West Virginia Bishop Bransfield facing harassment allegations

Archbishop Lori from Baltimore to conduct investigation

PARKERSBURG — Pope Francis Thursday named an apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston where Bishop Michael Bransfield is suspected of sexual harassment of adults.

Francis appointed Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and instructed him to conduct an investigation of Bransfield, the Baltimore Diocese and the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese said in press releases on Thursday.

Bransfield offered to retire last week, as required when bishops reach 75, and the pope Thursday accepted the letter of resignation.

“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. “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 the clergy, religious and lay leaders of the diocese until the appointment of a new bishop.”

Bransfield, bishop for 13 years, could not be reached for comment.

“Bishop Bransfield has been instructed to live outside the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston pending the investigation,” diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop said. “I am not aware of his whereabouts or any contact information.”

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is a suffragan diocese in the Metropolitan See of Baltimore.

Lori, instructed to announce the forthcoming investigation, was to meet with clergy and lay leaders of the diocese on Thursday and today, the press release said. He will celebrate Mass at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling.

Lori drove from Baltimore to the diocese on Thursday, Bishop said. Saturday’s Mass will be streamed live on the diocese’s web page, Bishop said.

The length of the appointment is undetermined, Bishop said. Much of it depends on the investigation, he said.

“Nobody really knows,” Bishop said.

A hotline, 1-833-272-4225, has been established for anyone to share information for the investigation, the press release from the diocese said.

However, Judy Jones, Midwest regional leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, encouraged victims to contact a law enforcement agency. The organization supports encouraging grand jury investigations in every state, Jones said.

Bransfield was implicated in a 2012 case from Philadelphia where a priest was on trial for sexual abuse, Jones said. He has denied doing anything wrong and the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese at the time contacted the alleged victim who denied anything happened.

The investigation must be done by an agency outside of the church, which has shown over the years that it is incapable of policing itself, said Jones, formerly of Southeast Ohio, who joined the organization after her brother was abused by a priest.

“They aren’t capable of cleaning it up themselves,” she said.

(Linda Comins contributed to this story.)