By order of the Pope himself, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori is headed to West Virginia today to spearhead an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults by a now-former bishop.
Bishop Michael Bransfield, leader of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston since 2005, resigned this morning, according to a release from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It offers no other details about the allegations against Bransfield other than “sexual harassment of adults.”
Lori, whose Catholic jurisdiction, the Metropolitan See of Baltimore, encompasses the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, has been appointed Apostolic Administrator in Bransfield’s absence, and will be heading the investigation. He’s set to meet with clergy and lay leaders from the congregation today, and will be holding Mass in Wheeling on Saturday night.
In a statement, he described the allegations against Bransfield as “troubling,” and promised to pursue a “thorough investigation.”
“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.
The church has set up a hotline for others to call with related tips at 1-833-272-4225.
Bransfield in 2012 was accused of having sexually abused a boy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese during the 1970s, but in a statement later issued by the Diocese, the accuser, now an adult, was quoted as saying nothing inappropriate had transpired.
Lori’s appointment to investigate harassment allegations against Bransfield comes during a rough summer for the church, in which hundreds of Pennsylvania priests were accused in a grand jury report of sexually abusing children over seven decades. The late Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler was accused in the report of “criminal inaction” with handling allegations that priests had abused children back when he was leading the Harrisburg Diocese in Pennsylvania.
Lori acknowledged the “painful revelations about the Cardinal’s failures to protect children” in a statement last month. The church opted to drop his name from a new Catholic school being built downtown, instead deciding to name it for pioneering local African-American nun Mother Mary Lange.