Pope Francis accepts resignation of West Virginia bishop accused of sexually harassing adults

Pope Francis leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 12. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Thursday accepted the resignation of a West Virginia bishop, Michael Bransfield, and at the same time authorized a fellow bishop to investigate allegations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults, Vatican officials said.

The development, announced just as a highly anticipated meeting between Francis and U.S. cardinals and bishops was getting under way, lent a dramatic twist to the emergency gathering, called to address another scandal involving an ex-U.S. cardinal.

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Bransfield had been implicated in 2012 in an infamous Philadelphia priestly sex abuse case, but he denied ever abusing anyone and claimed vindication years ago. He continued with his ministry until he offered to retire, as required, when he turned 75 last week.

Bransfield had been implicated in 2012 in an infamous Philadelphia priestly sex abuse case.

The Vatican said Francis accepted his resignation Thursday, announcing the decision at the exact moment that the U.S. delegation was arriving at the Apostolic Palace for the meeting with the pope.

Francis appointed Baltimore Bishop William Lori to take over Bransfield's Wheeling-Charleston diocese temporarily. Lori said in a statement that Francis had also instructed him to "conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against Bishop Bransfield."

Lori set up a hotline for potential victims to call, and vowed to conduct a thorough investigation into what he said were "troubling" claims against Bransfield.

The revelation was the latest development in an incredible turn of events in the U.S. that began with the June 20 announcement that one of the most prestigious U.S. cardinals, Theodore McCarrick, had been accused of groping a teenage altar boy in the 1970s.

Francis appointed Baltimore Bishop William Lori to take over Bransfield's Wheeling-Charleston diocese temporarily.

Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation found the allegation credible. After news broke of the investigation, several former seminarians and priests came forward to report that they too had been abused or harassed by McCarrick as adults.

The McCarrick affair—coupled with revelations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses—has fueled outrage among the rank-and-file faithful who had trusted church leaders to reform themselves after the abuse scandal first erupted in Boston in 2002.

The outrage has also been directed at Francis and the Vatican and has fueled criticism of Francis' pontificate.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, had requested the papal audience last month.

The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, had requested the papal audience last month following revelations that McCarrick had risen through church ranks even though the allegations of sexual misconduct were known in U.S. and Vatican circles.

DiNardo requested a full-fledged Vatican investigation into the McCarrick affair, and said he also wanted answers to allegations that a string of Vatican officials knew of McCarrick's misdeeds since 2000, but turned a blind eye.

The Vatican hasn't responded to allegations by its former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that Francis effectively rehabilitated McCarrick from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI over allegations McCarrick would routinely invite seminarians to his beach house and into his bed.

Francis has, however, responded to the overall scandal with a series of initiatives aimed at trying to convince the faithful that he "gets it" and is prepared to take measures to put an end to what he has called the "culture of cover-up" in the church.

“Where are the laity and others who might provide both new and uncomplicit voices and insights into the process?”

On the eve of the U.S. audience, Francis announced he was summoning the presidents of bishops conferences around the world to a February summit to discuss prevention measures and protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

The surprise announcement was largely dismissed as a belated damage control effort by victims' advocates. Church historians questioned why such an urgent problem was being scheduled for discussion six months from now with the very bishops who are blamed for much of the scandal.

"Where are the laity and others who might provide both new and uncomplicit voices and insights into the process?" asked Margaret Susan Thompson, associate professor of history at Syracuse University.

Even DiNardo's own record on protecting children has now come into question. On the eve of his audience with Francis, The Associated Press reported that two victims in Houston had accused him of not doing enough to stop a priest who was arrested this week on sexual abuse charges.

The archdiocese issued a statement Wednesday confirming that both people had come forward to report abuse by the priest, the Rev. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, one of them in 2001. The priest is now the pastor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond while also serving as the archdiocese's episcopal vicar for Hispanics.

The delegation of U.S. bishops announced no plans to speak to the media after their audience.

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A Fielder
2 months ago

I was so consoled to see that an accused bishop offered to resign and that Pope Francis accepted it - until I read that he is now 75 and the resignation was required due to his age. I imagine that the behavior is actually a long standing pattern, just now coming light due the activity of the spirit which is hard at work to reform our church. "The Mighty One has done great things for me; holy is God's name." (Luke 1:49)

Carlos Orozco
2 months ago

Does anybody have any doubt on the sex of the adult accusers? Anybody? PC Vatican officials must take us for idiots.

The acceptance of the resignation seems to be for damage control purposes, the timing is telling. At the end of the day, another homosexual bishop in the hierarchy, just like in the Episcopalian Church... the Holy Apostles much be livid. Also sad to learn the bishop was a former rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

A Fielder
2 months ago

I wonder if gay men are more likely to be harassed because they are same gender of the priest perpetrator, or because being gay is also a vulnerability which can be easily exploited given the magnitude of discrimination against gay people in our church. That would be a painful reality to live with. The institutional church labels you as morally disordered thus creating the possibility that power hungry clerics can more easily sexually exploit you on account of the vulnerability constructed by the church and sustained by the ordained men pretending to be Jesus. Can you imagine having to work that out in therapy after being assaulted by a cleric?

RANDELL BUSBY
2 months ago

Ms/r. Fielder. Categorically yes.

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
2 months ago

All of these men consider themselves heterosexuals not homosexuals. The John Jay Report and other studies state as such. The preying of men by other men is done by men who consider themselves heterosexuals. Men who prey on other men or women do so because they perceive their victims as weak and vulnerable. The gender of their prey is not important to them as compared to their just seeking to prey on someone weak who can fulfill their psychological illness of sexual gratification. It happens likewise in prisons. Heterosexual men who are imprisoned turn to other men for sexual fulfillment until they are released from prison, then they return to women. This is about power and domination....sex is the least of their goals

RANDELL BUSBY
2 months ago

The say context is everything....

Let us not forget that Michael Bransfield was the Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (surprise! in Washington, DC) from 1980 until 2004… smack dab in the middle of Catholic University of America (which was surrounded by dozens of seminaries and houses of formation full of young men) and across the street from the USCCB headquarters (which during cocktail hour is more akin to gay bar than a house of holy men). Before that (surprise again!) Bransfield worked at a High School.

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
2 months ago

Where did you expect a priest to work? Construction site? IBM? Google? Facebook? government office? Tourism industry?
get a grip. People like you are the real eye sore to our Catholic Faith. We can tolerate broken priests and bishops but when the nut cases like you and Elian and others raid these forums, it gives people pause as to what you do with yourself when you are not acting out psychiatric behaviors on the internet.

Henry Brown
2 months ago

I do not understand the slow pace the Vatican is taking
and why only a small percentage of Bishops are involved and,
evidently no laity and/or survivors.

If ever there was a need for Vatican Council III - it is now.

James M
2 months ago

I’m always a bit surprised when people don’t see the Catholic Church as the on of the gayest institutions on the planet.
The Catholic clergy only associate with other single males a large percentage of the time.
The clergy wear dresses; the higher clergy get to wear necklaces and rings with precious stones, as well as beautiful fascinator and cloche hats.
Short prayers are called “ejaculations.”
The calendar year (until recently) began with the feast of the Circumscision. (Elaine wants to go back to pre-1961 Catholicism and resurrect the sexual innuendo.)
Other major feasts include the Immaculate Conception (though many people confuse it with the non-sexual Incarnation of the Annunciation.)
Homosexuality is the norm in the priesthood not the exception. This is not to condone sexual abuse of minors or harassment of seminarians, but only to say consensual homosexual relationships in the priesthood are as common as consensual heterosexual relationships.
Everybody needs to get a grip and come to terms with the fact that homosexuality in the priesthood has been present from the start. The principal difference between a medieval monastery and present day gay bath house is running hot water.

A Fielder
2 months ago

James, I don’t doubt there there is some thruth to your claim. When I think of the hypocrisy of these gay men who have found a comfortable life for themselves, while publicly endorsing the anti-gay sexual ethic of the RCC, and selling the rest of the gay community up the river, it makes me pretty sick. But I certainly don’t believe that hypocrisy is limited to gay priests. According to Richard Sipe’s research heterosexual men also disregard the vows/discipline. We have doctrine and disciplines that border on human rights abuses, yet the magisterium is not willing to discuss these real issues. Instead, we project our guilt on some fictional character named Satan. It’s all his fault.

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