Diocese: Ex-bishop used sexual innuendo toward subordinates

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An investigation into a former Roman Catholic bishop in West Virginia found a “consistent pattern” of sexual innuendo and suggestive comments and actions toward subordinates, the head of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese said Wednesday.

The investigation involved claims against ex-Bishop Michael Bransfield , who resigned last year. A team of investigators determined the sexual harassment accusations against Bransfield were credible, said Wheeling-Charleston Diocese Archbishop William Lori, who released the report.

It found no conclusive evidence that Bransfield engaged in any sexual misconduct involving minors, he said.

The investigation also determined Bransfield misused church funds for his own benefit, Lori said.

No one responded to a telephone message left at a phone number listed for Bransfield. He also had been implicated in a 2012 case involving Philadelphia priests accused of sexual abuse, but he denied abusing anyone in that case.

“I am deeply pained by and sorry for the harm that the former bishop caused to those he was charged with shepherding,” Lori said in a letter released by the diocese. “There is no excuse, nor adequate explanation, that will satisfy the troubling question of how his behavior was allowed to continue for as long as it did without the accountability that we must require of those who have been entrusted with so much.”

According to the investigation, Bransfield also misused church funds, spending them on dining, liquor, gifts, personal travel and luxury items. The full amount was not disclosed, but Lori said he himself had received a total of $7,500 in financial gifts from Bransfield.

The archbishop said he has returned all of the money to the diocese “in light of what I have come to learn of Bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances,” and has asked that it be donated to Catholic Charities.

In addition, Bransfield made expensive renovations to his private residences in Wheeling and Charleston, along with his intended retirement residence, Lori said.

The team of investigators comprised five lay investigators, both Catholic and non-Catholic, Lori said. The completed investigation has been sent to the Holy See for final judgment.

Catholic Church officials in March imposed ministerial restrictions on Bransfield, who resigned in September after serving 14 years as the diocese’s bishop. The Vatican appointed Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore, to take over.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a lawsuit in March accusing the diocese and Bransfield of knowingly employing pedophiles and failing to conduct adequate background checks on camp and school workers.

In a statement Wednesday, Morrisey called for the release of the diocese’s full investigation.

Last month the diocese released the names of additional priests who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse, bringing to 40 the number of accused priests or deacons who served in West Virginia.

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