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West Virginia Catholic bishop spent $4.6M renovating mansion where he ‘inappropriately touched young priests’ – fitting it with a sunken bar, a wine cellar and a $20K dining table – before church quietly sold it for only $1.2M after he was fired 

Megan Sheets Daily Mail

Bishop Michael J Bransfield resigned as head of the Catholic Church in West Virginia last year amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct

He was barred from public ministry by Pope Francis earlier this year

A secret report later revealed how Bransfield spent more than $2.4million in church funds on personal travel, luxury items, liquor and prescription drugs

He also spent $4.6million on renovations his diocese-owned home in Wheeling

The renovations included adding a climate-controlled cellar, heated floors in the bathrooms, five bay windows and refurbished fixtures

He also added a bar space in the basement, where he allegedly groomed and inappropriately touched young seminarians

After the allegations against Bransfield were made public over the summer, the diocese sold the Wheeling residence for $1.2million in August

Former Bishop Michael J Bransfield spent $4.6million renovating the church-owned mansion in West Virginia where he is accused of making unwanted advances on young priests. After Bransfield’s resignation in September 2018, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston sold the home for just $1.2million

A disgraced bishop spent $4.6million renovating the mansion where he allegedly made advances at young priests before the church quietly sold the property for just $1.2million.

Bishop Michael J Bransfield resigned as head of the Catholic Church in West Virginia in September 2018 amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. He was barred from public ministry by Pope Francis earlier this year.

A secret report later revealed how Bransfield spent more than $2.4million in church funds on personal travel, luxury items, liquor and prescription drugs – along with $4.6million on renovations to his diocese-owned home in Wheeling, where he allegedly groomed and inappropriately touched young men during his 13-year tenure as Wheeling-Charleston Diocese bishop.

After the allegations against Bransfield were made public over the summer, the diocese sold the Wheeling residence it had provided for him to David H and Meredith McKinley for $1.2million in August, according to Ohio County real estate records. David is the son of Congressman David B McKinley.

Church officials said they conducted the sale privately – without a real estate agent or online advertising – to avoid paying commission. The officials emphasized that the proceeds from the sale would go toward supporting programs for survivors of sexual abuse.

The private sale also had another effect: It kept the public from seeing just how extravagant Bransfield’s mansion was.
A Washington Post article published Sunday offers an inside look at the 9,200-square-foot Colonial Revival-style home – once known as Elmcrest – that Bransfield spent millions of dollars retrofitting with lavish amenities including a sunken basement bar, temperature controlled wine cellar and $20,000 dining room table.

Pictured is the 9,200-square-foot Colonial Revival-style home in Wheeling that Bransfield spent millions of dollars retrofitting with lavish amenities including a sunken basement bar, temperature controlled wine cellar and $20,000 dining room table

The diocese offered the mansion at 52 Elmwood Place to Bransfield when he was installed as bishop in 2005. Just before he moved in, a plumber accidentally started a fire which caused $700,000 in damage.

Six people who worked on the home described to the Post how what was intended to be a modest renovation to repair the damage ballooned into an extensive, costly undertaking at Bransfield’s insistence.

‘It was always, “this” or “that” is what the bishop wants,’ said Jim Baller, the construction manager during most of the renovation.

Baller said Bransfield insisted on landscaping a large portion of the seven-acre property, planting trees to create a buffer between the home and a nearby interstate and installing a fish pond and waterfall as the focal point of the grounds.

Inside the home, Bransfield requested heated floors and jets in the master bathroom, five bay windows, a sun room, refurbished fixtures and a climate-controlled wine cellar with room for hundreds of bottles.

The unfinished basement was transformed into a sunken basement bar, where Bransfield allegedly plied young priests with alcohol and made unwanted advances on them.

Bransfield wanted the bar to be modeled after the cocktail lounge in entertainer Bob Hope’s Hollywood home.

‘The bishop said he wanted to bring clergy into the room and make a pleasant place where they could play cards,’ Denis Gill, the lead architect on the project, told the Post.

A crew of 25 to 30 masons spend a year constructing a stone fireplace in the basement, Baller said.

The Vatican investigation detailed how Bransfield would host lavish dinner parties at his home. Guests were seated in front of a massive portrait of the Last Supper as they dined on meals prepared by a personal chef.

After dinner, Bransfield would invite guests down to the basement bar, where he downed a half-bottle of Cointreau or more out of a tea cup, along with opioids like oxycondone.

‘Dinner guests who only visited occasionally were not invited to join the Bishop in the basement for after-dinner drinks, but he expected his Priest-Secretary, the Vicar General, overnight guests, and certain of his “favorite” young priests . . . to sit in the basement and be in his company,’ investigators wrote in the report.

‘One witness described this as “watching the Bishop watch television”. It was a ritual that none of the witnesses who experienced it reported that they enjoyed.’

The report includes an account from one seminarian who said he loathed staying at Bransfield’s home and ‘described multiple instances of overly aggressive hugs in which the Bishop would grab and squeeze various parts of the witness’s body’.

Witnesses also said that Bransfield would often invite guests upstairs to show them portraits of himself with important figures in the church, some of which were hung in his bedroom.

Bransfield ‘denied engaging in any sexual harassment or sexual activity with any priest or seminarian, either verbally or suggestively by his conduct’, the report states.

Bransfield (pictured in 2016) resigned as head of the Catholic Church in West Virginia in September 2018 amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. He was barred from public ministry by Pope Francis earlier this year

When questioned about the renovations by the Post, Bransfield said he didn’t ‘know anything about’ the exorbitant spending on the home and declined to comment further.

Speaking to Vatican investigators who compiled the report on his alleged misconduct, Bransfield said he didn’t have much say in the renovations and blamed subordinates for the high costs.

Investigators wrote that Bransfield’s ‘version of events is inconsistent with a number’ of other witness accounts.
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston also blamed Bransfield for the costly renovations when approached for comment by the Post.

‘The former bishop engaged in a luxurious lifestyle and misused diocesan funds, both in conducting his official responsibilities, and personally, when no official purpose was involved,’ spokesman Tim Bishop said.

Baller said that the renovations were not well-received by the community, which saw the home as a prime example of overspending by the church.

‘I’m a Catholic — I’m a parishioner down the street, and for years it has just bugged me to no end,’ Baller said.
‘I’ve seen them waste all that money on that place and then turn around and ask us every Sunday to donate more, donate more — always asking for money. It’s sickening.’

After the allegations against Bransfield were made public over the summer, the diocese sold the Wheeling residence (pictured) for $1.2million in August

The home was purchased by David H and Meredith McKinley (pictured). David is the son of Congressman David B McKinley
After Bransfield’s abrupt resignation in September 2018, his former home sat vacant for months until David H McKinley, who owns a wealth management firm in Wheeling, approached the diocese about purchasing it.

‘My wife and I had been looking for a home for several years,’ McKinley told the Post.

‘The truth is, there are not a lot of homes of this size and with such characteristics in the Wheeling area. We happened to be in the right place at the right time.’

McKinley also had insider information about the home because his congressman father founded the firm that oversaw Bransfield’s renovations.

The church said four other buyers expressed interest in the property before it was sold to McKinley, but declined to offer additional details.

PAT SAYS

What a life of money, wealth, drugs, sex and power Bransfield treated himself to.

It’s hard to believe that a man like that believed in anyone or prayed to anyone.

He regarded the bodies of his young priests and seminarians as his own private possessions.

I suppose if everyone tells you that you are God’s representative and a “successor to the apostles” you can develop a great sense of your own entitlement and greatness?

We have seen several bishops exposed for their materialistic and promiscuous lifestyle.

We’ve seen it in the USA, Europe etc.

Sure our own Noel Treanor spent up to £ 4 million on his palace in Belfast.

The priesthood needs reform.

But the episcopacy need even more reform.

46 replies on “West Virginia Catholic bishop spent $4.6M renovating mansion where he ‘inappropriately touched young priests’ – fitting it with a sunken bar, a wine cellar and a $20K dining table – before church quietly sold it for only $1.2M after he was fired ”

It’s no good trying to reform it, Pat.
You need to smash it.
As Jesus left the temple and was walking away, His disciples came up to Him to point out its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” He replied. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be toppled.”
Matthew’s gospel, chapter24, verses 1 and 2.

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That’s how the Anglicans introduce the readings during their liturgies.
‘’A reading from the epistle of Paul, Chapters 6 to 8, verses verses 14 to 24.’’

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That does not answer my question.

God’s word is living: it is instructive for us today, as it was for those alive 2000 years ago. This, I believe, is the sense in which Joseph Lollard meant his comment at 11.18: he listened to God’s speaking through his word and understood that institutions which have origins in human vanity projects cannot last, and need to go.

He has a point: the Temple priesthood ceased with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

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That’s why the Jews do not have priests anymore. After the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, during the First great revolt of 66AD – 73AD, they could not practice Temple priesthood.
Services began to take place on a more general level in people’s homes etc; that is why they ended up with rabbis.
The Zealots and Sadducees and so on eventually disappeared leaving only the Christians and the Pharisees. The Pharisees became rabbinic, known as rabbinic Judaism – today, more commonly known as Judaism or the the Jews.
The Sadducees did not believe in Resurrection – that is why they were: Sad, You See.

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Stones are being toppled up north in the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
I am still in a state of shock and disgust. I just hope the poor ex seminarian will eventually recover.
The very thought that the st Lukes centre is involved makes the situation all the more disturbing and scandalous

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Lol wait for the clerical creeps to comment who say you never say anything new. The reason you don’t have anything new is their overlords’ behaviour of greed, self indulgence and covering up crime is well entrenched!
Another normal day in the bishop’s Palace then…

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Bishop Bling. New Years day and your extravagance with other people’s money just won’t go away Noel. Your legacy will be of a spendthrift whilst you had to bring in an accountant to rescue the diocese’s finances. Shame on you Noel

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Another Roman prelate bites the dust! Bishops were once, seemingly, immune from accountability. Indeed, the authorities were afraid to even approach them – NOT ANYMORE!
Praise ye the the Lord; I never thought I would see the day. They are going down like dead flies, and it brings me such a wonderful feeling of intense pleasure; I can hardly contain my excitement. Z a
How on God’s earth (pardon the pun) did this ex bishop, J Bransfield, manage to do this in the first place. $2.4 Billion is not a small amount of money – why was he not stopped at the time by the finance department? Oh, I forgot; he was a Roman Bishop and the finance department is Roman run. Silly old me!

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I bet not one priest anywhere in the Western Hemisphere has to watch his heating-oil expenses this winter. Not ONE.
This is all the more remarkable becuase not one of these men actually works for a living, but imposes himself on others financially, even on those who can barely feed and heat themselves.

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5.47
So you are the only priest in the Western Hemisphere who had to watch his heating-oil expenses this winter. Hardly seems even plausible. But if by some extraordinary, out-of-character circumstance, it is true, it is the exception that proves my statement at 1.19 pm.
What did this watchfulness of yours refer to? The heating expenses of your presbytery/living accomodation? Or to those of other buildings, like a church?
You pay income tax?
YOU?
In truth, your parisoners pay it for you.
You, and most priests, live off other people’s toil, those you consider ontologically your inferiors.
Away with the priesthood! It, historically, has drained the life from the Church, a fact that has become all the more schockingly known in the last two decades in particular.

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Two ways forward – Abolish the Episopate and give each local community power to Ordain as a community , or
have a primitive model where each parish is presided over by a Bishop with Deacons , and can govern itslef so there is not one Bishop only in an area .

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Garry Wills, who’s an ex-seminarian (Jesuit, five and a half years) has written a book, “Why Priests? a failed tradition”. I’ve ordered a copy from ebay.
He talks about it here.

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Thanks, Joseph Lollard, for posting this video. I, too, intend to order a copy of Wills’ book.

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Thanks for posting that connection Joseph.
I found Mr Wills comments very interesting. I have always thought the ‘literal understanding’ of transubstantiation as a ridiculous concept, and his common sense explanation/interpretation (@ about 20 mins) seems a more meaningful understanding for those Christians who hold to the significance of the New Testament.
What he says @ about 27 mins certainly rings true: “All of religion is under suspicion for it has disgraced itself in so many ways….”
MMM

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Yes, my thanks too for flagging up this book. Anything from Gary Willis is well worth listening to.

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Today £4 million is the equivalent of $5,288,000, Bp Pat.
Has our Noël any… well, let’s just say, “favourite” young priests? I wonder.

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The Bling Bishops like Bransfield and Treanor are simply the tip of the iceberg. Where they lead, their priests follow. Accepted, some presbyteries present a health hazard upon entering, where celibate, single men descend to the lowest common denominator of domestic squalor. But for so many other clergy, the opposite applies. Walk through the front door, and the place will be done out in the best of styles, with antique furniture lovingly collected, and with fine wines and liquors to be shared with excellent food prepared in a modern, cutting edge kitchen. And, invariably at parish expense. There will have been a lottery as to which column each expense is entered in the parish accounts, so it is very hard to work out exactly how much has been spent in the last year, but it will be there somewhere. At least you won’t get food poisoning in those establishments, or come out feeling as though you need to go and fumigate yourself and your clothes, as in the case of the former. I suppose I don’t really care how bling or unbling are the domestic arrangements of our priests. What I do care about is financial accountability and integrity, and I know that I am being sold a pup and being made to feel that I am being impertinent when I ask where the money has come from. I think I have a right to know. Because I know that the money has come from my pockets.

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All very true. I recall one central London presbytery where until the eighties the kitchen consisted of a single cold tap and a bottle of whisky: a very different set-up today of course. I can only repeat what we all know that the clerical system breeds entitlement from the word go: you need never have to worry about your material needs ever again. Actually this ties in with the problem raised yesterday concerning the Salesians: what to do with a member who has – and probably still is – an abuser. You cannot fire him, so he remains supported by the order until the end of his life. As we know from this blog, there must be countless numbers of convicted or suspect clergy who are removed from ministry yet remain provided for and housed for decades at the expense of the faithful. Remember that next time your parish asks you to chip in to the diocesan clergy retirement fund! Please do not give these people a penny, and next time the collection bag goes round, ignore it! Would’t that be a powerful message if the bags went round each Sunday and returned empty?

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Anonymous 2nd Jan 2020 — 10:00 am” … simply the tip of the iceberg … ”
The tip of the iceberg. That’s right, and it’s scarey.
The role of the Vatican and the Hierarchy in enabling paedophile priests to continue with their crimes only started to become public knowledge in the last twenty years or so.
And there’s a similar situation with the RCC’s finances.
There’s a lot we know we don’t know and most likely much more that we don’t know that we don’t know.
Read up on the Sicilian Mafia. All the the little Italian mini-states had, and mostly still have, their own equivalents; in fact such secret criminal organisations are pretty widespread throughout the Mediterranean.
Think about it.

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Even the basic day-to-day running costs of a large home like our Noel’s — including Council Tax, water, and sewage, heating bills, electricity, cleaning, gardening, security and insurance — must run into tens of thousands of pounds a year, Bp Pat.

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10.09

And you can bet your bottom dollar that HE won’t have to choose between eating or heating this winter, like ALL priests.

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Pat, this story about the excessive, outlandish and immoral expenses of Bishop Bransfield is very disturbing at the level, not just of its’ obscene and unjustifiable largesse, but also on the level of moral and spiritual blindness and complete unawareness of the scandal caused to many. That any Bishop would confer such privilege, comfort and extravagance on himself is incomprehensible and morally reprehensible. In light of the abuse scandals all Bishops and clergy have to be seen to be in touch with realities of everyday life and seek to prevent further scandals by living more compatibly with the gospel of Christ. Yes, all accommodation and properties must be well maintained but this extravaganza is a huge scandal. It is imperative and necessary now for all clergy to live in accordance with the gospel of Christ. Herein lies the challenge.

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Clergy being in touch with the realities of life ? Really ?! Clergy are insulated from the harsh realities of life, of wondering how to pay the bills, of wondering where they are going to get enough to fix the car, or the washing machine, or pay the gas bill, or buy new shoes for school for the kids…….. Clergy live very comfortably and simply do not have a clue about the way the rest of the world lives.

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Talk about lazy. We have at least half a dozen in this archdiocese who don’t seem to want to do much work, some won’t even supply, and are living and being supported in high end accommodation.
If the catholic’s of Glasgow knew the half of it!!

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Sweeney, Wallace, Dunn and so the list goes on. All able and capable and living in expensive Glasgow flats whilst doing he haw.

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Bishop Bransfield reminds me of the clerical brother of Australia’s erstwhile cultural attaché, Sir Les Patterson, who said of his brother that he had touched everybody whom he had ever met.

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Pat, The retirement age for priests in Dublin is 75 yet there are several cases where men in perfectly good health and been allowed to step down and to live at Diocesan expense. What is strange is that these men are all connected, sharing a ‘certain’ proclivity. They include Derek Smith – who had a bypass several years ago – Paddy Monahan, in the rudest of good fettle, Paddy Moran also in the best of health,, For some strange reason Dermo has chosen to permit these ‘retirements’ at a time when Dublin is reaching crisis levels of clergy – I wonder why? Could they know where the bodies are I wonder, or maybe the skeletons in the archeepiscopal closet?

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I was in Clonliffe with Derek Smith. He was a nasty character. Paddy Monahan was a classmate. Heard he had a big row with DM? Paddy Moran – I liked Paddy.

I do not know what’s going on.

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Pat, you are not giving someone the benefit of the doubt. You knew someone in Clonliffe almost 50 years ago. He may have mellowed with the years. Was he 19 when you knew him?
Look at the change that has occurred in you in the intervening years! You believe in nailing someone to their negative (in your estimation) past.

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Yes indeed. Priests in Down and Connor are very much insulated from reality. Hundreds of not thousands of parishioners struggling to make ends meet worrying constantly about finances. Meanwhile one our PP’s in the diocese , colloquially known by his colleagues as Fr Flybe, worries about how often he can get away to his time share in Disneyland (and all this on a PP’s salary. I work 60+ hours per week and couldn’t afford a timeshare in Disney let alone go to the place. It must be like home from home as Down and Connor is run like Disneyland. Worried about whether to eat or heat? Not a chance. Maybe he’s preaching the gospel over there instead of meeting Micky Mouse

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What happened to the experiment with worker priests after WW2? Did they all just get put back into the parish system? Although the original ones must all be dead now.

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Wouldn’t have said it 20 years ago but worker priests is the only way to bring reality to the collar and wash away the cobwebs These guys had enough cake Let them eat bread instead

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The Bishop stinted himself by not commissioning a swimming where the lads might be invited to disport themselves. What no trunks? No problem – after all there’re no women around.

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My great grandmother and her friend lived simple humble lives in Divis Tower leaving all their money to a priest in St Peters, they would be so upset if they saw how the church was spending money

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