Pope Francis accepted the resignation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield on Thursday and gave the green light to begin an investigation into accusations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults.
The news came just as a highly anticipated emergency meeting between Francis and American cardinals and bishops at the Vatican was being prepared to address another scandal involving a disgraced former US cardinal.
Bransfield had been implicated in 2012 in an infamous case of priestly sexual abuse in Philadelphia, but he denied ever abusing anyone and claimed the vindication years ago. He continued with his ministry until he offered to retire, as required, when he turned 75 last week.
Pope Francis poses with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Los Angeles Archbishop José Horacio Gómez, Cardinal Sean Patrick O. Malley, Archbishop of Boston, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, Secretary General of the Conference. Catholic Bishops of the United States, during a private audience in the Vatican Thursday
The emergency meeting on Thursday was called to address a sexual abuse scandal involving a former US cardinal fallen into disgrace
The Vatican said that Francisco accepted his resignation this morning, announcing the decision at the exact moment when the US delegation was arriving at the Apostolic Palace for the meeting with the Pope.
Francis temporarily appointed Bishop William Lori of Baltimore to temporarily take over the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston from Bransfield. Lori said in a statement that Francis had also ordered him to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against Bishop Bransfield.
Lori established a hotline for potential victims to call, and promised to conduct a thorough investigation into what she said were "worrisome" claims against Bransfield.
The revelation was the latest event in an amazing turn of events in the USA. UU That began with the announcement on June 20 that one of the most prestigious American cardinals, Theodore McCarrick, had been accused of groping an adolescent altar boy in the 1970s.
Francis eliminated McCarrick as cardinal in July after an investigation by the US church. UU I discovered that the accusation was credible. After the news of the investigation became known, several former seminarians and priests came forward to report that they too had been mistreated or harassed by McCarrick as adults.
Pope Francis accepted on Thursday the resignation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield, in the photo on the left talking to then-Pope Benedict XVI on his 83rd birthday in 2010
Francis authorized an investigation into allegations that Bishop Bransfield (pictured in 2005) sexually harassed adults
The McCarrick case – along with the revelations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses – has fueled outrage among grassroots believers who trusted that church leaders would reform after the first scandal of abuse. in Boston in 2002.
On Tuesday, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, private secretary to pope emeritus Benedict XVI, described sexual abuse of minors by clergy as the "September 11" of the church.
The outrage has also been directed at Francisco and the Vatican, and has fueled the conservative critique of Francisco's pontificate.
According to the results of a new survey published by CNN on Wednesday, the popularity of Pope Francis has plummeted in the United States recently.
The poll showed that only 48 percent of Americans in general supported the Argentine pontiff and his popularity has also plummeted among American Catholics to 63 percent from 83 percent 18 months ago.
A former ambassador to the Holy See, Monsignor Carlo Vigano, has even asked the pontiff himself to resign, accusing him of covering up McCarrick.
Pope Francis shakes hands Thursday with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who had requested the papal audience last month
The Vatican has not responded to Archbishop Vigano's accusations that Francisco effectively rehabilitated McCarrick from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI over accusations that McCarrick would regularly invite seminarians to his home on the beach and to his bed.
However, Francis has responded to the general scandal with a series of initiatives aimed at convincing the faithful that he "understands" and is willing to take action to end what he has called the "culture of concealment." & # 39; in the church.
The head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, had requested the papal audience last month after revelations that McCarrick had risen in the ranks of the church despite accusations of bad faith. sexual behavior were known in the circles of the United States and the Vatican.
DiNardo requested a full Vatican investigation into the McCarrick case, and said he also wanted answers to allegations that a number of Vatican officials knew of McCarrick's misdeeds since 2000, but turned a blind eye.
DiNardo said he wanted to present an & # 39; plan of action & # 39; to the Pope to facilitate the reporting of abuse and misconduct on the part of the bishops.
Referring to the McCarrick case, DiNardo called for a "quick and thorough examination … of how the grave moral faults of a bishop brother may have been tolerated for so long and have not proven to be an impediment to his advancement."
DiNardo requested a Vatican investigation into accusations that Vatican officials knew that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (pictured in 2015) had been accused of groping an adolescent altar boy in the 1970s, but chose to turn a blind eye
In the United States, a group of 5,000 Catholic chief executives froze $ 820,000 in funds paid annually to the Holy See while awaiting clarification of cases of sexual abuse.
On the eve of the American audience, Francis announced that he was convening the presidents of bishops' conferences around the world to a summit in February to discuss measures to prevent and protect children and vulnerable adults.
The surprise announcement was largely dismissed as a delayed damage control effort by the victims' advocates.
Church historians questioned why such an urgent problem was being discussed within six months with the same bishops who are blamed for much of the scandal.
"Where are the laity and others who could provide new voices and without complicities and points of view in the process? & # 39; asked Margaret Susan Thompson, associate professor of history at Syracuse University.
Monsignor Carlo Vigano, former ambassador to the Holy See, has even asked the pontiff to resign, accusing him of covering up McCarrick
Even DiNardo's own record on the protection of children has been questioned. On the eve of his hearing with Francis, The Associated Press reported that two victims in Houston accused him of not doing enough to arrest a priest who was arrested this week on sexual abuse charges.
The archdiocese issued a statement on Wednesday confirming that both people had come forward to denounce the abuses committed by the priest, the Reverend Manuel LaRosa-López, one of them in 2001.
The priest is now the pastor of St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond and is also the episcopal vicar of the archdiocese for Hispanics.
The delegation of American bishops announced that they do not plan to speak with the media after their hearing.