Pope Lowers Toy Hammer On Bishop Bransfield

by Susan Matthews

The IHM nuns who taught me doled out tougher punishments for uniform violations than the sanctions Pope Francis just placed on Bishop Michael J. Bransfield.

According to Vatican news released today, the pope’s sanctions on the former bishop are in response to findings from a preliminary investigation into allegations of Bransfield’s sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties. Archbishop William E. Lori of the Baltimore Archdiocese headed the internal investigation.

You might remember that Bransfield allegedly gave lavish financial “gifts” to successfully buy the silence of fellow bishops. So who would be better than a fellow bishop to conduct the internal investigation? Totally makes sense.

What were the findings? Those details didn’t make it into the “communique.” Windex, please. There’s still no transparency to laity. But the Vatican did share the details of these not-so scathing sanctions.

The former bishop is no longer allowed to live in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, WV. He is prohibited from presiding or participating anywhere in any public celebration of Mass. And, the following is quoted from the letter issued today by the Apostolic Nunciature and posted on the WV Diocese’s website.

He has an obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused; the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future bishop of the diocese.

In taking these concrete actions, the Holy See expresses its sincere concern for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.”

The defrauded parishioners who donated to Sunday collections in West Virginia have zero chance of getting their money back. His adult victims can cool their heels, too. I’m not feeling the Holy See’s concern. Are you?

These “concrete actions” are more like blowing smoke. As we know from other removed priests, including those in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Bransfield can still score swanky digs, hang out on altars and collect his sizable pension. How long does it take to recover from a slap on the wrist. Seconds?

When my daughter was a toddler, she served longer sentences on a cute Time-Out Teddy chair. Seems Pope Francis found an adult-sized version for Bransfield. But the pope isn’t raising a fairly well-behaved child. Reforming immoral clergy will require meaningful consequences.

No one should forget the facts. Read previous blog posts on Bransfield and his co-conspirators:

Rigali Bypassed Review Board In Clearing Bransfield – 2012

Witness Links West Virginia’s Bishop Bransfield to Abuse – 2012

ON THE ROCKS: Cocktails at Bishops’ Conference Belies Church Suffering – 2019

The God Fathers: Time for RICO Investigation of U.S. Catholic Church – 2019

The Bishop Is Back in Town – 2019

ON THE ROCKS: Cocktails at Bishops’ Conference Belies Church Suffering

By Kathy Kane

Dear Bishop Senior and Bishop McIntyre,

We have crossed paths over the years but have never formally met. I considered introducing myself in the hotel lounge at the Marriott in Baltimore. I chose not to because I couldn’t trust myself not to recreate the scene of Jesus in the temple with the money changers. I might have overturned a table, sending glasses of Cointreau and Johnny Walker Black Label into the air.

I’m one of the mothers from the Philadelphia Archdiocese who traveled to Baltimore to stand with the survivors outside of the hotel during the Bishops’ Conference. We also attended the Conference in November. We call ourselves the “Mom Squad” and we support the victims and survivors who have literally saved our children by exposing the issue of clergy abuse to the world.

Voices Carry

Your group of bishops did not notice us when you arrived at the hotel lounge late Tuesday after your dinner out on the town. You picked a table right near us and proceeded to talk about your terrific dinner. Drinks were ordered; lots of laughter; a toast to a birthday (Happy Birthday, Nelson).

Voices carry, even in hotel bars. If you’re going to make fun of a former Archdiocese victim advocate, you might want to whisper. Or, here’s a better idea…don’t mock victim advocates. Bishop Senior, you did get a good laugh from your fellow bishops. Also, not a good idea to discuss Church-related matters in a hotel bar with mothers from the Archdiocese sitting a few feet away.

The Mom Squad nicknamed your group “the Philly Special” being that the fellow bishops with you were former clergy from Philadelphia. If your group had looked around, you would have seen one of our Moms saying the rosary while sipping her drink. She said she felt the need to rebalance the bad with good. In a hotel with 225 bishops she had yet to find a feeling of holiness, and certainly did not feel it in the lounge on Tuesday night.

It is a surreal experience to stay at the same hotel as the bishops during the Conference. While the outside world might imagine bishops with furrowed brows and solemn demeanors, we encountered recent newsmakers such as Cardinal Wuerl looking downright giddy in the lobby, and a very chipper Archbishop Lori heading to the elevators. We were in the lobby earlier as dozens of bishops met up after the day of meetings and headed out to dinner on the waterfront, or to the expensive steak house across the street. There was laughter and handshakes. I imagine no different than any other group of men who are the focus of national attention due to their members’ history of child rape, sexual assault of adults, sexual misconduct, financial impropriety, and cover up of crimes.

Bishop McIntyre, you were a panelist in a USCCB Facebook live event the following day at the Conference. I watched the event and also read the Catholic Philly article where you are quoted as saying the laity has the right to be angry and hurt, but it’s also important that we don’t get stuck there, and to remember that Christ is with us.

Stuck On ‘Mishandling’

Actually, the entire problem has been that the Church has continued to just move forward in the face of crimes against children while covering it up. We have all brushed it off and continued ahead with little regard for those who were harmed and very few criminal prosecutions of the perpetrators and those who covered for them.

Bishop Mcintyre you also mentioned in the same video that you have been angry about the “mishandling” of sex abuse cases. Mishandling is an interesting choice of words.

In 1994, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a memo with a list of priest predator names was purposefully shredded. Those men remained in ministry and a young man is now dead because no one did the right thing. He was abused by a priest that the Archdiocese had been warned about and whose name was on the shredded memo. If someone had done the right thing their paths would never have crossed. Is that “mishandling?” Is placing a piece of paper in a shredder “mishandling?” Is that the word that helps you move on and not “get stuck?” Is that why you can talk about anger in a flat, monotone voice and in the next breath talk of moving forward?

The young man was someone’s child and he is dead. The only part of your statement that I agree with is that Christ is always with us. What do you think Christ thinks of the death of a young man at the hands of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia?

Horrified Awakening

My children were in Catholic school when some of the predators on the shredded memo were circulating through the parishes. I’m still stuck on that. It’s just this crazy Mom thing of bringing children into this world and not expecting the Church to expose them to child predators.

What has happened this past year is an awakening . People have finally looked past the boundaries of their own parish and have spoken up for those abused in the Church. When the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was released it made national news because people did not care if the victims were from their own diocese, or from their own state. Many Catholics finally cared that it happened, to any child,in area of the Church. Are we stuck? Or are we finally aware?

My 19-year-old daughter, who has a hearing disability, called me after she read the news of the deaf students in Italy who were sexually abused by clergy and whose disability was used against them by their perpetrators. The children could not even communicate what was happening to them to the outside world. She described what she read as ‘the torture of children.” Should I tell her not to be stuck in her anger? I don’t think the word “anger” even captures the emotion behind what most decent people feel about crimes against children. My daughter was horrified. I think horrified is the word we should use going forward.

Should we go to Mass each week and pray for the victims but do nothing to help them? Actually most times the issue of clergy abuse is even publicly prayed for at Mass, we also have to pray for the perpetrators. As if that is not a sick message delivered to youth who are present. Children should not be told to pray for those who harm children. Do we pray for the sexually abusive soccer coaches and teachers? Of course not, only sexually abusive clergy are extended that mercy.

Your Plan?

When do we acknowledge those abused within our Church often have PTSD and cannot even enter a Church for burials of family members or joyous occasions such as weddings. That the faith that many take solace in has been ripped from their lives? Should we just move forward without them? What’s the plan? If you want me not to be stuck, then tell me the plan going forward. Do you have a plan?

In just the past few months a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was arrested for the rape of a teen parishioner and two lay teachers were arrested for sexual assault of students. What is the statute of limitations on the anger we should feel about abuse continuing in the Archdiocese? A few weeks? A few months? Do we need to seek professional help if we are still stuck after that?

We watched in Baltimore last week as clergy walked right past the survivors outside the hotel. We have seen this happen countless times at vigils in Philadelphia. Would Jesus simply refer the abused in his midst to the Archdiocese Victim Assistance Office? Is that how we get “unstuck?” By pretending they are invisible?

As for the bishops pretending that they never had a clue about McCarrick or Bransfield’s misconduct, it will be fun to watch the Oscars this year as you all receive Best Supporting Actor awards in the real life horror category.

Gospel P.R.

You talk of Christ but the behavior of many bishops is anything but Christ like. Would Christ be out to dinner, or in the lounge having drinks, as his followers suffered? Would he shred a memo that could have protected children? That wasn’t Christ; that was Bevilacqua. Would he ignore the very people who were harmed?

Maybe use Christ as your public relations crisis manager. The Gospel is free and any change in behavior by the bishops would be genuine. The mystery to the laity and survivors is not what Christ would do, the mystery is why the Bishops don’t do it. Firing the attorneys would be a good first step.

We will be back in Baltimore for the Conference in November. We were lucky the June meeting was rescheduled to Baltimore rather than at the Ritz Carlton in Santa Barbara, where it was originally scheduled. Mom Squad does not have a bishop’s budget.

Maybe we will bring some more moms with us to outnumber the bishops in the hotel lounge. Since the laity is so often not welcome to a seat at the table, we will just pull up to the bar.


(unofficial captain of the Mom Squad)

New System Is Old Bandaid For Bishops’ Broken Promises

by Susan Matthews

Coming out of last week’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a new oversight system for handling clergy child sex abuse and attempted cover-ups has been announced. It’s the same old bandaid that’s lost its sticky since they created the Dallas Charter in 2002.

Ostensibly, this system creates greater accountability. In reality, it’s just less of the same. In some instances, it’s not as comprehensive as the Charter. A lack of laity involvement, let alone management, and the rules for reporting allegations fall short.

According to an article in The New York Times, some bishops lobbied for mandatory lay involvement, but were unsuccessful. Why would that be objectionable given bishops have failed at self-investigation?

The answer according to a panel of bishops was that the pope’s decree didn’t mandate lay participation. So much for the “Holy” spirit of Church law.

“The system really perpetuates clericalism, which is something Pope Francis has criticized in other situations — the idea that priests exist on a different level than lay people and bishops exist on a different level than priests, and that’s by divine origin and you can’t even talk about changing it.”

Nicholas P. Cafardi, former chairman of the national review board, as quoted in The New York Times article

This “fix” adds more insult to injury. Survivors and betrayed Catholic laity know this bandaid is just another cover-up to promote donor healing and that the Church has cured nothing.

Read The New York Times article “Catholic Bishops Vow to Hold Themselves Accountable for Sexual Abuse and Cover-Ups,” June 13, 2019

The God Fathers: Time for RICO Investigation of U.S. Catholic Church

By Susan Matthews

Early in the life of this blog, a very passionate commenter demanded a RICO investigation of the Catholic Church. Kathy and I thought he was overly dramatic and maybe even a bit crazy. Now, we agree with him. Using popular quotes from the The Godfather, let’s break it down.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Yesterday, The Washington Post broke the news that Bishop Michael Bransfield* gave $350,000 in cash gifts to Cardinals and priests, including some who accused him of sexual harassment. Vatican records reportedly reveal the money trail. Bransfield wrote “gift” checks from his personal account and the West Virginia diocese reimbursed him by raising his compensation to match “gift” amounts plus his added income tax burden.

What other organization engages in payoffs to possible informants? The mob. And just like the mafia, the Catholic hierarchy appears to be involved in organized crime. But there’s at least one difference. I don’t believe the mafia would sanction the coverup of child rape. They have a code.

With recent revelations, we’ve reached a national, if not global, tipping point. If doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is the definition of crazy. It would be crazy to offer the Catholic hierarchy another opportunity to reform itself.

Let’s turn to the law. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law intended to combat organized crime in the U.S.

“Goddam FBI don’t respect nothin.”

Federal prosecutors would have to prove the Catholic Church is an enterprise and engaged in two or more instances of racketeering. They would have to prove the church directly invested in, maintained an interest in or participated in criminal behavior affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

Child sex abuse and obstruction of justice could establish racketeering, said David Hickton in an article on Pennlive.com. Hickton, a former U.S. attorney in the Western District of PA, used RICO in 2016 to initiate a suit against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The time wasn’t right, but it could be now.

Special agents from the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime reviewed evidence collected by the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation of clergy sex abuse across six dioceses. The FBI found all six dioceses employed the same pattern of practices to systematically cover up abuse, according to an article in The New York Times. It stands to reason these practices span the U.S. Catholic Church.

The civil provisions of RICO offer a wider berth than the criminal. Take the case of Art Cohen vs. Donald J. Trump. Cohen filed suit against Trump on behalf of students claiming they were defrauded thousands of dollars each by Trump University. The case was settled out of court for $25 million.

I paid for my kids’ Catholic education and donated to the Catholic Church, a supposed nonprofit. Hasn’t the Church abused its tax-exempt status and operated counter to its stated institutional mission?

In just the last year, the U.S. Catholic Church spent $301.6 million on clergy sex abuse-related costs, according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This sum doesn’t include all the “gifts.” That’s only ONE year of expenditures! Imagine the total cost for the past 50 years. Read the breakdown of last year’s payouts at CNN.

Clearly, I’ve been defrauded by the Catholic Church. How about you?

Times have changed. It’s not like the Old Days – when we can do anything we want.”

Those seeking justice for clergy child sex abuse should take note of federal anti-racketeering charges filed against Harvey Weinstein on behalf of multiple plaintiffs. RICO suits were filed against his brother Bob Weinstein, Miramax and some board members of The Weinstein Company. They are accused of complicity in facilitating and concealing a pattern of sexual misconduct and violence. Does that sound familiar?

In an August 2018 letter to the U.S. Justice Department, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Center for Constitutional Rights asked for the following:

a full-scale, nationwide investigation into the systemic rape and sexual violence, and cover-ups by the Catholic Church, and, where appropriate, bring criminal and/or civil proceedings against the hierarchy that enabled the violations.”

USA Today, August 22, 2018

“It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics.”

There seems to be plenty of evidence to warrant the investigation the U.S. Catholic Church. Why has it been so difficult? Aside from a narrow interpretation of RICO, there are political pressures. Evidence can be found in the battle to reform existing child sex abuse laws.

In eight northeastern states the Catholic Church spent $10.6 million on lobbyists to fight legislation that would help clergy sex abuse victims. In Pennsylvania, where victims of child sex abuse can come forward with criminal allegations until age 50 and file civil claims until age 30, the church spent $5,322, 979 to keep those limitations in place, according to a report covered by NBC News.

Why? Because the current law is not retroactive. It only applies to eligible victims from when that law was passed in 2002 and moving forward. Advocates are fighting for a limited window of time during which victims, whose abuse doesn’t fall within current statutes, can file civil lawsuits. This would provide an opportunity for justice AND awareness of alleged perpetrators currently living anonymously – – maybe in your neighborhood.

No sequel to The God Fathers

In light of yesterday’s breaking news in The Washington Post and a federal investigation into the Catholic Church in PA, a demand for a federal U.S. investigation is forming.

Read The Washington Post article here.

Editor’s note: Bishop Michael Bransfield is a Philadelphia native. The former Bishop of the West Virginia Diocese has been banned from ministry in two dioceses. Why not all dioceses? Read more in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Catholic Church Aborts Pro-Life Morality

By Susan Matthews

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) highlighted its flawed morality when it shamed a clergy child sex abuse survivor on its Facebook page yesterday.

Why do you have to troll here Carolyn? Don’t you get enough media attention?”

Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, Facebook Comment, 5/15

The comment was aimed at Carolyn Fortney, who was sexually abused from age two to 12 by Father Augustine Giella.

The originating post celebrated the passing of a bill restricting abortion. Fortney’s comment read, “Next up… statute of limitations Reform with a 2 year retro active window to give victims of Child Sexual Abuse Justice and to EXPOSE pedophiles and co-conspirators who helped to cover it up so we can be #ProChildren and protect them.”


Albert Gnoza, the PCC communications director told Kathy Kane that he didn’t expect many people to see his reply to her comment. Sadly, Kathy had to point out the one person who would absolutely see it is a child clergy sex abuse survivor. Aside from exposing a detrimental deficit of public relations and social media skill, it highlights an alarming lack of empathy.

Gnoza went on to say that Fortney’s comment didn’t relate to the original post. Even if this were an acceptable excuse, he is wrong.

The pro-life movement is intended to protect ALL human life from conception to death. It advocates against abortion, murder, assisted suicide, the death penalty and more. Clergy child sex abuse has often been referred to as “soul murder.”

Bishops Pratice Cafeteria Catholicism

As the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic Bishops, the PCC lobbies for legislation that protects unborn children while it lobbies against legislation that would help to protect ALL children from sex abuse by any adult.

I’d venture a guess the Bishops have spent far more on the latter to protect themselves. Who funds the Bishops? Parishioners across Pennsylvania. Some unknowingly and some whole-heartedly. Shortly after founding this blog, my husband and son were approached by a fellow parishioner after Mass. He loudly told them that what I was doing was wrong. This was especially surprising to me because this man was an active member of the pro-life group. Aren’t children equally important as unborn babies?

The Bishops promote this moral blind spot. Their credibility on social issues crumbles as they defy the answer to “What would Jesus do?”

Carolyn, your life is sacred and worthy of protection. The Church failed you. We will fight hard along with you to ensure children are protected now and in the future.

That’s the appropriate reply.

Read more here.


Philly Archdiocese Breaks Promises

By Kathy Kane

There was recent news that may have been shocking to many parents who volunteer in the Archdiocese and have to go through what sometimes feels like a Secret Service level of background checks and clearances before being allowed to simply chaperone a school dance, or hand out candy canes at the school Christmas party.

In the past two months, in separate incidents, an Archdiocesan priest was arrested for the rape of a minor and a Catholic lay teacher was arrested for institutional sexual assault. The priest allegedly raped the teen in his private quarters in the rectory. The lay teacher used his school office for the alleged assaults. Both perpetrators also were charged with providing alcohol and drugs to minors.

Promise to Protect

Before a situation rises to the level of sexual abuse there is often a period of misbehavior by the adult that includes what the Archdiocese refers to as “boundary violations.” A person with bad intentions is never going to follow the rules, so many times it is up to others to realize that rules are being broken. With that thought in mind, one would expect that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would incorporate the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries into the yearly Safety Environment lessons for the students .

If a teacher, coach, or priest is contacting kids through social media, isolating them alone in an office or rectory, or giving them gifts, many kids observing the behavior will recognize it as creepy. But do they know that this grooming behavior is actually violating specific Archdiocesan Standards and should be reported to a trusted adult?

Currently the Archdiocese teaches safety in general, not specific to the environment where these kids live, eat, and breathe each day. The actual population that would be targeted by a perpetrator remains an uninformed “sitting duck”. We have advocated for the Standards to be incorporated in an age appropriate level into the yearly Safety Environment lessons. We have not been successful.

Parents, you know the Archdiocese is quick to get in touch if a tuition payment is late, but is your phone ringing if your child’s safety is at risk? When a boundary violation has taken place and the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries are violated, it would seem logical that the first phone calls would be to the parents of every child or student who was a victim of the violation.

Unfortunately there is no written policy of parental notification when a child is a victim of a boundary violation. Not only is there no policy, but from our own first hand experience it is not even the practice of the Archdiocese to inform all parents. So a child could be subject to grooming behaviors that the Archdiocese is aware have occurred, but the parents have no clue. Sound like a good plan for child safety? We have advocated for parental notification. We have not been successful.

Many students in Archdiocesan high schools turn 18 years old before graduation. In every instance the Archdiocese continues to treat the student as a minor. Permission slips still require a signature from a parent, absent notes need to be written ,the school nurse calls if an 18 year old student is ill. Literally nothing changes when the student turns 18 years old, except maybe your child’s safety.

Is it possible that the Archdiocese does not consider 18 year old students as being included in the specific Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries that are in place to protect minors? Not only is it possible, but in a phone conversation about boundary violations with the Investigations Office of the Archdiocese, it was actually stated in reference to boundary violations that “some of these students are already 18.”

We have advocated for the Standards to be updated to use the word “student,” rather than “minor,” so that that every young person’s safety is equally protected. We have not been successful.

We have advocated for these simple, common sense, child protection policies for the past 2 years after these issues came to light on a boundary violation that we reported. The Archdiocese at this point has shut us down and will no longer communicate with us about these advocacy efforts. All that is expected from parents is their tuition payments and background clearances. They do not want to hear from parents who are informed about the gaping holes that exist in their “Promise to Protect”.

A teen is raped. A student is sexually assaulted. Drugs and alcohol are brought into a parish and a school campus by Church personnel. Sounds like they have it all under control. Why would they listen to us?

Major Flaw In Pope’s Promising New Law

This week Pope Francis issued a mandatory reporter law requiring all Catholic diocesan priests and religious orders, including sisters, to inform Church authorities when they have “well-founded motives to believe” abuse has occurred. It also directs them to obey civil reporting requirements where they live. This Church law is retroactive and includes past abuse.

Those reporting will receive whistle-blower protection and dioceses must have a confidential reporting system in place by June 1, 2020.

But there is a glaring flaw in the new law.

The Definition of Insanity

Bishops will continue to investigate reported bishops. History has proven this fails. Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is an excellent point in case. Fellow bishops knew about McCarrick’s predatory behavior. Worse than doing nothing, they put him in the role of spokesman on the subject of child sex abuse prevention measures.

Truth Or Consequences

We might get somewhere if the bishops who didn’t report McCarrick were laicized as well. That’s not happening.

Speaking of the failure to report, there is no punishment for an individual who neglects to report abuse or for dioceses that don’t have a confidential reporting system.

Laws without consequences are ineffective, if not useless.

Clericalism Strikes Again

Instead of merely allowing lay experts to assist, Pope Francis should have made it law that qualified laity investigate all cases. But clericalism got the last word in this law.