As the Catholic Church battle to redeem its battered image amid a wave of scandals enveloping leaders within its circle, Pope Francis ordered an investigation of an American bishop Michael Bransfield, accused of sexually harassing adults.
Bransfield, the West Virginia bishop resigned Thursday and Pope Francis didn’t waste time to accept his resignation and directed another bishop to investigate the allegation against him.
News of the investigation came as a meeting was underway between Francis and U.S. cardinals and bishops to discuss the allegations involving Bransfield.
According to the Associated Press, Bransfield had been implicated in 2012 in a 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.
The Vatican announced Francis accepted his resignation at the exact moment 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.”
“My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time.
“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,” Lori said in a statement.
In past court cases involving Bransfield, church officials and witnesses accused him of molesting teenage boys – a claim that Bransfield has denied, according to the Washington Post.
Lori also set up a hotline for potential victims to call.
The Bransfield revelation comes in the wake of 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 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 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, including Pope Francis, knew of McCarrick’s misdeeds but turned a blind eye.