WASHINGTON, D.C., March 12, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Two retired Catholic bishops have been restricted from priestly or episcopal ministry after months of preliminary investigation.
“Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bishop (Michael) 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 William Lori of Baltimore announced Monday in a press release. Likewise, retired Bishop Gordon Bennett, S.J., is prohibited from exercising his faculties as priest and bishop.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore announced in January that it was adhering to new guidelines for investigating wrongdoing by bishops. Developed by the archdiocesan Independent Review Board, the protocols call for investigating allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior or abuse committed against a child by a bishop, allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct with adults, or if bishops “engaged in activities that constitute seriously negligent supervision or improper cover-up” of others’ sexual misconduct. Bishops of the archdiocese signed a code of conduct, which is believed to be unprecedented in the United States.
In September, Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which is the only diocese in West Virginia, less than a week after Bransfield submitted his resignation to the Holy See upon turning 75. Shortly thereafter, Lori opened an investigation into claims that Bransfield was accused of “sexual harassment of adults.” Later, Lori said the hotline established for the investigation received dozens of calls just two weeks into his appointment to the diocese.
According to the release, the Archdiocese of Baltimore indicated that Archbishop Lori is leading the investigation in concert with five lay experts, of whom one is a not Catholic. The investigators have interviewed 40 people, including Bransfield. Their results have been sent to the Holy See, which has the final say about Bransfield.
Bransfield has been accused of concealing the sexual misconduct committed by priests, and he is accused of sexual misconduct with a minor and financial misdeeds. The alleged victim now says he was never subjected to sexual abuse by Bransfield, who denies the charges.
The Baltimore archdiocese also announced “similar restrictions” for retired Bishop Bennett, who was bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica. Bennett is a former auxiliary bishop of the Baltimore archdiocese, having served from 1998 to 2004, before he took the see in Jamaica. He retired just two years later at age 60 in 2006. Ordinarily, bishops retire at age 75.
In May 2006, the Baltimore archdiocese fielded allegations that Bennett had engaged in “sexual harassment of a young adult.” Cardinal William Keeler, who was archbishop of Baltimore at the time, reported to allegations to the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C. because Bennett was no longer in his jurisdiction. Bennett resigned from his see in Jamaica just three months later.
In 2006, Archbishop Pietro Sambi was serving as apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C. and Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson served as nuncio to Jamaica. Bennett moved to California to be treated for depression and served under restrictions in a pastoral capacity at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. According to the Jesuit province for the western states, Bennett was cleared of wrongdoing by Vatican officials.
Bennett has been prohibited from carrying out ministry as a priest or bishop within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Bransfield is likewise restricted from ministry in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.