West Virginia bishop resigns; Pope requests investigation be conducted
WHEELING, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) - The West Virginia bishop has resigned amid the Catholic Church’s sex abuse and cover-up scandal.
According to a news release posted on the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston’s website, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield. Archbishop William E. Lori has been appointed apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston by the pope while also remaining archbishop of Baltimore, the website said.
The Vatican has instructed Lori to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Bransfield.
In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report said its investigation of 301 Catholic priest sexual abuse identified more than 1,000 child victims.
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.
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.
Last month, Eyewitness News reached out to Bransfield for comment when the grand jury report was first released, but he was not available.
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.
Lori posted a statement on the website:
"My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time," Lori said. "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."
The AP contributed to this report.