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Bransfield accuser says apology insufficient

The Rev. Michael J. Bransfield addresses the media during a news conference announcing his appointment as bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004, in Wheeling, W.Va., at St. Joseph Cathedral. Bransfield will replace the retiring Bishop Bernard William Schmitt as leader of West Virginia's 76,000 Roman Catholics. He will be installed as bishop on Feb. 22.(AP Photo/Dale Sparks)

WHEELING — The former traveling secretary for Michael Bransfield — who said the disgraced bishop sexually abused him while leading the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston — called his recent apology to his victims and the faithful “inadequate and unsatisfactory.”

The man, who identified himself as VGD in a four-page letter posted on the website Medium, took exception to Bransfield’s brief apology dated Aug. 15 as part of his amends to leave the church in good standing.

“Unfortunately, former bishop Bransfield’s letter does not meet the basic conditions of Catholic contrition, or apology, specifically in the context of reconciliation,” VGD said in his response. “In the Catholic tradition, we do not apologize for actions ‘attributed to’ us or for hypothetical ‘ifs.'”

Bransfield resigned from his position in September 2018 following accusations of misappropriating church funds and sexually abusing young seminarians and priests during his 12-year reign.

As part of his amends, current diocesan Bishop Mark Brennan last November ordered Bransfield to pay nearly $800,000 in restitution and personally apologize to his victims. The Vatican approved a reduced restitution this month, ordering Bransfield to pay $441,000.

He also was permitted to receive $2,250 per month in retirement stipend, which is the amount recommended by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for retired bishops. Bransfield will also receive health care benefits, but not other perks normally associated with a retired bishop.

The total retirement package is about 1/3 of what a bishop of his stature would normally receive.

VGD said he was disappointed in the reduced amends, and also troubled that Bransfield was permitted to keep his title as bishop, which church officials previously said they had hoped to strip from his legacy. He noted that Brennan referred to “Bishop Bransfield” at least five times in a letter to the faithful on Aug. 20 announcing the finalized amends.

“As one who experienced and was victimized by this very abuse of the office and public power of ‘Bishop’ by Michael Bransfield, these direct, public, and deliberate violations of the abuse-preventing directives of Archbishop (William) Lori’s investigative report … are simply terrifying,” VGD said. “For the Catholic Church to knowingly give abusive people the power to abuse, is for the Catholic Church to perpetuate, and indeed sanction, clergy sexual abuse.”

He also said that neither he nor other victims of Bransfield he knows has received a personal apology. Sources previously indicated Bransfield had written three victims a private letter offering an apology. VGD accused the church of allowing Bransfield to choose which victims he sent letters to, which he claimed “is similarly reminiscent of the hurtful control of selection I experienced when my attempts to meet with and discuss my experiences were canceled and refused” by church investigators.

“These are realities to respond to, not selections bishops get to pick or not,” VGD said of those who were victimized.

VGD said when the process began, he hoped he would not have to pursue “legal recourse” if the church conducted a thorough investigation and punished Bransfield accordingly.

“But then knowing this his fellow bishops choose to protect Bransfield as a bishop? Instead of punishment, they have us pay him?” VGD said, apparently alluding to Bransfield’s monthly stipend. “What am I supposed to do? I can only do my part, like so many have done before me. And I will try to do it — seek justice, seek accountability, seek healing, seek to help end abuse, seek to help repair the church I love.”

VGD did not indicate what actions he may take, but said church officials who have urged people to “move on” concerns him.

“That is the language of perpetuating abuse, it is the language of cover-up,” he said.

Tim Bishop, spokesman for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said the diocese had no comment on the letter. Attempts to reach Bransfield also were unsuccessful.

VGD said he was concerned by the response from church officials through the process and suggested more changes may be needed to ensure a similar situation does not happen again. He also said it would be difficult for him and other victims of abuse to find closure.

“Until the Catholic Church can meet its own commitments and Sacramental duty to administer simple justice for clergy sexual abuse, including for high ranking clerics, I and other victims of Bransfield and other clerics will continue to work for justice trusting our legal system, with the hope that some day justice can be found into our church,” VGD said.

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