Three high-ranking priests who allegedly enabled “predatory and harassing conduct” by Bishop Michael J. Bransfield when he was leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia have resigned from their leadership posts, church officials announced Monday.
A statement from Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore gave no reason for the resignations. But the three monsignors — Frederick Annie, Anthony Cincinnati and Kevin Quirk — are central figures in a scandal over alleged sexual and financial misconduct by Bransfield, according to a confidential report described in a Washington Post story last week.
The report by five lay Catholics was completed in February and submitted to the Vatican. Lori’s statement said Annie resigned in September, around the time the Vatican launched its investigation. Quirk and Cincinnati resigned on Monday, Lori said.
The confidential report had recommended their removal.
“By failing to take any action, the Chancery Monsignors enabled the predatory and harassing conduct of Bishop Bransfield, and allowed him to recklessly spend Diocesan funds for his own personal use,” the report states.
Annie, Cincinnati and Quirk did not respond to requests for interviews or comment.
The report alleges that Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, including chartered jets, and that he and his aides spent nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, among many other personal luxuries.
Citing church financial documents, The Post reported that Bransfield also gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen over his 13 years at the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican. The church reimbursed him by boosting his compensation, the records show.
Bransfield has denied the allegations, telling The Post in a brief interview last week that “none of it is true” and that critics are “trying to destroy my reputation.”
After the publication of The Post’s report, a Vatican cardinal and at least nine other clerics pledged to return money that they received as personal gifts from Bransfield to the diocese, saying they did not know that it was church money.
Lori, the acting leader of the West Virginia diocese, is among those who received cash gifts from Bransfield and pledged to return the money.
On Friday, Lori said in an interview that he did not have the authority to make personnel changes recommended by the confidential report. “That will be for the next bishop,” Lori told The Post.
Tim Bishop, a spokesman for the West Virginia diocese, said that the personnel changes announced Monday were unusual but that Lori “feels the need to set the stage for the next bishop.”
Annie and Cincinnati will become pastors in local parishes. Quirk, who also stepped down from the board of Wheeling Jesuit University and a church-owned hospital, will take on an administrative role.
Annie and Quirk told investigators there were few options for raising concerns about Bransfield, the report says. Cincinnati said he did not witness sexual harassment.
Bransfield became bishop of the diocese in 2005, taking the helm in one of the nation’s poorest states. Over more than a decade, while he was spending lavishly on himself and sending checks to other clerics, he sexually harassed young priests by touching or hugging them or by making sexually provocative remarks, according to the report.
Seminarians or young priests appealed to leaders in the diocese, to no avail, the report says. They were instructed to “make your boundaries clear,” it says, or told that they had no choice but to join Bransfield in such activities as sleepovers at his residence and on trips.
According to the report, Quirk, Bransfield’s judicial vicar, told a young priest who complained about Bransfield’s routine invitations to visit him at his home: “Your presence is required.”
Church investigators said that Annie was responsible for spending tens of thousands of dollars in church funds on alcohol at Bransfield’s behest, the report said. Annie lived in the same residence as Bransfield.
The vicars failed to act out of a combination of fear, loyalty and self-interest, the report concluded.
“Despite witnessing multiple instances of harassing and abusive behavior over several years, none of the Vicars took action to address Bishop Bransfield’s behavior,” the report said.