Restrictions placed on bishops accused of sexual harassment

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Catholic church officials announced ministerial restrictions Monday for two bishops who once led in Maryland and West Virginia and have been accused of sexual harassment.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori announced the action in a statement, saying officials completed an investigation into claims that Bishop Michael Bransfield, who resigned from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston last year, sexually harassed adults and committed financial improprieties. Bransfield won't be allowed to perform priestly or episcopal ministry in the diocese or Baltimore's archdiocese pending the Holy See's final assessment.

Bransfield had been implicated in 2012 in an infamous Philadelphia priestly sex abuse case, but he denied ever abusing anyone and claimed vindication years ago. In September, the Vatican announced the Pope accepted Bransfield's resignation and appointed Lori to temporarily take over the Wheeling-Charleston diocese. Lori was also instructed to investigate sexual harassment allegations against Bransfield.

A Catholic high school in Wheeling, West Virginia, voted recently to remove Bransfield's name from a gym. His name has also been removed from a care center at Wheeling Hospital.

Lori also announced that Bishop Gordon Bennett, a former auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, faces the same restrictions. Bennett served in Baltimore from 1998 until 2004, when he was appointed Bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica. In 2006, the archdiocese said it learned of an allegation of sexual harassment of a young adult by Bennett in Jamaica and reported it to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. Bennett resigned a few months later.

Bennett was cleared of the sexual harassment allegation in 2009 and reinstated to limited episcopal ministry subject to oversight, Jesuits West Province said in a statement Monday. But amid ongoing questions about how misconduct allegations were handled in the past, Bennett's case was re-examined last year and the Congregation for Bishops in Rome recently determined he shouldn't exercise episcopal ministry, the province said. The future of his priestly ministry is up to his Jesuit superiors.

Bennett was a Loyola Marymount University fellow from 2008 until last year, when he was named chaplain to adult communities at Loyola High School of Los Angeles, where he was a teacher and principal in the 1980s and 1990s, province spokeswoman Tracey Primrose said.

Bennett has not been engaged in public ministry since August and is currently undergoing cancer treatment, the province said.

Separate messages left for Bennett and Bransfield weren't immediately returned.

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