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Bishop resigns as pope orders inquiry in sex abuse case

By
Nicholas Sakelaris
Pope Francis ordered an investigation into Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who has since resigned from his West Virginia diocese. File Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI
Pope Francis ordered an investigation into Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who has since resigned from his West Virginia diocese. File Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Catholic Bishop Michael J. Bransfield was forced to resign his post in West Virginia on Thursday amid accusations of sexual harassment.

Pope Francis ordered an investigation into Bransfield's conduct, directing Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore to lead a probe into whether accusations are true that Bransfield sexually harassed adults. Lori will also take over the diocese of Charleston-Wheeling.

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"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 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 clergy, religious leaders of the diocese until the appointment of a new bishop."

It's the latest revelation accusing a Catholic clergy member of sexual wrongdoing. Last month, a Pennsylvania grand jury accused six Catholic dioceses of covering up the abuse of more than 1,000 children by more than 300 clergy. Francis called for an unprecedented meeting of Catholic bishops in February to discuss the sexual abuse scandal and what can be done to keep children safe.

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Bransfield has faced allegations that he sexually abused teenage boys in the 1970s or early 1980s while a priest in Philadelphia. He denies the allegation, which the church said it learned of in 2007. At that time, prosecutors did not pursue the claim, but they reopened the case in 2012 when Bransfield was accused of the misconduct at a separate trial.

In the trial, one witness said Bransfield showed up at a farmhouse with several teenage boys. The witness said a priest told him Bransfield was having sex with the one in the front seat.

Bransfield responded saying the accusations were "unbelievable and shocking."

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Bransfield served as vice principal of an archdiocesan high school in Philadelphia and, later, was named director of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. He became a bishop in West Virginia in 2005.

Also on Thursday, Francis is scheduled to meet with a delegation of U.S. Catholic cardinals and bishops to discuss the sex abuse scandal. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, requested the meeting after Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was accused of sexual misconduct. McCarrick rose through the leadership ranks despite the allegations. He has since resigned.

Several states, including New Mexico, New York, Missouri and Nebraska have started their own investigations into alleged sexual abuse.

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