Ousted WVa bishop spent millions on himself, sent gifts to clergy who accused him of harassment: report

Ousted WVa bishop spent millions on himself, sent gifts to clergy who accused him of harassment: report
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The former leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia spent millions on himself and sent expensive gifts to clergy members who accused him of harassment, according to church records obtained by The Washington Post.

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who was ousted for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses, gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to members who accused him, as well as more than a dozen cardinals in the U.S. and at the Vatican.

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The West Virginia diocese reimbursed him for those gifts by boosting his compensation to cover the value, the records obtained by the Post show.

As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the diocese is required to use its money only for charitable purposes.

The gifts, one as large as $15,000, were detailed in a draft of the confidential report to the Vatican. William Lori of Baltimore edited the names of 11 powerful clerics who received checks out of the final report.

Lori’s name was among those cut. He received a total of $10,500, the draft shows.

Lori told the Post on Wednesday that he is returning money he received from Bransfield and asking that it be donated to Catholic charities, “in light of what I have come to learn of Bishop Bransfield’s handling of diocesan finances.”

The five lay investigators who handled Bransfield's case determined that the cash gifts were part of a broader pattern of abuse of power.

“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,” they wrote in the final report, per the Post.

Bransfield also spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, much of it personal, which included flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels.

Bransfield and several subordinates also spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, the report shows.

The former bishop disputed the allegations in an interview with the Post but declined to go into detail because attorneys had advised him not to comment.

“Everybody’s trying to destroy my reputation,” Bransfield told the outlet by phone without elaborating. “These people are terrible to me.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Wednesday called on the diocese to release its investigative report into Bransfield's alleged misconduct.

"While we appreciate the fact that our investigation and lawsuit is causing the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese to disclose new improprieties about Bishop Bransfield, we believe it is imperative that the Diocese immediately disclose its investigative report about the Bishop," he said in a statement.

Morrisey filed a lawsuit against the diocese and Bransfield in March.