The laypeople of the US organisation ‘Voice of the Faithful’ have criticised a “lack of accountability” in a Vatican order that a disgraced bishop pay back only a fraction of the funds he misused.

Bishop Mark Brennan of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese in West Virginia announced August 20 that his predecessor, Michael Bransfield, has paid the diocese a total of $441,000 for what Brennan called “unauthorized benefits received from diocesan resources”.

That payment from Bransfield came after the Vatican Congregation for Bishops ruled on how Bransfield was to fulfill Pope Francis’ July 2019 requirement that Bransfield “make personal amends for some of the harm he caused” while serving as pastor of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese.

The final amount Bransfield has been required to pay for misusing Church money on everything from personal travel, luxury hotels, alcohol and fresh flowers to gifts to bishops and cardinals is less than the almost $800,000 his successor Brennan decided upon in November 2019.

That discrepancy led the members of Voice of the Faith to feel “anguish” at a situation they said only becomes “even more reprehensible” in view of the fact that Bransfield’s restitutions – and the Vatican’s reduction of those – are to be set aside for the needs of clergy sex abuse survivors.

Restitution to be set aside for clergy abuse survivors a fraction of misused funds

Full text of the Voice of the Faithful press release, August 24

(Source: Voice of the Faithful)

Disgraced former bishop Rev. Michael Bransfield will pay only half the restitution his successor Bishop Mark Brennan approved last November, according to Brennan’s Aug. 20 letter, issued just days after Bransfield’s apology to Catholics of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, which sounded more like a confession that sins had been committed, just not by him.

“We cannot adequately describe the anguish we feel at the lack of accountability reflected in the Vatican’s recent order for restitution from Bransfield or the lack of remorse from the former bishop,” said Mary Pat Fox, Voice of the Faithful president.

“Once more, the Church has failed to hold a bishop adequately accountable for his actions.

“Complete restitution, removal from the clerical state, and a life of prayer and penance should be the punishment for all bishops who have so grossly abused their authority.”

Restitution paid by Bransfield is to be used to support clergy abuse survivors, which makes the fact that the Vatican decreased the amount even more reprehensible.

Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation as bishop in September 2018.

He had been accused of misusing millions of dollars of church money and of sexually abusing teenagers and covering up abuse by other priests dating back to when he was a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and of sexually harassing seminarians as bishop.

His successor, Bishop Mark Brennan, had worked out a plan for Bransfield to pay about $800,000 in restitution to the diocese and for Bransfield’s stipend in retirement to be $736, but the Vatican Congregation of Bishops ordered him to pay only $441,000 in restitution and set his stipend at $2,250.

Forgiveness may be at the heart of faith, Fox said, but so is justice.

“These offending bishops should assume a vow of poverty and be sent to a monastery to pray.”

More on Novena on holding offending bishops and the Church to accountability:

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.