Pope Francis ordered an investigation of sexual abuse allegations against a West Virginia bishop Thursday just after accepting the prelate’s resignation.
Francis announced the investigation of Bishop Michael Bransfield upon the arrival of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and his delegation from the U.S., who came to request an investigation into the circumstances surrounding former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s alleged abuses. The pontiff appointed Baltimore Bishop William Lori to succeed Bransfield temporarily, with the directive to “conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against Bishop Bransfield.” (RELATED: Tone-Deaf Pope Francis: Satan Attacking The Church … In The Form Of The Accuser)
The allegations against Bransfield stemmed from the 2012 sexual abuse trial of Monsignor William Lynn in Philadelphia. Two men who testified at the trial levied allegations against Bransfield during the course of the trial, one of whom claimed that he had been raped by a priest in a home owned by Bransfield and that Bransfield was having sex with a boy with whom the man saw him driving.
The Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia issued a statement when the allegations were first made public saying that it had identified the boy who, after being questioned, denied that he had been abused, according to The Associated Press.
The coinciding of Francis’ authorization of the investigation against Bransfield with the arrival of the U.S. delegation was significant, given DiNardo’s stated intention to seek clarification from Francis on Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s allegations that the pontiff and other church officials played active roles in covering up McCarrick’s abuses. Curiously, a statement from the USCCB following their audience with Francis mentioned nothing about the allegations.
Francis also announced Wednesday that he would summon the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences to a sexual abuse prevention summit at the Vatican in February 2019. Victims advocates, however, dismissed the summit as belated damage control. They also questioned why the summit was scheduled so far out and why some of the very bishops accused of or implicated in abuse cover-ups would be invited to such an event.
“There’s absolutely no reason to think any good will come of such a meeting,” David Clohessy, former director of the victims’ advocacy group SNAP, told AP.
“Criminal prosecutions, governmental investigations and journalistic exposes — stemming from brave victims and church whistleblowers — are the best way to protect kids, expose wrongdoers and end cover-ups,” he added.
Lori, in the meantime, has set up a hotline for alleged victims and others with information pertinent to the investigation against Bransfield at 1-833-272-4225.
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