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Steubenville's Monforton appointed Detroit auxiliary

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Friday, Sept. 29, to include a statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Steubenville’s Bishop Jeffrey Monforton was appointed an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit Thursday, less than one year after the bishop announced an eventually stalled merger between the Steubenville diocese and its neighboring Diocese of Columbus.

The bishop has reportedly been the subject of two Vatican-ordered Vos estis lux mundi investigations, but the results in neither case have been publicly released.

Bishop Jeffrey Monforton preaches. Credit: Diocese of Steubenville.

The Holy See press office made Monforton’s move to Detroit public in its Sept. 28 daily bulletin. It said that the bishop had been assigned the titular see of Centuria.

A Sept. 28 USCCB statement said that the Holy See had appointed Kalamazoo Bishop Emeritus Paul Bradley as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Steubenville.

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The move for Monforton, 60, comes after a tumultuous year in the Diocese of Steubenville, which began when Monforton announced last October that a process was underway to see the eastern Ohio diocese merged with the neighboring diocese of Columbus. 

While Monforton said that process could be a “template” to “assist other dioceses” facing the prospect of merger, priests and laity in Steubenville pushed back on Monforton’s approach. 

Diocesan clergy argued that Monforton had undertaken no consultation with them before beginning to plan the merger process, and before announcing that the merger was a certainty - even while it had not yet received approval from Pope Francis.

After 18 priests and deacons of the Steubenville diocese wrote to the U.S. bishops’ conference in October 2022, Monforton announced that he had requested the USCCB cancel a planned consultative vote on the matter, and the prospective merger seemed at least temporarily shelved. 

But in addition to controversy over the merger, Monforton has faced charges of administrative crisis in the Steubenville diocese.

The Pillar reported last year that Monforton was subject to two separate Vatican-ordered Vos estis lux mundi investigations for his handling of sexual abuse allegations.

Last July, the Steubenville diocese settled a lawsuit with a woman who in 2018, when she was 17, became pregnant after a relationship with Henry Foxhoven, then a Steubenville priest in his 40s. The lawsuit alleged that the woman was groomed as a teenager by the priest, and that Monforton had received several reports about Foxhoven's inappropriate conduct.

Foxhoven was reportedly suspended for one week in 2017, after reports of inappropriate behavior with a teenage girl at a wedding reception, and directed to get counseling.

The bishop has previously declined to comment on the Vos estis investigations in the diocese. Sources in the Steubenville diocese say they have received no indication of whether the investigations have been formally closed.

On Sept. 29, the day after Bishop Mountforten’s move was announced, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Detroit told The Pillar in a statement that “Prior to the appointment, Bishop Monforton was informed by Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, the metropolitan of Ohio who would be responsible for such investigations, that there are currently no pending cases against him.”

Several Steubenville priests also told The Pillar last year that they believed the Steubenville diocese had been mismanaged during Monforton’s tenure, and deserved a shot at new leadership before a decision was made on whether to merge the diocese. 

Some priests pointed to the 2020 convictions of a former finance officer and diocesan vicar general, who each admitted that they had embezzled hundreds of thousands from the diocese. Others pointed to Monforton’s alleged mishandling of several cases of sexual misconduct, while some raised flags about a scrapped cathedral renovation that had cost the diocese more than $1 million before it was eventually called off.

The interior of Steubenville’s Holy Name Cathedral, which was closed in 2014 for renovations, and has not subsequently reopened.

But other priests have told The Pillar that even with good management, the diocese would have struggled to staff parishes, and to pay the bills for its central administrative offices. 

The Steubenville diocese is home to fewer than 40,000 Catholics in 13 counties of Appalachian southeastern Ohio, who are served by 36 active priests, according to the diocese. According to its website, the diocese has nine seminarians.

In February, the Diocese of Steubenville announced that it would undergo an external audit of its financial viability, as part of ongoing deliberations regarding the prospect of its merger.

The audit was ordered by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops, a spokesman told The Pillar, and was to be overseen by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnatti, along with public accounting firm Schneider Downs, and diocesan finance officers from Cincinnati, Columbus, and Youngstown. 

Results of that audit have not been released to the public. 

Vatican sources have told The Pillar that while plans to merge Steubenville into the Diocese of Columbus were temporarily shelved last year, the plan is still likely to move forward, albeit with more consultation of both clergy and laity ahead of a formal announcement.

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Monforton was ordained a priest of Detroit in 1994. In addition to parish assignments, he was for seven years a priest secretary to Cardinal Adam Maida, and was rector of Sacred Heart Seminary for six years. Monforton was named Steubenville’s bishop 2012.

The bishop had called earlier this week for a “virtual conference” with priests to be held online Thursday morning, presumably to discuss the bishop’s transfer. But after The Pillar reported that meeting yesterday, the Steubenville diocese abruptly notified priests it had been canceled.

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