Michael Bransfield is the former bishop of West Virginia who is accused of sexually harassing parishioners and spending church money on alcohol and other luxuries. Bransfield retired from the church in September 2018 as the church opened an investigation into the charges against him. Now, an internal report obtained by the Washington Post charges that Bransfield spent millions on luxury travel and that there are “credible” claims that he sexually harassed adults under his authority. Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Church Says Bransfield Likely Didn’t Molest Minors but Had a Pattern of Harassing Adults Under His Authority
According to an internal church report obtained by the Washington Post, Bransfield has a “pattern” of harassing adults under his authority. The report said, in part,
“Regarding allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bishop Bransfield, the investigative team determined that the accounts of those who accused Bishop Bransfield of sexual harassment are credible. The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”
Bransfield has been repeatedly investigated for charges of sexual harassment. He was investigated in 2007 for an alleged groping incident. Then in 2012, his name came up in court testimony as part of a priest sex abuse case in Philadelphia. He denied the claims and continued in his position as the top bishop in West Virginia until he turned 75, the age when bishops are required to retire.
2. Bransfield Spent $2.4 Million on Travel & Shelled Out $1,000 a Month for Alcohol, a Report Says
According to an internal report conducted by bishops in the Catholic church, Bransfield spent millions of dollars on travel and luxuries. The report paints a picture of a luxurious lifestyle which, bishops say, was not in keeping with the values he should have been representing. “Bishop Bransfield adopted an extravagant and lavish lifestyle that was in stark contrast to the faithful he served and was for his own personal benefit,” the bishops wrote in the final report.
Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, including chartered jets and luxury hotels; $1,000 a month on alcohol; $4.6 million on renovating a church; and $182,000 on flowers delivered daily to his office, the report said.
3. A Lawsuit Charges that Bransfield Sexually Assaulted Seminarians & Was a ‘Sexual Predator’
In March 2019, a former seminarian filed a lawsuit against Bransfield. The suit charged that Bransfield had harassed the seminarian for years before sexually assaulting him.
The plaintiff, who identifies himself only as “J.E.,” says he served as the bishop’s altar server and personal secretary. He said Bransfield came home drunk one night in 2014 and groped J.E. He says the bishop also exposed himself.
J.E. said that he wasn’t the only seminarian the bishop harassed. He said Bransfield often got drunk on orange liqueur and made advances on the seminarians.
4. Bransfield Was Born in 1943 in Philadelphia & Was Appointed Bishop of West Virginia in 2004
Michael Bransfield was born on September 8, 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was ordained a priest in Philadelphia in 1971. In 2004, Bransfield was appointed bishop of Wheeling-Charleston in 2004.
5. Bransfield Says People Are Trying to Destroy His Reputation
Bransfield has consistently denied all the accusations of sexual harassment against him, claiming them to be “completely false.” He has said that the allegations are part of a conspiracy to destroy his reputation.
“Everybody’s out to destroy my reputation,” Bransfield told the Washington Post, after the newspaper obtained an internal report setting out the latest allegations against him. He did not explain who he believed was trying to destroy his reputation.