Lori: ‘Credible’ accounts accuse former bishop Bransfield of sexual harassment

WHEELING — Adults have offered “credible” accounts accusing former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of sexual harassment, Archbishop William E. Lori said Wednesday.

Lori, archbishop of Baltimore, was appointed apostolic administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston last September after Bransfield resigned as bishop.

In a letter issued Wednesday to priests and laity of the diocese, Lori outlined the findings of a papal-ordered investigation of Bransfield’s conduct.

“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,” Lori said. “The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”

Meanwhile, “the investigation found no conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct with minors by the former bishop during its investigation,” he said.

The archbishop said the names of alleged victims and their personal accounts won’t be disclosed by the diocese, “due to privacy concerns and at the request of those who alleged harassment by Bishop Bransfield.”

Lori said, “Without a doubt, the alleged victims of former Bishop Bransfield’s sexual harassment must be our first and constant concern.”

As a result, the diocese has committed to providing counseling to alleged victims and to all priests and lay personnel at the chancery in Wheeling.

“For known victims, the diocese will commit to reimbursing the costs for mental health assistance for a provider of their choosing,” he added.

The apostolic administrator also has mandated that a third-party reporting system for any allegation against a bishop of the diocese be implemented. He said this system will be launched soon.

“I am deeply pained by and sorry for the harm that the former bishop caused to those he was charged with shepherding in a spirit of Christ-like humility, service and pastoral care and charity,” he said.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Wednesday that Lori’s letter underscores why the diocese must release its investigative report into Bransfield’s alleged misconduct.

Morrisey filed suit against the diocese and Bransfield in March, after which he sought to add claims to the lawsuit, including a new count of unfair competition and new evidence alleging the church failed to conduct background checks and report abuse.

The attorney general said he believes “it is imperative that the diocese immediately disclose its investigative report about the bishop.”

“It’s time to come clean and release the Bransfield report — and no longer hide pertinent information from our office and the public,” he said.

Judy Jones, Midwest regional leader of SNAP, the Survivors Network, said Wednesday after reading the letter regarding the church’s investigation into Bransfield’s accusations of sexual harassment, that the organization thinks law enforcement should get involved.

“We also are still wondering what is the punishment for Bransfield and what will happen to him?” Jones said. “We feel he should never work in any diocese again or be near children or vulnerable adults. Let’s not forget his allegations of sexual abuse of minors in Philadelphia.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the lay investigators’ report recommended Bransfield be stripped of powers as bishop, removed from ministry and forced to pay restitution. According to the Post, the report also recommended that Bransfield’s three closest aides — Monsignors Fred Annie, Kevin Quirk and Anthony Cincinnati — be removed.

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