• Former West Virginia bishop accused of sexual harassment, mishandling funds

    By: Ann Smajstrla, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

    Updated:

    The former leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia is accused of mishandling church funds -- including spending money on “luxury items” -- and faces “credible” accusations of sexual harassment, according to church officials and newly released documents.

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    The Washington Post published an extensive investigation into accusations against former Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield on Wednesday -- the same day Archbishop William E. Lori, who is leading the church’s investigation into Bransfield, published a public letter to West Virginia Catholics.

    "Regarding allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bishop Bransfield, the investigative team determined that the accounts of those who accused Bishop Bransfield of sexual harassment are credible," Lori said.

    While church investigators found a “consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority," they found no "conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct with minors," Lori wrote.

    The investigation also found that, during his 13 years as bishop in West Virginia, Bransfield "misused Church funds for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items," according to Lori’s letter.

    Among Bransfield’s expenses were $2.4 million spent on travel and $4.6 million spent on renovating Bransfield’s church residence, according to The Post.

    Bransfield gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, including $10,500 to Lori, The Post reported. Lori told The Post he is returning the money he received from Bransfield and asking it be donated to Catholic charities.

    Bransfield issued a statement to CNN saying: “The allegations against me are all false. I was very surprised to see Archbishop Lori's letter today and I look forward to defending myself in Rome." He made similar statements to The Post.

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