- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2018

Pope Francis on Thursday accepted the resignation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield and ordered an investigation of allegations that he sexually harassed adults, after meeting with U.S. bishops on the burgeoning clergy sex abuse scandal.

The pope appointed Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori to temporarily oversee Bishop Bransfield’s former Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and take charge of the investigation of sex abuse allegations against the bishop, who also was ordered to live outside the diocese.

“My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time,” Archbishop Lori said in a statement. “I further pledge to conduct a thorough investigation in search of the truth into the troubling allegations against Bishop Bransfield and to work closely with the clergy, religious and lay leaders of the diocese until the appointment of a new bishop.”

Bishop Bransfield had been investigated for an alleged groping incident in 2007, and was implicated in court testimony in 2012 in an infamous Philadelphia priestly sex abuse case, The Associated Press reported. He denied ever abusing anyone, and the diocese said it had disproved the claims. He continued his ministry until he offered to retire, as required, when he turned 75 last week.

The bishop’s whereabouts were unknown Thursday.

Archbishop Lori was scheduled to meet with members of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese on Thursday and Friday, and he set up a telephone hotline for victims to call.

The announcement of the Bransfield resignation and investigation followed Francis’ meeting with leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.

The pope called for the meeting earlier this week in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that accused 301 priests of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children and bishops of covering up the crimes over the past seven decades.

“We are grateful to the Holy Father for receiving us in audience,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the bishops conference, said in a statement, “We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States — how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart.”

Cardinal DiNardo has called for a full Vatican investigation of disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who resigned as a cardinal in July after sexual misconduct allegations emerged against him. Archbishop McCarrick now awaits a clerical trial on those allegations.

The Pennsylvania report and the McCarrick allegations have ignited outrage among rank-and-file Catholics and rocked the papacy of Francis, who himself has been accused of ignoring or covering up sex abuse charges. Retired Archbishop Carlo Vigano, a former Vatican official, in a letter last month accused Francis of knowing about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual misconduct for years, and he called on the pope to resign.

Meanwhile, state law enforcement officials have begun probing clergy sexual misconduct in their own jurisdictions following the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report.

Last week, the attorneys general for New York and New Jersey launched probes of the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of sex abuse allegations against clergymen, establishing hotlines to gather information. Their actions followed similar moves by attorneys general in Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri.

According to the Pennsylvania report, bishops in six dioceses covered up the sexual misdeeds of predator priests by transferring them to different parishes, downplaying accusations against them, paying off victims and their families, and forcing victims to remain silent without ever reporting the priests to law enforcement.

In particular, the report noted that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the current archbishop of Washington, tried to establish transparency and accountability in dealing with criminal clergy while also failing to report them to civil authorities during his 18 years as bishop of Pittsburgh. He reportedly has submitted his resignation to Pope Francis.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide