June 10, 2019
The breadth and depth of corruption in the Catholic Church seem boundless, and colored by the ongoing dysfunction arising from clergy sex abuse and the hierarchy’s inability to grapple with it. Some of the misdeeds and cover-ups have been facilitated by a law that exempts religious institutions and affiliated charitable entities from financial reporting that is required of other nonprofit organizations. Even as the Vatican, seeking to move beyond its protracted season of scandal, calls for a new era of transparency, the church’s finances in the United States remain opaque.
That apparent discrepancy between rhetoric and reality was highlighted by a stunning account in The Washington Post focusing on the opulent lifestyle, and extravagant palm-greasing, undertaken for years by now-disgraced former bishop of West Virginia Michael Bransfield. The story revealed that Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who oversaw an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Bransfield, whitewashed the resulting report to expunge the fact that he - along with 10 other of the most prominent and influential clerics in the United States and the Vatican — were paid thousands of dollars from what amounted to a slush fund controlled by the bishop.
You read that correctly: The archbishop, having received substantial monetary “gifts” from the bishop, had that fact scrubbed from the report that he himself supervised. And he scrubbed more famous names, including those of current and former cardinals in New York, Boston, Washington and the Vatican, who were showered with cash from the same source.
The fact that the slush fund, which dispensed $350,000, was controlled by the free-spending, large-living bishop of West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, is a self-evident irony. That the funds were lavished not just on cardinals but also on some of the young priests whom Bransfield is accused of abusing and molesting speaks to the conspiracy of silence at the heart of the church’s sex abuse scandal.