Can the Catholic Church rebuild trust?

For months, Roman Catholics — and yes, those of other faiths — have been waiting to see how the church would deal with former bishop Michael Bransfield. When the answer came on Tuesday, it was not satisfactory, in the minds of some, perhaps most.

During his 13 years as head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Bransfield was guilty of both massive financial wrongdoing and, the church has found, sexual harassment of some adults.

On Tuesday, Bishop Mark Brennan, now at the helm of the diocese, announced a plan for Bransfield to “make personal amends for some of the harm he caused.”

Bransfield is being required to apologize to all he harmed, from those he harassed sexually to all the faithful in the diocese. In retirement, he will receive from the church only $736 a month, the amount a retired priest would receive after 13 years in the diocese. That is substantially less than the $6,200 a month in compensation he had been receiving.

As to restitution, Brennan said it has been set at $792,638 as a result of calculations of how much Bransfield spent improperly while bishop. In addition, Bransfield faces $110,000 in Internal Revenue Service penalties.

During a press conference Tuesday, Brennan said he hopes church officials’ decision “will satisfy the righteous indignation of the Catholic faithful…”

Comments we at the newspaper have heard indicate the outrage of many was not placated by the decision on Bransfield. Some ask why he was not defrocked. That is entirely understandable.

Bransfield’s misdeeds were not restricted to the financial damage he caused the church. They were not even limited to the harm he did to those he harassed sexually.

The former bishop’s greatest sin was in making people reconsider their very faith in the church — not in their Christianity, but in the fallible human beings they trusted to guide them. Can that trust be rebuilt? Bransfield’s shameful legacy is that the question has to be asked.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)