Michael J. Bransfield

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Michael Joseph Bransfield
Bishop Emeritus of Wheeling-Charleston
AppointedDecember 9, 2004
InstalledFebruary 22, 2005
Term endedSeptember 13, 2018
PredecessorBernard William Schmitt
OrdinationMay 15, 1971
by John Krol
ConsecrationFebruary 22, 2005
by William Henry Keeler
Personal details
Born (1943-09-08) September 8, 1943 (age 75)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Styles of
Michael Joseph Bransfield
Coat of arms of Michael Joseph Bransfield.svg
Reference style
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Religious styleBishop

Michael Joseph Bransfield (born September 8, 1943) is an American prelate of the Catholic Church who served as bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia from 2005 to 2018. Bransfield was previously an official at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception from 1980 to 2004. Bransfield retired as bishop in 2018. A church investigation led by Archbishop William E. Lori and five lay experts subsequently took place, to examine "multiple allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties" leveled against Bransfield.[1] The report found that the accusations of sexual harassment were credible[2] and detailed extravagant spending by Bransfield.[3]

Early life, education, and ordination[edit]

Bransfield was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended Catholic schools in Philadelphia. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and master's degree in divinity from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood.[4] Bransfield was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal John Krol on May 15, 1971.[4]

Career as a priest[edit]

Bransfield received a master's in philosophy from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.. He was later a teacher and chaplain at Lansdale Catholic High School, and chair of its religion department.[5] In 1987, Pope John Paul II named Bransfield as an honorary prelate.[4]

Bransfield was named assistant director and director of liturgy (1980), director of finance (1982), and director (1986) at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.[6][7] In 1990, Bransfield was named the first ever rector of the newly named Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and served in this position until 2004.[8][6][9][7]

Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston[edit]

On December 9, 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed Bransfield the Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.[10] He received episcopal consecration on February 22, 2005, from Cardinal William Henry Keeler, with Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick and Bishop Bernard William Schmitt as co-consecrators, at St. Joseph's Cathedral.

As a bishop, Bransfield was elected president of The Papal Foundation, a Catholic nonprofit organization that distributes funds to charitable organization.[3] Within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he served a term as treasurer, and as a member of the Conference's Communications Committee and the National Collections Committee.[5]

Bransfield also sat on the Board of Trustees of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He holds membership in the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

Accusations of sexual abuse and harassment[edit]

On April 2012, the Associated Press reported that Bransfield had been accused of sexual abuse of a boy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. The accusations against Bransfield, who was ordained a priest in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, were raised in testimony by a witness at the trial of two Philadelphia priests charged with sex abuse-related offenses. Bransfield was not charged with a crime, and denied ever sexually abusing anyone.[11][12]


When he turned 75 in September 2018, Bransfield submitted his resignation as required by canon law. His resignation was immediately accepted by Pope Francis, who named Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore as apostolic administrator of the diocese,[13][14][15] and directed Lori to conduct an investigation into allegations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults.[1][16][14]

At the time he was described as an associate of former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who resigned from the College of Cardinals several months earlier over accusations that he abused children and seminarians, allegations denied by McCarrick.[17]

Findings of investigation into Bransfelds's conduct[edit]

Findings related to sexual harassment[edit]

A subsequent 60-page report by five lay investigators overseen by Lori, was submitted to the Vatican in 2019.[3] A copy of the final report was obtained by the Washington Post, which reported on the findings in June 2019.[3] Lori released a letter to the diocese's priests and laity on the same day that the Post article was published, summarizing the conclusions of the investigation.[2] Lori reported that the investigative team determined that the allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adults was "credible" and stated: "The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority,"[2] specifically seminarians and young priests.[3] The investigation did not conclude that Bransfield had not engaged in any "criminal activity,"[18] and Lori stated that "the investigation found no conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct with minors by the former bishop during its investigation."[2]

As summarized in the Washington Post, the report gave the accounts of nine men in the diocese who accused Bransfield "of touching or groping them, kissing or exposing himself to them or of commenting on their bodies."[3] The report stated that the diocese's judicial vicar had attempted to ensure that altar servers were not left alone with Bransfield.[3] The report did not name the men who complained about Bransfield's conduct;[3] Lori stated that the names and underlying details were withheld "due to privacy concerns and at the request of those who alleged harassment by Bishop Bransfield."[2] The report also stated that similar complaints were raised against Bransfield when he was a Catholic high school teacher and rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception from 1990 to 2005; that the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese's vicar for clergy reported that at least six clerical assistants to Bransfield "were broken by" their experiences working under him; and that as bishop, Bransfield abused alcohol and prescription drugs, including oxycodone, and that this "likely contributed to his harassing and abusive behavior."[3] In interview with investigators, Bransfield denied engaging in sexual misconduct.[3]

Findings related to financial impropriety[edit]

The 2019 investigation into Bransfield also found that over a ten-year period, Bransfield gave a total of $350,000 in cash gifts to other Catholic clerics, "including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican."[3] Bransfield wrote the checks from his personal account, and the diocese reimbursed him for the value of the gifts.[3] The gifts came in the form of at least 565 checks made out to the clerics by name.[3] Ironically, Bransfield was one of the coauthors of a set of diocesan financial guidelines that were approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at its general meeting in November, 2002. [19]

The Lori report also found that during his 13-year tenure as bishop, Bransfield spent $2.4 million in diocesan funds on travel, including a substantial amount on personal travel. The report also found that Bransfield, along with a number of subordinates, spent an average of almost $1,000 per month on alcohol; that fresh flowers were delivered daily to the chancery while Bransfield was present, at a total cost of $182,000; and that the diocese "paid $4.6 million to renovate Bransfield’s church residence after a fire damaged a single bathroom."[3] The report found that the diocese financial board was "extremely passive" and lacked adequate financial controls, with "an almost complete absence of any meaningful review of financial decisions."[3] The investigators concluded that "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."[3] Bransfield denies the findings of the report, but provided no details.[3]

Recommendations of the investigative team, removal from ministry, and aftermath[edit]

The report of the investigative team "recommended Bransfield be stripped of powers as bishop, removed from ministry and forced to pay restitution" and also recommended that Bransfield's three top aides be removed from office.[2] In March 2019, following the delivery of the report of the investigation into Bransfield, Lori also removed Bransfield from "any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the Archdiocese of Baltimore" pending review of the report by the Holy See.[1][20]

In June 2019, after details of the report became public, the state attorney general of West Virginia called for the report to be publicly released, and SNAP, the Survivors Network called for a law enforcement investigation.[2] The diocese said it would reimburse the costs of mental health assistance for "known victims" of Bransfield. Lori, as apostolic administrator, also directed the creation of a "third-party reporting system" for allegations against bishops of the diocese.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Two bishops removed from ministry over allegations of sexual harassment, Associated Press/Catholic News Service (March 12, 2019).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Linda Comins, 'Credible' Accounts Accuse Sexual Harassment From Former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, The Intelligencer (June 6, 2019).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Michelle Boorstein, Shawn Boburg & Robert O'Harrow Jr., W.Va. bishop gave powerful cardinals and other priests $350,000 in cash gifts before his ouster, church records show, Washington Post (June 5, 2019).
  4. ^ a b c "National Shrine Rector Named West Virginia Bishop". Catholic News Agency. December 9, 2004. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Update: Bishop Bransfield retires; pope orders investigation of allegations, Catholic News Service (September 13, 2018).
  6. ^ a b Rutkowski, Ryan (2010). Catholic West Virginia. Arcadia Publishing. p. 20. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Bishop Michael J. Bransfield". Bishop Accountability. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  8. ^ Lamb, Christopher (September 13, 2018). "Pope orders investigation into US bishop". The Tablet. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  9. ^ "Bishop Bransfield Resigns, Being Investigated". Wheeling News Register. September 13, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  10. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 09.12.2004" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. December 9, 2004. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  11. ^ "Scandalous charges by Stanley Gana against Bishop Bransfield". Catholic News Service. April 19, 2012. Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  12. ^ "Witness priest said West Virginia bishop once abused teen". Associated Press. April 18, 2012.
  13. ^ "Rinunce e nomine, 13.09.2018" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. September 13, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Brockhaus, Hannah. "Pope accepts resignation of Bishop Bransfield as inquiry into misconduct claims launched". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  15. ^ Hanna, Jason (September 13, 2018). "Catholic bishop in West Virginia resigns amid sexual harassment investigation". CNN. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  16. ^ "Vatican OKs sexual harassment probe of U.S. Bishop Michael Bransfield". NBC News. September 13, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  17. ^ Goodstein, Laurie, Fall of a West Virginia Bishop Widens the Catholic Crisis Over Sex Abuse", New York Times, September 13, 2018. Retrieved 2013-09-13.
  18. ^ Comins, Linda (March 12, 2019). "Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Investigation Finds 'No Criminal Activity' by Former Bishop Michael Bransfield". Wheeling News Register.
  19. ^ http://www.usccb.org/about/financial-reporting/upload/Diocesan-Financial-Issues-Manual.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3haUSLPRU4XJ2Czg5Eja9j7QzG76xyNB9Q_rcpkkjauqasV4nZuGAevcs
  20. ^ Archbishop Lori Restricts Bishops Bransfield, Bennett From Exercising Ministry, Catholic News Agency (March 11, 2019).

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Bernard William Schmitt
Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Succeeded by
Walter R. Rossi