Pope Francis Tuesday named Bishop Mark Brennan the Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia following financial corruption and alleged sexual assault by the former bishop of the diocese Michael J. Bransfield.
Brennan, 72, is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where he has served since his appointment in 2016.
"I eagerly look forward to being a part of this local church in West Virginia, to working with the good people, enjoying their interests and most especially, gaining their trust as their brother and servant,” Brennan told Baltimore's The Catholic Review July 23.
Brennan said that he hopes to share in the joys and sorrows of the people in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston as he works to face the diocese's challenges and need for healing.
"Can I personally bring healing? I don’t know – and I believe God’s the one who brings healing – but can I be an instrument in doing that? I hope and pray I can," he said.
The West Virginia episcopal appointment follows a Vatican communique July 19 stating that the Bishop emeritus of Wheeling-Charleston Michael J. Bransfield will no longer be allowed to participate in public Masses or live within his former diocese.
Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his time as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He was also found to have given large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.
Archbishop William E. Lori has served as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston since Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation on Sept. 13, 2018, five days after he reached the retirement age of 75.
Lori subsequently barred Bransfield from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore following an investigation, authorized by Pope Francis, found credible the accusations of serious financial misconduct and an established pattern of sexual malfeasance. Lori also announced that the Holy See would be conducting an additional evaluation of the investigation.
Bishop Mark Brennan will assume leadership in Wheeling-Charleston, a diocese of 77,874 Catholics following months of scandal as details of his predecessor’s financial corruption over his 13-year-long tenure became public.
Archbishop Lori said in that Archdiocese of Baltimore was blessed by Brennan's gifts during the two years he served as an auxiliary bishop for the diocese.
"I have witnessed his pastoral love for the people of God, who have accepted and embraced him for his kindness, humility and joyful witness to the faith," Lori said July 23.
"These gifts and so many others will bring healing and hope to the Church in West Virginia, which deserves a shepherd who bears so many of the qualities possessed by Bishop Brennan," he said.
Brennan was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington May 15, 1976. He obtained a bachelor’s degree at Brown University and attended Christ the King Seminary in New York and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he received a bachelor’s and master’s in theology.
He spent a year in the Dominican Republic doing “Hispanic Immersion Studies” in the 1980s, and served as a pastor at several parishes, providing pastoral ministry to the Hispanic community at St. Bartholomew parish from 1988-1989.
The bishop previously held the position of director of priestly vocations and priestly programs for the Archdiocese of Washington and has been a member of the Priests’ Council and the College of Consultors. He was Vicar Forane of “Northwest Deanery West” from 2002-2005 and Advocate of the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Washington in 2006.
In 2005 Brennan was given the title of Monsignor. In addition to English, he speaks Spanish and knows French and Italian.
Brennan said that he wants to prioritize poverty alleviation in the West Virginia diocese.
“A primary focus will be on the poverty that those in the rural areas of the state face. I will depend on those who are working to alleviate their suffering and to determine how we can increase the church’s outreach and impact – particularly for those who have fallen victim to opioid addiction,” Brennan said.
“Although there is great need across the state, there are also tremendous assets. It will be my priority to harness the resources of the diocese to serve the considerable needs while also bringing about a new era of renewal of our faith,” he said.