Pope Francis has ordered an investigation into allegations that Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia sexually harassed a number of adult seminarians.
Bransfield was accused in 2012 of consorting with a fellow priest accused of molesting minors and failing to report the abuse, some of which allegedly occurred at his beach house on the Jersey Shore. The Pope has accepted his resignation and ordered William Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore, to oversee the investigation into his conduct and temporarily take over his post leading West Virginia’s 75,000 Catholics.
“I 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,” Lori said in a statement posted on the archdiocese’s website.
News of the investigation comes as the Pope begins a closed-door meeting with leaders of the U.S. Bishop’s Conference assembled in response to allegations of widespread sexual abuse within the clergy and high-level cover-ups of that abuse.
In an eleven-page letter last month, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò accused Pope Francis of rehabilitating Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to a position of prestige within the church after his predecessor, Pope Benedict, sanctioned McCarrick due to claims that he had sexual relations with a number of seminarians and molested a 14-year-old altar boy. Those allegations closely followed the release of a Pennsylvania grand-jury report that detailed the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 minors by more than 300 priests in the state.