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Vatican names new leader of West Virginia diocese to replace Bransfield

Bishop Michael Bransfield in his office in Wheeling, W.Va., in 2005. (AP Photo/Dale Sparks)

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — Pope Francis has named Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Mark Brennan to lead the Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., diocese after a scandal over the former bishop’s sexual harassment of adults and lavish spending of church money.

The 72-year-old Brennan replaces Bishop Michael Bransfield, who resigned in September after a preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. Last week, Francis barred Bransfield from public ministry and prohibited him from living in the diocese, while also warning that he will be forced to make amends “for some of the harm he caused.” Brennan will now help decide the extent of those reparations.

Coming on the heels of a new wave of sex abuse allegations in the U.S., the Bransfield scandal added to the credibility crisis in the U.S. hierarchy since several top churchmen received tens of thousands of dollars in church-funded personal gifts from Bransfield during his tenure in Wheeling-Charleston, which is in one of the poorest U.S. states.

A news conference was planned in Wheeling later Tuesday after the Vatican’s announcement.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has overseen the West Virginia diocese since Bransfield’s departure.

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