The Catholic bishop of one of the poorest states in the U.S. spent millions from his congregation on personal luxuries, including travel in limos and on private jets.
We’ve previously covered Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who ran the sole Catholic diocese in West Virginia. But there are new details emerging about the bishop, who has been accused of sexual harassment and of spending millions of dollars on his personal whims as well as presents for other priests.
The Washington Post details how Bransfield traveled by private jet to a Washington D.C. event advertised as a holy “pilgrimage,” while his followers inadvertently footed the bill for hotel rooms costing $190/night. That’s just the beginning.
He hired a private jet and, after a 33-minute flight, took a limousine from the airport. The church picked up his $6,769 travel bill.
That trip in September 2017 was emblematic of the secret history of Bransfield’s lavish travel. He spent millions of dollars from his diocese on trips in the United States and abroad, records show, while many of his parishioners struggled to find work, feed their families and educate their children.
Pope Francis has said bishops should live modestly. During his 13 years as the leader of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Bransfield took nearly 150 trips on private jets and some 200 limousine rides, a Washington Post investigation found. He stayed at exclusive hotels in Washington, Rome, Paris, London and the Caribbean.
The abuses were so bad, that the Catholic Church — the institution known for transferring child rapists and covering up their misdeeds — actually removed Bransfield from his position.
Bransfield was barred from public ministry in July after an internal church investigation found he had engaged in financial abuses and sexually harassed young priests, allegations Bransfield has denied. The Post previously obtained the investigative report and revealed its major findings, including that he spent $2.4 million of church funds on travel and gave $350,000 in cash gifts to other clerics.
You would think Bransfield would be aware that this kind of spending using the congregation’s cash were both ethically and theologically unsound, yet he’s blaming his assistants for what happened.
In an interview, Bransfield, 76, did not dispute the findings but defended his frequent vacations as necessary breaks from his religious responsibilities.
Bransfield said he never made travel arrangements for himself, and he blamed his aides for selecting luxury accommodations, including the penthouse in Palm Beach. “I did not arrange that room,” he said. “That was done by staff.”
It’s not that hard to tell the difference between a luxury hotel and a cheap one, or a limo and a basic rental car, or first class air travel and flying coach. If his aides did it once, perhaps his excuse is believable. When it happens for years and results in a receipt well into the millions of dollars, it can’t just be written off as a simple mistake.
Obviously any claims of sexual harassment overshadow his spending habits, but it’s important to note the disparity between this man, who by virtue of his title alone was considered a role model, and his congregants, many of whom struggle just to survive.