Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a West Virginia bishop and has ordered a church-run investigation into allegations that the bishop sexually harassed adults, church officials said Thursday.
Michael Bransfield submitted his resignation as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston Diocese upon turning 75 last week — and 75 is the age at which bishops are required to offer to step down.
Francis not only accepted Bransfield’s resignation but also ordered the archbishop of Baltimore to oversee Bransfield’s diocese temporarily and investigate “allegations of sexual harassment of adults against” Bransfield, the Baltimore Archdiocese said in a statement.
“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,” Baltimore Archbishop William Lori said in the statement.
The archdiocese did not immediately offer details about the allegations.
Catholic bishops are required to offer their resignations at age 75, but they often are allowed to serve beyond that.
The announcement of the investigation and resignation comes as Francis met Thursday at the Vatican with some top US Catholic officials as the church faces clergy sex abuse scandals on several fronts.
Among the scandals:
• Allegations that a former top American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, had sexually abused seminarians and an altar boy. McCarrick has denied the accusations about the altar boy and not responded to the allegations about the seminarians.
• A 900-page investigative report released last month by a grand jury in Pennsylvania that found more than 300 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 children in six dioceses in the state since 1947, often while church leaders covered up the crimes.
• An explosive letter from a formal papal diplomat has raised questions among senior church leaders about why McCarrick was allowed to rise through the church’s ranks as well as who knew about the sordid accusations against him.