Parishioners within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston have been left with questions for months after the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield among allegations of sexual harassment of adults.
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who has been serving as Apostolic Administrator, and a group of outside investigators have been looking into those allegations for months, and have just completed a preliminary investigation.
Diocesan officials now say the fate of Bishop Bransfield is in the hands of the Holy See in Rome.
They will make the final judgment.
“The Archbishop was very clear at the start of this process in September 2018. He said that the investigation will flow where the truth leads,” said Tim Bishop, Spokesperson for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
The Diocese explained that this was a three-step process. The first was the resignation of Bishop Bransfield. The second was the investigation. The third step will be the final decision made by the Holy See.
The preliminary investigation lead to more than 40 interviews and the review of general ledger transactions over the past 13 years. It all looked into allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties against Bishop Bransfield.
“I apologize to any who have suffered harm and express my gratitude to the five men and women who conducted the investigation, as well as to those who participated in this difficult process,” said Archbishop Lori in a press release. “It is my privilege to serve the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston as the journey toward healing begins anew and as we anticipate the appointment of a new bishop.”
The victims will not be identified and details of their personal accounts will not be disclosed.
“As part of his release, the Archbishop has restricted the faculties of Bishop Bransfield within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, so can’t celebrate the sacraments, can’t celebrate mass,” Bishop continued.
While the Diocese can’t release all of the findings at this time, officials did say no criminal activity was found.
The results of the preliminary investigation are now sent to the Holy See in Rome for a final judgment.
“It will probably take them some time to review the document and make their judgment, but an exact time table, we have no idea,” Bishop explained.
7News asked the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston what the status of Bishop Bransfield was within the church. Officials said he is living outside of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and has been since September. While Bishop Bransfield can’t celebrate mass here or in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, he can in other dioceses
“He becomes Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, so he’s the retired bishop,” Bishop said. “Retired bishops are still allowed to celebrate the sacraments and say mass.”
As far as when a new bishop will be appointed, the Diocese still has no definite timeline.
“The Archbishop made it very clear in his latest trip to Wheeling that the process of looking for the next bishop of our diocese is underway,” Bishop continued.
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston also reinforced its promise to be more transparent.
“It all benefits the Catholic Church, and so I think I’m proud to be part of the Diocese as it takes these steps to move forward in faith and openness,” Bishop said.
Officials from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston also reinforced their commitment to providing help to anyone who may have been harmed.
They are urged to contact the Safe Environment Office at 833-230-5656.