Pope Francis held an emergency summit with U.S. bishops on Thursday over the growing sex abuse crisis engulfing the Roman Catholic Church as the Vatican announced a new investigation into a West Virginia bishop accused of molesting adults.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and his deputy, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez, were among prelates who flew to the Vatican after a former Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was stripped of his cardinal’s red hat in light of claims that he abused an altar boy in the 1970s.
As the four-man delegation filed in to see the pope, the Vatican announced Francis had accepted the resignation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield, while the bishop’s diocese said William Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore, would investigate claims Bransfield had sexually harassed adults.
A hotline was set up by the Wheeling-Charleston diocese in West Virginia to take calls from victims stepping forward.
One of the four members of the delegation meeting the pope was Msgr. Brian Bransfield, the general secretary of the U.S. conference of bishops and the cousin of Bishop Bransfield.
After the meeting, DiNardo said the delegation told Francis the U.S. church had been “lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse.” He said the pope “listened very deeply from the heart,” and he called it a “lengthy, fruitful and good exchange.”
DiNardo previously said he would ask the pope to order an inquiry into how McCarrick became a senior figure in the church despite a trickle of reports that he was sharing beds with young seminarians.
Last month, a former U.S. nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, wrote an open letter accusing Francis of knowing about McCarrick’s behavior, and claiming he dropped sanctions placed on McCarrick by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
As he arrived in Rome, DiNardo’s own track record on reporting abuse was also questioned. A woman told the Associated Press this week that the cardinal had not acted after she reported abuse by priest Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who was arrested this week in Texas.
The Vatican meeting was the first between a pope and U.S. bishops to discuss priestly abuse since 2002, when Pope John Paul II met with a group of cardinals after allegations of sex abuse were first exposed in Boston..
The latest revelations have coincided with a decline in Francis’ popularity. A CNN poll this week showed his rating with U.S. Catholics has fallen to 63% from 83% just 18 months ago.
“The Catholic Church in the U.S. is on a precipice and the latest revelations of coverups and abuse point to a failure in episcopal leadership,” said Kim Smolik, the CEO of Leadership Roundtable, a lay group set up to try to change the management culture in the church after the 2002 scandals.
“People are dismayed by the news they are hearing, for the first time if they are young, while older people are reliving the pain of 2002,” she said.
Kington is a special correspondent.