Pope gives OK to probe

Bishop re­signs amid al­le­ga­tions he sex­u­ally ha­rassed adults

North Bay Nugget - - NATIONAL NEWS - Ni­cole Win­field

VAT­I­CAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of a U.S. bishop Thurs­day and au­tho­rized an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions he sex­u­ally ha­rassed adults, adding awk­ward drama to an au­di­ence with U.S. church lead­ers over the abuse and coverup scan­dal roil­ing the Catholic Church.

The res­ig­na­tion of West Vir­ginia Bishop Michael Brans­field was an­nounced just as the four-mem­ber U.S. del­e­ga­tion was sit­ting down with Fran­cis in his pri­vate study in the Apos­tolic Palace. Among the four was Brans­field’s cousin, Mon­signor Brian Brans­field, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops.

Bishop Brans­field had been in­ves­ti­gated for an al­leged grop­ing in­ci­dent in 2007 and was im­pli­cated in court tes­ti­mony in 2012 in an in­fa­mous Philadel­phia, Pa., priestly sex abuse case. He strongly de­nied ever abus­ing any­one and the dio­cese said it had dis­proved the claims. He con­tin­ued with his min­istry un­til he of­fered to re­tire, as re­quired, when he turned 75 last week.

The Vat­i­can said Fran­cis ac­cepted his res­ig­na­tion Thurs­day and 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.”

No de­tails of the al­le­ga­tions were re­vealed.

Lori set up a hot­line for po­ten­tial vic­tims to call, said the Vat­i­can had in­structed him to make the in­ves­ti­ga­tion pub­lic, and vowed to con­duct a thor­ough study into what he said were “trou­bling” claims against Brans­field.

The rev­e­la­tion was the lat­est twist in an in­cred­i­ble turn of events in the U.S. church that be­gan with 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 Mccar­rick af­fair — cou­pled with rev­e­la­tions in the Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port de­tail­ing decades of abuse and coverup in six dio­ce­ses — has fu­elled out­rage among the rankand-file faith­ful who had trusted church lead­ers to re­form them­selves af­ter the abuse scan­dal first erupted in Bos­ton in 2002.

Out­rage has also been di­rected at Fran­cis and the Vat­i­can and has fu­elled con­ser­va­tive crit­i­cism of Fran­cis’ pon­tif­i­cate.

The head of the U.S. bish­ops con­fer­ence, 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 knew of Mccar­rick’s mis­deeds since 2000, but turned a blind eye.

A state­ment is­sued by Dinardo af­ter the pa­pal au­di­ence made no men­tion of his re­quest for a Vat­i­can in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It said that the Amer­i­cans briefed the Pope on the “lac­er­a­tion” that abuse has caused and that “we look for­ward to ac­tively con­tin­u­ing our dis­cern­ment to­gether iden­ti­fy­ing the most ef­fec­tive next steps.”

The state­ment also made no men­tion of the Brans­field in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Mccar­rick was a co-con­se­cra­tor when Bishop Brans­field was or­dained a bishop in 2005 and the two were ac­tive in the Pa­pal Foun­da­tion, the big U.S. fundrais­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion that Mccar­rick co-founded and which has fun­neled mil­lions of dol­lars to the Vat­i­can over the years.

Brans­field was pres­i­dent when the foun­da­tion was thrown into dis­ar­ray last year over a re­volt by its lay donors. They were in­censed that the cardinals who run the foun­da­tion had agreed to a $25 mil­lion re­quest from the Vat­i­can to bail out a trou­bled Rome hos­pi­tal. Un­der pres­sure, the cardinals pulled the plug on the fund­ing mid­way through.

Dio­cese of Wheel­ing-charles­ton spokesman Tim Bishop said Thurs­day he couldn’t an­swer ques­tions about Brans­field’s where­abouts or whether he has an at­tor­ney.

“The Holy See has in­structed him to live out­side the Dio­cese of Wheel­ing-charles­ton,” Bishop said. “I have no idea of his where­abouts.”

The Vat­i­can hasn’t re­sponded to al­le­ga­tions by its for­mer am­bas­sador to the U.S., Arch­bishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that Fran­cis ef­fec­tively re­ha­bil­i­tated Mccar­rick from sanc­tions im­posed by Pope Bene­dict XVI over al­le­ga­tions Mccar­rick would rou­tinely in­vite sem­i­nar­i­ans to his beach house and into his bed.

Fran­cis has, how­ever, re­sponded to the over­all scan­dal with a se­ries of ini­tia­tives aimed at try­ing to con­vince the faith­ful that he “gets it” and is pre­pared to take mea­sures to put an end to what he has called the “cul­ture of coverup” in the church.

On the eve of the U.S. au­di­ence, Fran­cis an­nounced he was sum­mon­ing the pres­i­dents of bish­ops con­fer­ences around the world to a Fe­bru­ary sum­mit to dis­cuss pre­ven­tion mea­sures and pro­tec­tion of mi­nors and vul­ner­a­ble adults.

The del­e­ga­tion of U.S. bish­ops an­nounced no plans to speak to the me­dia af­ter their au­di­ence.

GETTY images

Pope Fran­cis, left, wel­comes Car­di­nal Daniel Dinardo, who leads the US Con­fer­ence of Bish­ops, prior to a pri­vate au­di­ence to­gether with U.S. bish­ops and cardinals at the Vat­i­can to dis­cuss a new wave of dev­as­tat­ing claims of sex­ual abuse by clergy.

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