Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States are gathered in Baltimore this week, with a discussion of sex abuse scandals on the agenda. They should be asking questions — assuming they do not already know the answers — about a related skeleton that came out of the church’s closet in West Virginia.
Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began a three-day general assembly on Tuesday in Baltimore. Coincidentally, the bombshell new revelation about the church was dropped by Archbishop William E. Lori of that city.
Lori also presides over the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia. He was named to administer it after former bishop Michael Bransfield retired last year.
Bransfield’s departure was followed by an investigation into allegations he sexually harassed adults and mismanaged diocesan finances. Both accusations are credible, Lori said last week.
But while he was engaged in sexual harassment and spending millions of dollars in diocesan money for his own benefit, Bransfield also was showering lavish cash gifts — which totaled $350,000 — on others in the church. Most of the money, for which Bransfield was reimbursed, went to Catholic leaders, including bishops, at least one archbishop and at least one cardinal.
Lori himself received $10,500 from Bransfield. Of that, $3,000 was for travel and honoraria related to two masses the archbishop celebrated in West Virginia. Lori has said he will give the remaining $7,500 back to the diocese.
How widespread has such gift-giving been among the church hierarchy? Is it common practice for clerics to hand out such gifts, not really out of their own pockets but in the knowledge they can get reimbursed from church funds?
What role did such gifts play in cover-ups of sexual abuse allegations? How many recipients of checks had the power to investigate and discipline those who gave them the money?
Will there even be an investigation of the matter?
There needs to be one and the results need to be made public. Otherwise, some Roman Catholics will conclude that they now have an answer to the question of how the sex abuse scandal could have been so bad and so enduring.