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Former West Virginia bishop, Michael Bransfield, has been accused of sexual and financial misconduct because he spent millions of dollars on personal travel and $350,000 on gifts for young priests — including some he’s accused of sexually harassing. Now The Vatican has decided on sanctions against him but they stopped short of defrocking him. The sanctions, which came after investigation of the accusations against the bishop, include that he must make amends and it is forbidden for him to live within the diocese and participate in any public celebration of the liturgy. Pope Francis was the one who ordered those measures in a letter posted to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston's website.
It looks like the Vatican has treated Bransfield with some favor and that his sanctions are not enough for all misconducts he is accused of. Pope Francis has punished the bishop but he only banned him from public ministry and from living in a church house while Bransfield's deeds are more serious.
According to the Washington Post, Church records showed Bransfield spent more than $2.4 million in church money on travel, including chartered jets and luxury hotels. Documents also revealed Bransfield spent $182,000 in daily fresh flower deliveries and doled out $350,000 in cash gifts to powerful cardinals, in addition to young priests who had accused him of sexual harassment. Bransfield was mentioned by a witness in a Philadelphia sexual abuse trial involving a local priest who once told the witness that Bransfield had sex with a teenage boy. He was also a part of an investigation when he was accused that he had fondled a teenage boy while working as a teacher at a Catholic high school.
Pope Francis decided that Bransfield didn't deserve to be defrocked regardless of all allegations of financial and sexual misconduct. This is not the first time that Pope Francis has favored Bransfield. The investigation against the bishop was initiated only after the bishop decided to step down and retire. In this age of raised awareness surrounding sexual and other misconduct by the Church officials it is interesting that sanctions and punishments are often very light comparing to accusations.
It looks like the Vatican and the Pope are not ready to change and act firmly against the accused Church members. Some kind of punishment is always there in order to show that crimes do not go unpunished but these sanctions are often optional and disproportionate to actions that led to them.