Leadership Change in Steubenville Amid Uncertain Future

News: US News
by Nicholas Wylie  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 29, 2023   

Bp. Monforton assigned auxiliary of Detroit

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Catholic diocese in Ohio is undergoing leadership change amid its uncertain future.

Bp. Jeffrey Monforton and Bp. Paul Bradley

The diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, on Thursday announced Pope Francis reassigned Bp. Jeffrey Monforton, the diocese's ordinary since 2012, as auxiliary bishop of Detroit and named Paul Bradley, former bishop of Kalamazoo, Michigan, as apostolic administrator of the Steubenville diocese.

"Today I was pleased to learn of my appointment by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, as Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit," Bp. Monforton wrote in a letter dated Sept. 28. "This appointment is bittersweet for me: my hometown is Detroit, and I look forward to 'going home' and to serve the faithful of Detroit under the leadership of Archbishop Allen Vigneron."

"On behalf of the clergy, religious, and faithful of the [archdiocese], I offer a heartfelt 'welcome home' to Bishop Monforton," Abp. Vigneron posted on X. "This is the local Church in which his priestly vocation was nurtured, and we are blessed to have him be with us once again to help unleash the Gospel."

After sharing his love for the people of Steubenville and stating Bp. Bradley will take over, 60-year-old Monforton declared in his letter, "Bishop Bradley will ensure continuity of pastoral governance for the Diocese and will carry forward the work already initiated in discerning the future for the Diocese of Steubenville."

It had been speculated prior to the sudden move that if a change were to occur, Columbus' bishop, Earl Fernandes, could be named apostolic administrator of Steubenville. In October 2022, Monforton sought to merge the smaller Steubenville diocese with that of Columbus. 

To this day, the future of the diocese remains uncertain.

"Though Pope Francis has just given me permission to retire this past May, I consider it a privilege to be asked now to accompany all of you in this Local Church during this time of transition," Bp. Bradley penned in his own Sept. 28 letter to the people of Steubenville. 

Bp. Monforton, last October, announced the controversial move to have Columbus absorb Steubenville. The plan was later put on hold after major pushback from the laity and some clerics, claiming the decision was rash and made without proper consultation of the people within the diocese. To this day, the future of the diocese remains uncertain.

Sex Abuse Claims Mishandled? 

Monforton has reportedly undergone two investigations for mishandling sex abuse allegations, but the results of the two cases have not been published. One investigation is said to have centered around the prelate mishandling sexual misconduct by Henry Foxhoven, a now-defrocked priest, who "pleaded guilty in 2018 to sexual battery against a 17-year-old girl he impregnated." Monforton reportedly received complaints about Foxhoven but failed to act. 

News Report: Diocese of Steubenville's Future Is Uncertain

The other alleged investigation was in connection with a sexual abuse claim within the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. A former member of the community claims to have been abused by a person who was involved with the community, but not directly a member, decades ago.

A priest stole more than $300,000 to pay for a luxurious lifestyle, including flying lessons.

"While the abuse was allegedly reported initially to the Steubenville diocese in the 1990s, sources told The Pillar that the alleged victim made contact with the diocese again in recent years, requesting financial support for therapy and other needs," The Pillar wrote. "Monforton and other diocesan officials reportedly told the alleged victim repeatedly that support was impossible, because of the financial condition of the diocese."

Still More Scandals 

Under Bp. Monforton's leadership, the Ohio diocese also suffered two financial scandals in 2020. The first — a former employee was caught embezzling $300,000 and failed to hand in payroll taxes. This cost the diocese more than $900,000 in interest and penalties, in addition to its $2.8 million debt to the IRS. Secondly, a priest stole more than $300,000 to pay for a luxurious lifestyle, including flying lessons. Church Militant documented both situations. 

The diocese of Steubenville lists on its website 31 "active priests" and four "priests on extra-diocesan assignment," along with 54 registered parishes. The diocese has a recorded Catholic population of over 38,000.

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