VATICAN CITY–Pope Francis has ordered an investigation of an American bishop accused of sexual misconduct with adults and accepted his resignation, deepening a worldwide clerical abuse scandal.
The Vatican and U.S. Church officials announced the investigation on Sept. 13 as the pope was meeting U.S. Catholic Church leaders to discuss a scandal that has shaken his papacy.
The Vatican said the pope had appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to run the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, West Virginia, until Bishop Michael J. Bransfield is replaced.
There were no details on the specific allegations against Bransfield and neither he nor his legal representatives could immediately be reached for comment.
The Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors, deeply damaging confidence in the Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, and Ireland where the scandal has hit hardest, and elsewhere
In the United States alone, the Church spent about $4 billion in compensation and other costs related to the priest sex abuse crisis between 1950 and 2015, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
The advocacy group BishopAccountability.org says Church data shows that 6,721 clerics have been “not implausibly” or “credibly” accused of sexually abusing minors in the United States between 1950 and 2016 and that there were about 18,500 victims.
In Germany, a Church study published in a magazine on September showed 1,670 clerics and priests had sexually abused 3,677 minors, mostly males, in the country between 1946 and 2014.
On Thursday, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s website said the pope had ordered the archbishop to investigate allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bransfield.
“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 a statement.
“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,” he said.
By Philip Pullella