Bishop Michael Bransfield resigns; sexual harassment investigation launched

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Pope Francis has summoned top Catholic officials to discuss the escalating sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the church.

Following a private audience with Pope Francis on Thursday morning in Vatican City, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the following statement regarding the recent moral crisis in the American Catholic Church.

The meeting at the Vatican in February is believed to be the first of its kind, and signals a realisation from the highest levels of the church that clerical abuse is a global problem.

At the same time as the top USA church leaders were sitting down to speak to Pope Francis today, the Vatican announced that the pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia and has asked the archbishop of Baltimore to launch an investigation into allegations that the bishop had sexually harassed adults.

Last month, conservative Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano claimed Pope Francis had personally ignored abuse allegations against prominent U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick for five years. And the report says that in several instances, church files documenting abuse have been altered or destroyed.

In an explosive 11-page letter, Archbishop Viganò, the former apostolic nuncio to the U.S., accused Pope Francis of lifting sanctions that were placed upon the former D.C. Cardinal McCarrick during Pope Benedict's reign, going so far to making him a close adviser.

Bishop Bransfield said the 2012 trial was "a circus" and that prosecutors were smearing his name "to bolster their persecution of the church".

Pope Francis has ordered an investigation into an American bishop accused of sexually harassing adults.

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While most conferences obliged, some have not.

A leaked copy of a report found Wednesday contains Germany's Catholic Church admitting to at least 3,766 instances of child abuse between 1946 and 2014, according to Die Zeit and Spiegel Online.

But the USA plan has looked less like a model recently, given it exempted bishops like McCarrick.

The past of the Catholic Church is being dug up in other countries.

A diocesan statement also referred to allegations the priest, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, abused a 16-year-old girl in 2001.

The witnesses said they were sexually abused as teens by Fr. Stanley Gana, who was highlighted in Philadelphia grand jury reports in both 2005 and 2011.

In their conclusions, the German researchers said there was evidence that some church files were manipulated or destroyed.

After the allegations against McCarrick were publicised in June, it emerged that it was apparently an open secret - including at the Vatican - and that he routinely molested seminarians and young priests and harassed them.

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