WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has canceled their invitation for Bishop Michael Bransfield, former head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, to attend their upcoming annual fall meeting due to allegations of sexual abuse and financial misconduct.
Chieko Noguchi, the director of public affairs for the USCCB, confirmed that Bishop Bransfield had been disinvited from the meeting, per a new protocol that was approved by the bishops’ conference in June.
According to the new “Protocol Regarding Available Non-Penal Restrictions on Bishops”: “The president of the USCCB, in consultation with the Administrative Committee, can instruct the general secretary that a bishop emeritus who resigned or was removed from his office due to sexual abuse of minors, sexual misconduct with adults, or grave negligence in office, or who subsequent to his resignation was found to have so acted or failed to act, is not to be invited to attend the plenary assembly or to serve on any USCCB body.”
“In this case, Bishop [Mark] Brennan, the current ordinary for Wheeling-Charleston initiated this process by reaching out to USCCB president Cardinal DiNardo, who in consultation with the Administrative Committee, moved this forward,” Noguchi told CNA.
The USCCB’s General Assembly meeting is scheduled to take place Nov. 11-14 in Baltimore.
Pope Francis accepted Bishop Bransfield’s resignation as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston in September last year, just after Bishop Bransfield had turned 75. Pope Francis then ordered Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to conduct an investigation into allegations that Bishop Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his time in West Virginia.
Bishop Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted and coerced seminarians, priests and other adults during his time as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He was also found to have given large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.
Archbishop Lori banned Bishop Bransfield from public ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Archdiocese of Baltimore in March, and in July, the Vatican imposed additional sanctions, including banning Bishop Bransfield from living in his former diocese and ordering him to make “personal amends” for his actions, as determined by Bishop Brennan.
In October, another allegation surfaced that Bishop Bransfield had inappropriately touched a 9-year-old girl during a pilgrimage to Washington in 2012. A police investigation is underway, and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said in October that it was cooperating with the authorities.