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In report to Vatican, Baltimore Archbishop Lori deleted mention of gifts from bishop he investigated

In report to Vatican, Baltimore Archbishop Lori deleted mention of gifts from bishop he investigated
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori acknowledges receiving cash gifts totaling $7,500 from Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, but not, he says, during the period he was investigating the West Virginia bishop. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori has acknowledged that he edited a report to the Vatican to delete mention that a bishop whose conduct he investigated gave financial gifts to nearly a dozen high-ranking Catholic clerics over the years.

The list of recipients included Lori, who says West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield gave him a total of $7,500 in gifts “for various occasions” since 2012.

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The occasions included Lori’s installation as archbishop of Baltimore in 2012 and several Christmases, Lori said Wednesday in an interview with The Sun. The gifts and Lori’s editing of the report were first reported by The Washington Post.

Bransfield resigned in September as bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W. Va., under orders from Pope Francis after clerics in the diocese raised concerns about his behavior.

Allegations had surfaced that Bransfield engaged in both sexual and financial misconduct over a course of years.

The pope appointed Lori to oversee an investigation into the charges. He and a team of five lay people completed a 60-page report on their findings in February.

The lay investigators concluded that cash gifts Bransfield gave to dozens of fellow clergymen were part of a pattern of abuse of power that included sexual abuse of young priests and out-of-control spending.

Lori said he asked the team to delete mention of the gifts to the 11 high-ranking clergymen, including himself, in its final report to the Vatican. “It seemed arbitrary to mention one group who got gifts [and not] a lot of others who got gifts,” Lori said in the interview.

Even though it’s not common practice for bishops to give financial gifts — “usually, if anything it’s a poinsettia at Christmas or lilies at Easter,” Lori said — he “simply thought [Bransfield] was being generous and kind” when he gave Lori money. “I didn’t think much more about it than that.”

Lori said he received no such gifts during the investigation and “certainly didn’t see any demand or expectation for anything in return” when he periodically had received them over the years.

The investigators on the team raised no objection to his request for the deletions, Lori said, but “looking back on this in hindsight, I would say that judgment call was a mistake.”

The edits came to light as part of an investigation by The Post into the Bransfield case. Reporters were able to obtain both the original and final drafts of the report, and a comparison of the two revealed the deletions.

Lori said Wednesday that he gave the full amount of the gifts to the Baltimore Archdiocese and asked that the money be donated to Catholic Charities.

What he had viewed as simply “a matter of generosity to a colleague” took on a new light once “the full extent” of Bransfield’s gift-giving became apparent, Lori said.

Bransfield gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, The Post reported, including more than a dozen cardinals.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who recently retired as the archbishop of Washington, and Archbishop Carlo Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, were among the powerful officials who received gifts, The Post reported.

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Lori disclosed receipt of the gifts in a letter he wrote Wednesday to members of the West Virginia diocese detailing the Bransfield investigation’s findings. The archbishop said he had not written to the diocese earlier because he had been waiting for clearance from the Vatican.

In the letter, Lori outlined details of what the investigation had found about Bransfield’s misconduct over many years. “The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority,” the letter said. In addition, the investigation “determined that during his tenure as bishop … Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending.”

It said he used church funds “for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items.”

Lori also wrote that he has asked that Bransfield’s former residence in Wheeling be put up for sale and that proceeds go toward a fund to provide counseling and pastoral care for Bransfield’s victims.

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