Wheeling bishop resigns amid allegations
WHEELING — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, and has ordered the archbishop of Baltimore to investigate allegations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults, church officials said Thursday.
In addition, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop William E. Lori as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, while remaining archbishop of Baltimore. Lori will serve as apostolic administrator until the appointment and installation of a new bishop.
The news was announced Thursday in a press release from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston issued the same information in its own press release today.
Bransfield, who has served as bishop for 13 years, could not be reached for comment on the matter.
“Bishop Bransfield has been instructed to live outside the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston pending the investigation,” diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop said Thursday. “I am not aware of his whereabouts or any contact information.”
Meanwhile, the spokesman said, “Archbishop Lori is scheduled to arrive in Wheeling later today. He will stay through Saturday.”
Lori will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling at 6 p.m. Saturday, the spokesman said.
The archdiocese’s statement said Lori — “who was instructed by the Holy See to announce the forthcoming investigation” — will meet with clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Thursday and today.
Asked for further comment, Bishop said “the diocese echoes” the archdiocese’s statement. He added, “We are under the apostolic administration of Archbishop Lori. The (news) release from the archdiocese is the diocesan release.”
In July, Wheeling Hospital named its new Continuous Care Center in Bransfield’s honor. Earlier this year, Wheeling Central Catholic High School named its gymnasium for Bransfield. It was not known Thursday if action would be taken to remove Bransfield’s name from either of the two facilities.
Asked if a name removal were being contemplated, the diocesan spokesman said, “That is a valid question. I think that it is a decision that the apostolic administrator will make. We will follow as guided by Archbishop Lori.”
The resignation of Bransfield and appointment of Lori were publicized Thursday in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
“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 in the news release. “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.”
A hotline has been established for those wishing to share any information related to this investigation. The hotline number is 1-833-272-4225.
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston covers the entire state of West Virginia. According to church officials, 77,874 of the state’s population, or 4 percent, are Catholic. The diocese is a suffragan diocese in the Metropolitan See of Baltimore.
Bransfield turned 75 last Saturday. Diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit their resignation upon reaching the age of 75. The Pope then decides when to accept a bishop’s resignation.
He was ordained and installed Feb. 22, 2005, as the eighth bishop of Wheeling-Charleston at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
Bransfield was born Sept. 8, 1943 in Philadelphia and was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on May 15, 1971.
From 1971 to 1973, the served as assistant pastor of St. Albert the Great Parish in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Beginning in 1973, he served as a teacher, chaplain and chairman of the religion department at Lansdale (Pennsylvania) Catholic High School .
From 1980 through the 1990s, Bransfield held a number of positions at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. In October 1986, he was appointed the 10th director of the National Shrine, and when the National Shrine was designated a basilica in 1990, he was named the first rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.