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Pope orders investigation of W.Va. bishop on sexual harassment charges

Pope Francis, speaks during the welcoming ceremony at The National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Susana Gonzalez

Pope Francis has ordered an investigation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, in connection with sexual harassment charges and accepted his resignation, the Vatican announced Thursday.

The pope instructed Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore to conduct a probe into allegations that Bransfield, 75, sexually harassed adults, the Catholic News Service reported. Lori was also appointed as apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston.

The investigation and resignation were announced on the same day that Francis is meeting with a delegation of U.S. Catholic cardinals and bishops in the wake of allegations of sex abuse and coverups of wrongdoing.

The meeting was requested by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, after it was revealed that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick rose to his senior position despite known allegations of sexual misconduct. An archbishop has accused Francis himself of turning a blind eye to the alleged misdeeds of McCarrick, who has resigned from the College of Cardinals.

In a statement issued Thursday regarding the case of Bransfield, Lori said: "My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time," Catholic News Service reported. "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."

There were no immediate details of the allegations against Bransfield.

Bransfield, a former rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, had headed the statewide diocese since February 2005.

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This article was written by William Branigin, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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