Lori: Healing can’t begin until new bishop is installed

WHEELING — The next bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston should “embody Christ’s spirit of humility, compassion, care and concern, and service,” Archbishop William Lori said.

The call by Lori for a new bishop comes following a week where church leaders admitted they uncovered “credible” accusations that former Wheeling-Charleston Diocese bishop Michael Bransfield sexually harassed adults and that he spent millions in Diocesan funds for his own personal gain. In an 8-minute video posted Friday, Lori said the local diocese cannot begin the healing process until a new bishop is in place.

“Friends, this cannot happen soon enough. But in the meantime, I do ask you humbly to pray for, and to do all that you can, to assist us in working toward a healing that is so needed in these difficult days. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from the urgent work of the faith, nor from our commitment to living and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Lori said.

“At the same time, we will not relent in our determined efforts to bring about the reform and renewal of the church, and to restore the credibility, confidence and trust of the faithful in those of us who are charged with the awe-inspiring responsibility to lead, shepherd, and most of all to serve, with true Christ-like humility, care and concern for others.”

Also in the video, Lori said he made a mistake in asking that his name and those of other powerful Roman Catholic Church leaders who received financial gifts from Bransfield be omitted from a preliminary investigative report of Bransfield’s time in West Virginia.

Lori, who has served as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston since Bransfield’s retirement last year, addressed the matter after a Washington Post report revealed that Bransfield gave more than $350,000 in personal gifts to other priests — including Lori — and then had his compensation from the diocese increased to cover the costs of the gifts.

That means the diocese and its parishioners paid for the former bishop to extend so-called personal gifts to other priests. Lori said he received $7,500 from Bransfield, and that he has repaid the money to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, with those funds earmarked to be utilized by Catholic Charities West Virginia.

The preliminary report leaked to the Post said the personal gifts were part of a larger pattern of “excessive and inappropriate spending” that took place at the diocese during Bransfield’s 13 years as bishop. Some examples include $2.4 million in travel by Bransfield — much of it personal — along with $4.6 million in renovations to his private residence in Wheeling, a home that soon will go up for sale, Lori said earlier this week.

“Friends, there is no excuse nor adequate explanation that will satisfy the troubling question of how bishop Bransfield’s behavior was allowed to continue for as long as it did without the accountability that we must require for those who have been entrusted with so much, both spiritual and material, as bishops and pastors,” Lori said in the video. “To that end, I wish to address my own receipt of financial gifts from bishop Bransfield, who sent what I took to be gifts from him that were personal and given on occasions over the years mostly at the holidays and including my installation as bishop.

“… News coverage has also reported that I asked that my name and the name of other bishops who received similar financial gifts over the years from bishop Bransfield be omitted from the final text of the preliminary report. At the time, I believed it would be a distraction to select particular individuals for identification who had received gifts, and then it would raise questions as to why we selected some individuals and not others. The basic point the report tried to make was that gift-giving was part of bishop Bransfield’s excessive spending and that this point could simply be made by indicating the totals and the categories of peoples who received gifts. None of the members of the investigative team objected to this and the changes were made.”

Lori said, in retrospect, the names should have been released.

“But if I had to do it again, especially at a time when we’re trying to create greater transparency and accountability, the report would have contained the names of those bishops who received gifts – including my own – with some notation that there was no evidence to suggest that those who received gifts reciprocated in any way that was inappropriate,” he said.

“Transparency also includes admitting when a mistake in judgment has been made. That is certainly the case here.”

Among the priests who received gifts, according to the preliminary report, were Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who spoke in Wheeling during the annual Red Mass in 2015; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., who spoke in Wheeling during Red Mass in 2016; Cardinal Raymond Burke, a member of the Vatican Supreme Court; and Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who had a role in covering up clergy sexual abuse in that diocese.

A message left with the spokesman of the Archdiocese of New York on whether Dolan would return the money he received to the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese was not immediately returned.

According to the Washington Post’s reporting of the preliminary report, investigators also found a lack of internal controls in how the Diocese monitored Bransfield’s spending. Lori also addressed this in the video, noting he has been working with the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese’s finance council to ensure such a situation doesn’t happen again.

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