church couldn’t have been approved for so many loans — which the government will forgive if they are used for wages, rent and utilities — without a second break.
Religious groups persuaded the Trump administration to free them from a rule that typically disqualifies an applicant with more than 500 workers. Without this preferential treatment, many Catholic dioceses would have been ineligible because — between their head offices, parishes and other affiliates — their employees exceed the 500-person cap.
“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” said Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor specializing in constitutional issues and religion who has studied the Paycheck Protection Program. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”
The amount that the church collected, between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion, is an undercount. The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, an organization of Catholic financial officers, surveyed members and reported that about 9,000 Catholic entities received loans. That is nearly three times the number of Catholic recipients the AP could identify.
The AP couldn’t find more Catholic beneficiaries because the government’s data, released after pressure from Congress and a lawsuit from news outlets including the AP, didn’t name recipients of loans under $150,000 — a category in which many smaller churches would fall. And because the government released only ranges of loan amounts, it wasn’t possible to be more precise.
Even without a full accounting, AP’s analysis places the Catholic Church among the major beneficiaries in the Paycheck Protection Program, which also has helped companies backed by celebrities, billionaires, state governors and members of Congress.
The program was open to all religious groups, and many took advantage. Evangelical advisers to President Donald Trump, including his White House spiritual czar, Paula White-Cain, also received loans.
‘TRULY IN NEED’
There is no doubt that state shelter-in-place orders disrupted houses of worship and businesses alike.
Masses were canceled, even during the Holy Week and Easter holidays, depriving parishes of expected revenue and contributing to layoffs in some dioceses. Some families of Catholic school students are struggling to make tuition payments. And the expense of disinfecting classrooms once classes resume will put additional pressure on budgets.
But other problems were self-inflicted. Long before the pandemic, scores of dioceses faced increasing financial pressure because of a dramatic rise in recent clergy sex abuse claims.
The scandals that erupted in 2018 reverberated throughout the world. Pope Francis ordered the former archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to a life of “prayer and penance” following allegations he abused minors and adult seminarians. And a damning grand jury report about abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses revealed bishops had long covered for predator priests, spurring investigations in more than 20 other states.
As the church again reckoned with its longtime crisis, abuse reports tripled during the year ending June 2019 to a total of nearly 4,500 nationally. Meanwhile, dioceses and religious orders shelled out $282 million that year — up from $106 million just five years earlier. Most of that went to settlements, in addition to legal fees and support for offending clergy.
Loan recipients included about 40 dioceses that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years paying victims through compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings. AP’s review found that these dioceses were approved for about $200 million, though the value is likely much higher.
One was the New York Archdiocese. As a successful battle to lift the statute of limitations on the filing of child sexual abuse lawsuits gathered steam, Cardinal Timothy Dolan established a victim compensation fund in 2016. Since then, other dioceses have established similar funds, which offer victims relatively quick settlements while dissuading them from filing lawsuits.
Spokesperson Joseph Zwilling said the archdiocese simply wanted to be “treated equally and fairly under the law.” When asked about the waiver from the 500-employee cap that religious organizations received, Zwilling deferred to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
A spokesperson for the bishops’ conference acknowledged its officials lobbied for the paycheck program, but said the organization wasn’t tracking what dioceses and Catholic agencies received.
“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi said in a written statement. According to AP’s data analysis, the church and all its organizations reported retaining at least 407,900 jobs with the money they were awarded.
Noguchi also wrote the conference felt strongly that “the administration write and implement this emergency relief fairly for all applicants.”
Not every Catholic institution sought government loans. The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy based in Stamford, Connecticut, told AP that even though its parishes experienced a decline in donations, none of the organizations in its five-state territory submitted applications.
Deacon Steve Wisnowski, a financial officer for the eparchy, said pastors and church managers used their rainy-day savings and that parishioners responded generously with donations. As a result, parishes “did not experience a severe financial crisis.”
Wisnowski said his superiors understood the program was for “organizations and businesses truly in need of assistance.”
LOBBYING FOR A BREAK
The law that created the Paycheck Protection Program let nonprofits participate, as long as they abided by SBA’s “affiliation rule.” The rule typically says that only businesses with fewer than 500 employees, including at all subsidiaries, are eligible.
Lobbying by the church helped religious organizations get an exception.
The Catholic News Service reported that the bishops’ conference and several major Catholic nonprofit agencies worked throughout the week of March 30 to ensure that the “unique nature of the entities would not make them ineligible for the program” because of how SBA defines a “small” business. Those conversations came just days after President Trump signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which included the Paycheck Protection Program.
In addition, federal records show the Los Angeles archdiocese, whose leader heads the bishops’ conference, paid $20,000 to lobby the U.S. Senate and House on “eligibility for non-profits” under the CARES Act. The records also show that Catholic Charities USA, a social service arm of the church with member agencies in dioceses across the country, paid another $30,000 to lobby on the act and other issues.
In late April, after thousands of Catholic institutions had secured loans, several hundred Catholic leaders pressed for additional help on a call with President Trump. During the call, Trump underscored the coming presidential election and touted himself as the candidate best aligned with religious conservatives, boasting he was the “best (president) the Catholic church has ever seen,” according to Crux, an online publication that covers church-related news.
The lobbying paid off.
Catholic Charities USA and its member agencies were approved for about 110 loans worth between $90 million and $220 million at least, according to the data.
In a statement, Catholic Charities said: “Each organization is a separate legal entity under the auspices of the bishop in the diocese in which the agency is located. CCUSA supports agencies that choose to become members, but does not have any role in their daily operations or governance.”
The Los Angeles archdiocese told AP in a survey that reporters sent before the release of federal data that 247 of its 288 parishes — and all but one of its 232 schools — received loans. The survey covered more than 180 dioceses and eparchies.
Like most dioceses, Los Angeles wouldn’t disclose its total dollar amount. While the federal data doesn’t link Catholic recipients to their home dioceses, AP found 37 loans to the archdiocese and its affiliates worth between $9 million and $23 million, including one for its downtown cathedral.
In 2014, the archdiocese paid a record $660 million to settle sex abuse claims from more than 500 victims. Spokespeople for Los Angeles Archbishop Jose M. Gomez did not respond to additional questions about the archdiocese’s finances and lobbying.
In program materials, SBA officials said they provided the affiliation waiver to religious groups in deference to their unique organizational structure, and because the public health response to slow the coronavirus’ spread disrupted churches just as it did businesses.
A senior official in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which oversees the SBA, acknowledged in a statement the wider availability of SBA loans to religious organizations. “The CARES Act expanded eligibility to include nonprofits in the PPP, and SBA’s regulations ensured that no eligible religious nonprofit was excluded from participation due to its beliefs or denomination,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, some legal experts say that the special consideration the government gave faith groups in the loan program has further eroded the wall between church and state provided in the First Amendment. With that erosion, religious groups that don’t pay taxes have gained more access to public money, said Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and attorney who has represented clergy abuse victims on constitutional issues during bankruptcy proceedings.
“At this point, the argument is you’re anti-religious if in fact you would say the Catholic Church shouldn’t be getting government funding,” Hamilton said.
CASHING IN FAST
After its lobbying blitz, the Catholic Church worked with parishes and schools to access the money.
Many dioceses — from large ones such as the Archdiocese of Boston to smaller ones such as the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin — assembled how-to guides to help their affiliates apply. The national Catholic fiscal conference also hosted multiple webinars with legal and financial experts to help coach along local leaders.
Federal data show that the bulk of the church’s money was approved during the loan program’s first two weeks. That’s when demand for the first-come, first-served assistance was so high that the initial $349 billion was quickly exhausted, shutting out many local businesses.
Overall, nearly 500 loans approved to Catholic entities exceeded $1 million each. The AP found that at least eight hit the maximum range of $5 million to $10 million. Many of the listed recipients were the offices of bishops, headquarters of leading religious orders, major churches, schools and chapters of Catholic Charities.
Also among recipients was the Saint Luke Institute. The Catholic treatment center for priests accused of sexual abuse and those suffering from other disorders received a loan ranging from $350,000 to $1 million. Based in Silver Spring, Maryland, the institute has at times been a way station for priests accused of sexual abuse who returned to active ministry only to abuse again.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the church’s aggressive pursuit of funds better than four dioceses that sued the federal government to receive loans, even though they entered bankruptcy proceedings due to mounting clergy sex-abuse claims. Small Business Administration rules prohibit loans to applicants in bankruptcy.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico — once home to a now-closed and notorious treatment center for predator priests — prevailed in court, clearing the way for its administrative offices to receive nearly $1 million. It accused the SBA of overreaching by blocking bankruptcy applications when Congress didn’t spell that out.
Yet even when a diocese has lost in bankruptcy court, or its case is pending, its affiliated parishes, schools and other organizations remain eligible for loans.
On the U.S. territory of Guam, well over 200 clergy abuse lawsuits led church leaders in the tiny Archdiocese of Agana to seek bankruptcy protection, as they estimated at least $45 million in liabilities. Even so, the archdiocese’s parishes, schools and other organizations have received at least $1.7 million as it sues the SBA for approval to get a loan for its headquarters, according to bankruptcy filings.
The U.S. church may have a troubling record on sex abuse, but Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, pushed back on the idea that dioceses should be excluded from the government’s rescue package. Approximately 80 organizations within his diocese received loans worth $10.3 million, the diocese said, with most of the money going to parishes and schools.
Persico pointed out that church entities help feed, clothe and shelter the poor — and in doing so keep people employed.
“I know some people may react with surprise that government funding helped support faith-based schools, parishes and dioceses,” he said. “The separation of church and state does not mean that those motivated by their faith have no place in the public square.”
By Alexis Stark
On Nov. 23, 2019, Judge Sara Smolenski received a call from the Rev. Scott Nolan at St. Stephen Catholic Church.
Nolan requested that Smolenski, who presides over Grand Rapids’ 63rd District Court, abide by the teachings of the Roman Catholic church and not take communion because she is married to a woman. Some churches have taken similar action against leaders who support abortion rights.
“It felt like being invited to someone’s house for dinner, but you can’t eat the food,” Smolenski said.
After local media covered her marriage to Linda Burpee, Smolenski did not expect her sexual orientation to be an issue in her home parish. During an interview with WOOD-TV, Nolan said Catholic teaching gave him no choice in making his decision.
Since that phone call, Smolenski’s story of discrimination reached local and national media outlets. She also faced responses from people who accused her of going to the media.
“I never called the media, but when they reached out, I chose to speak out,” Smolenski said.
In response to Nolan’s decision, some parishioners wrote a letter urging the community to write to Grand Rapids Bishop David Walkowiak and Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron.
“The St. Stephen community is experiencing a crisis of leadership involving selective discrimination against gay parishioners … these acts have been destructive to the culture of inclusion and diversity that are hallmarks of St. Stephen,” the letter read.
Smolenski said there were other parishioners who didn’t question the incident. St. Stephens also kept mailing parish contribution envelopes to Smolenski’s home, even after she and her spouse stopped attending mass. Nolan didn’t respond to a request for comment for the story.
“For months, I was so sad,” Smolenski said. “I’m still very sad about it. I stopped going to St. Stephens because it makes me feel too sad. Then I became angry. Now I think I’m past the anger because I know that’s not how all priests feel.”
When Fountain Street Church’s Minister for Spiritual Life and Learning, the Rev. Christopher Roe, first heard about Smolenski’s story last year, he responded with grief and sadness.
“I found it so disappointing that someone would experience such discrimination in their spiritual home,” Roe said. “I’m not Catholic, but I understand Catholics to be deeply rooted in tradition; it’s embedded in your identity and your family’s identity.”
Roe also reflected on the vulnerability and ripple effects of someone in the public sphere experiencing discrimination because of their identity.
“For anyone who has experienced any kind of trauma in their life, there are different things that can trigger it. With Sara’s situation, whether you’re Catholic or not, I think it stirred up a lot of trauma, specifically experiences of rejection or discrimination, for a lot of people in our church and the spiritual community,” Roe said.
As much as the last six months have dampened her spirits, Smolenski’s faith remains unshaken. Depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, when churches begin opening their doors again, she is unsure about what church she will call home.
Despite the Catholic church’s theological understanding that same-sex marriages live in opposition of biblical teachings, Smolenski continued attending the church she was baptized and raised in because it fit for her.
“I grew up in that church. It helped form my faith. I never had a priest tell me I wasn’t welcome or could not be a part of the church because of I was gay,” Smolenski asserted.
This incident also further solidified her doubts regarding the Catholic church’s institutional view on who is worthy of communion and by extension, God’s love.
“It’s not perfect; I’m not perfect,” Smolenski said. “When that priest told me I couldn’t have communion, I really felt like I knew what discrimination meant. It becomes personal when someone says you aren’t welcome.”
As a Catholic, Smolenski chooses to believe in the Christian teachings that God does not make mistakes and Jesus loves and accepts all people, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or background.
“I’m not ashamed of who I am; I’m proud. Jesus doesn’t make mistakes, so none of us were born as mistakes,” Smolenski said.
Though hurt by the incident, Smolenski felt encouraged by the support from her community and across the country. She even received an invitation from a Catholic church in Ireland.
“A man named Angus from Ireland wrote me a letter telling me I was welcome to his village’s Catholic church anytime,” Smolenski said. “I kept a notebook full of hundreds of notes, emails and handwritten letters of support. They were so powerful.”
Today, Smolenski questions the Catholic church’s discrimination, arguing that it excludes God’s children from practicing their faith in their church community.
“How can this rule be applied so discriminately? Why are the rules different from one church to another, priest to priest,” Smolenski said.
Earlier this month, the Detroit Archdiocese fired Terry Gonda, St. John Fisher Catholic Church’s music director, for being married to a woman. According to the Detroit Free Press, her firing occurred nine days after the U.S. Supreme Court granted federal job protections for LGBTQ employees, although churches are exempt.
Given the increased progressive activism during the Trump era and the Black Lives Matter movement’s increased visibility, Smolenski reflected on her role in creating change and challenging institutional discrimination.
“We have to use our voice, especially white people, because that’s how change is going to happen with any form of discrimination,” she said. “We need to do what is right and I don’t think that’s what the Catholic church is doing.”
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
– How to tell if your grandparent has become an antifa agent
Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?
KNOW THE SIGNS: HOW TO TELL IF YOUR GRANDPARENT HAS BECOME AN ANTIFA AGENT
For your birthday, she knits you an unwanted scarf. To be used as a balaclava?
She belongs to a decentralized group with no leadership structure that claims to be discussing a “book,” but no one ever reads the book and all they seem to do is drink wine.
Is always talking on the phone with an “aunt” you have never actually met in person. Aunt TIFA????
Always walking into rooms and claiming not to know why he walked into the room. Likely.
He “trips” over and breaks your child’s Lego police station when walking through the living room in the dark.
Total and bewildering lack of nostalgia for good old days.
Gathers with loose-knit, disorderly group of figures you have never met to play “mah-jongg,” governed by mysterious “rule cards” issued annually from a nebulous central authority.
Suddenly, for no reason, will appear or pretend to be asleep.
Insists on producing container of nuts whenever there is company. Why? Code of some kind?
Carries peppermints (chemical irritant?) in purse at all times.
Is taking Centrum Silver. But for what reason? Surely to build up strength for the coming confrontation.
Keeps forwarding you what appear on the surface to be emails of jokes someone has typed out from a Reader’s Digest; claims to think you would “enjoy”; must be some sort of recruitment or propaganda or hidden message.
Hired a clown for your child’s birthday — part of the Juggalo command structure?
Big tin of Christmas popcorn mysteriously replenishes itself. WHO IS HELPING?!
You gave her a Precious Moments figurine of a law enforcement officer, but she hasn’t displayed it.
Remembers things from the past in incredible, exhausting detail, but recent ones only sporadically? Cover of some kind.
She claims not to know how to use her phone, yet always appears upside-down on FaceTime, which should be impossible without hacking capabilities.
If he is to be believed, he spends hours playing bridge.
He is walking non-threateningly at a public protest.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!