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Pope names Baltimore auxiliary bishop to lead troubled West Virginia diocese

Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Religious News

BALTIMORE -- The Most Rev. Mark E. Brennan, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a man known for his humble service and "great pastoral sensitivity," will become bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia, the Vatican announced Tuesday morning.

He succeeds former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who resigned 10 months ago amid allegations he engaged in a pattern of sexual and financial misconduct.

With his appointment, Brennan, 72, becomes the ninth bishop, or top church official, in the 169-year history of the mostly rural diocese.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori investigated Bransfield's conduct and temporarily led the West Virginia diocese. Lori determined that the accusations of sexual abuse against Bransfield were credible and that he had spent lavishly from diocesan funds on luxury items and personal travel.

The Vatican rendered its disciplinary decision last week, banning Bransfield from presiding over or taking part in public celebrations of Catholic liturgy and from living in the diocese. In addition, the Holy See ordered Bransfield to make unspecified amends to the diocese "for some of the harm he caused."

One of Brennan's first orders of business will be to decide what form those amends should take, church observers say, with the possibilities ranging from a fine to Bransfield forfeiting his pension.

 

Because the Vatican chose not to defrock Bransfield, he remains under its disciplinary jurisdiction.

The decision will be just one of the ways West Virginia Catholics hope he'll help the diocese, which incorporates the whole state, get a fresh start after the scandals surrounding Bransfield.

Widely recognized for his simple lifestyle and careful attention to pastoral matters, Brennan displayed characteristic humility in December 2016 when he received the call from Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre, the Vatican's ambassador to the U.S. Catholic Church, informing him that Pope Francis had named him auxiliary bishop for Baltimore.

He had spent decades ministering to immigrants, including 19 years celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments in English and Spanish at parishes in the Archidiocese of Washington, D.C., and he didn't expect that to change.

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