Catholic News Agency

BALTIMORE — Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore announced Monday restrictions on the ministry of both retired West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield and retired Bishop Gordon Bennett.

The restrictions against Bishop Bransfield are the result of a monthslong preliminary investigation conducted by Archbishop Lori into allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, as well as financial improprieties.

“Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bishop Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Archbishop Lori said in a March 11 press release.

Archbishop Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston in September, five days after Bishop Bransfield turned 75 and submitted his resignation to the Holy See. Wheeling-Charleston is the only diocese in West Virginia.

Shortly after Bishop Bransfield’s resignation, Archbishop Lori announced that Pope Francis had directed him to open an investigation into claims the bishop had engaged in repeated “sexual harassment of adults.”

Archbishop Lori said in September that a hotline for the investigation received more than three dozen calls during his first two weeks as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

In the March 11 press release, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said the investigation was led by Archbishop Lori, as well as five lay specialists, including one who is not Catholic. The team interviewed 40 people, including Bishop Bransfield, as part of its investigation. The results have now been sent to the Holy See, where a final decision about Bishop Bransfield will be made.

In 2012, Bishop Bransfield was accused of covering up sexual misconduct by other priests, as well as sexually molesting a minor. The bishop denied these allegations, calling them “completely false,” and the alleged victim came forward to say that he was never abused by Bishop Bransfield.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore also announced in the release that “similar restrictions were warranted” concerning former Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Gordon Bennett. A Jesuit, Bishop Bennett served the archdiocese from 1998 until 2004, when he became the bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica. He retired, reportedly due to health reasons, just two years later in August 2006, at the age of 60. The ordinary retirement age for bishops is 75.

Archbishop Lori’s press release revealed that in May 2006, the archdiocese received an allegation of “sexual harassment of a young adult” by Bishop Bennett, which it reported to the apostolic nunciature. The bishop resigned from his Jamaican diocese three months later.

Upon the announcement of Bishop Bennett’s retirement, Jesuit Father John McCarry, the provincial of the Jesuit California province, informed province members that Bishop Bennett would be moving to California “for medical assessment and treatment for fatigue and depression.” Bishop Bennett is a member of the Jesuit California province.

Bishop Bennett will no longer be permitted to perform any sort of priestly or episcopal ministry within either the Archdiocese of Baltimore or the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

In January 2019, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced a series of new protocols to investigate allegations against a bishop within the archdiocese. These protocols were developed by the archdiocese’s Independent Review Board, which will investigate claims that a bishop of the archdiocese engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior or abuse towards a child, as well as claims of sexual harassment or misconduct with adults, or if bishops “engaged in activities that constitute seriously negligent supervision or improper cover-up” of the sexual misconduct of others. Bishops within the archdiocese also signed a code of conduct.

Archbishop Lori’s policy is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States.