The Catholic Herald, a Roman Catholic weekly newspaper based in London has reported on the scandal involving Bishop emeritus Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. According to the Herald, Bishop Bransfield has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with adults and of serious financial malfeasance. Bishop Mark Brennan has just been announced as the successor to Bishop Bransfield.
Bishop Bransfield was able to operate in inappropriate ways until his retirement seemingly because those with knowledge of the situation were suppressed, were afraid to raise charges, or were ignored. The unwillingness to confront evil seems to have plagued the Church in the development of the sex abuse scandal in general and in the cases of former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Bishop Bransfield, in particular.
The Herald report contains the following very telling paragraph concerning the challenges that the new bishop of Wheeling-Charleston faces in light of the former administrative style of Bishop Bransfield:
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one priest with knowledge of the situation in the chancery told the Catholic Herald, “The first thing Bishop Brennan can do is treat people — lay people and clerics — as though they have value,” adding that basic human decency often seemed to be in short supply during Bishop Bransfield’s tenure. “The chancery under Bransfield became very impersonal and very bureaucratic, which is a problem — especially for a diocese of our size,” the official went on to say. “Bishop Brennan needs to foster the sense that clergy, especially, are part of his mission and ministry, which must be one of service to the faithful and all the people of West Virginia.”
This analysis of the situation in Wheeling-Charleston may prove useful to other U.S. dioceses. The retirement age when bishops must submit their resignation to the Pope is 75. The National Catholic Reporter states that nine resident U.S. bishops are already 75 or older, five more will reach that age by the end of 2020, and eight other dioceses are already functioning without a bishop. One can hope that the expected 22 new diocesan ordinaries will find better situations than that in Wheeling-Charleston. The ordinary of the Diocese of Venice, Bishop Frank Dewane, is only 69 years old. Last month, the website catholicphilly.com published a picture of Bishop Dewane under the headline, “Try, try again: Bishops to address abuse, accountability, among their own.” We must pray that the next six years will see change in the Diocese of Venice such that truth will prevail, a change in attitude will occur such that people and clerics will be treated with human decency rather than bullying and scorn, that clergy will embrace a ministry of service, and that people will be valued for more than the financial contributions they can make. Without such changes, the CatholicPhilly headline and picture will prove prescient with the Diocese of Venice following the same scandalous path as the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.