WV Catholic Group Receives Reprimand from Archbishop Lori

A group of West Virginia Catholics has received a letter from Archbishop William Lori reprimanding them for approaching the Archbishop for a sign of peace during a Chrism Mass liturgy at the Cathedral of St. Joseph this past Holy Week. The letter is addressed to Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) Co-Coordinators Michael Iafrate and Jeannie Kirkhope and is written on Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston letterhead.

The reprimand letter, dated May 15, states, “The Mass should never be used as a moment for demonstration or the expression of individual opinion, especially during Holy Week and I ask you, as the concerned Catholics you are, to avoid such actions in the future. […] [P]lease know that I have heard your concerns….”

The Cathedral action took place on April 16, 2019 and was planned in response to what CCA characterizes as an unwillingness on Archbishop Lori’s part to meet and dialogue with ordinary laypeople regarding the investigation of former bishop Michael Bransfield and the general state of the diocese. CCA had been persistent in requesting such a meeting since September 2018. Bryan Minor, DWC’s Delegate of Diocesan Affairs, had convinced Lori to meet with CCA representatives in March but the offer was withdrawn at the last minute. In response, CCA members joined other Wheeling area Catholics with similar concerns to organize the prayerful witness during and after Lori’s Chrism Mass in Wheeling.

During the liturgy, two CCA members entered the sanctuary to offer a sign of peace to the Archbishop which was ignored. The pair then joined other demonstrators outside the Cathedral after Mass. The group released a statement following the action which was also mailed to Lori with an accompanying letter dated April 29.

The group’s statement reads, “Our presence today is not fundamentally protest, but rather a promise to remain engaged in spite of the temptations to cynicism and despair. We call on the clergy to reject attitudes of defensiveness and secrecy surrounding abuses of the past and present, and to give an honest account of the failures of the Church so that all may grow together in holiness.”

“We were taken aback to receive such a reprimand, in part because this letter literally represents the ONLY communication or acknowledgment CCA has received from Archbishop Lori after months of polite invitations for dialogue,” said Iafrate in response to Lori’s letter. “We also take issue with the Archbishop’s characterization of a sign of peace as a ‘protest,’ for it completely disregards the statement that was sent to him and the solemn liturgical character of the action conducted at the Chrism Mass.”

A note at the bottom of the letter indicated that a copy was sent to CCA’s Episcopal Adviser Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, KY. When CCA reached out to Bishop Stowe to discuss the matter, he said he never received a copy of Lori’s letter, but affirmed the respectful and prophetic tone of the witness action, writing: “As you know, I believe there is a necessary place for prophetic action in the Church and there are often consequences for those actions. […] I see that your voices are needed now more than ever.”

Archbishop Lori’s letter of reprimand to CCA can be read in its entirety here.
The letter and statement from Concerned West Virginia Catholics can be read
An account of the Chrism Mass witness, with pictures, can be read

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Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston adds names to lists of credibly accused clergy without notifying the public

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (DWC) has added a significant number of priests to their previously-published lists of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, without any sort of announcement to West Virginia Catholics or to the public.

Since the last version of the list, the DWC added seven priests to their list of priests who served in the DWC but who were accused of abuse outside of the diocese. This is in addition to two priests added since the original publication of the list, bringing the total priests on this second list up to 20 from the original 13.

More troubling is the fact that the DWC added two priests to its primary list of priests who have been accused of abuse within the DWC. One priest, Raymond Waldruff, was moved from the secondary list to the primary list, meaning that an accusation from West Virginia was recently reported to the DWC. A second priest, Andrew Lukas, is an entirely new priest who likewise was reported to the DWC within the last several months. The allegations related to both priests date from the 1960-70s. The number of priests on this primary list now stands at 20.

When DWC officials originally released these lists in November 2018, they rightly pledged to continually update these lists, saying “the Diocese reserves the right to update the list should more information become available as time goes on.” We commend the DWC for updating the lists. However, most dioceses who have updated their lists have also issued press releases to alert the public that new names have been added. This level of transparency gives additional comfort to survivors and their allies and encourages more survivors to come forward who haven’t yet felt able to do so.

We are seriously disappointed that the DWC updated these lists quietly without issuing a press release to go with them. It is quite possible that there are additional victims of Waldruff and Lukas from West Virginia, and if so, it is important that they see that these names have been added.

It is no doubt difficult for DWC officials to draw attention to their knowledge of new allegations while the diocese is in the process of responding to multiple lawsuits related to alleged sexual abuse. Nevertheless, we believe that if the DWC wants to show that it cares about victim-survivors, they cannot add names to these lists quietly. Transparency is the only way toward truth and healing.

The DWC lists of credibly accused clergy can be found here:

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WV Catholics Conduct Holy Week Witness at St. Joseph Cathedral Chrism Mass

A group of West Virginia Catholic laity gathered Tuesday evening (April 16, 2019) at St. Joseph Cathedral in Wheeling for a prayerful witness during and after the Chrism Mass celebrated by Apostolic Administrator Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

During the traditional sign of peace, two participants entered the Cathedral sanctuary to offer a gesture of peace to the assembled clergy and to the Archbishop as an assertion of the dignity of the laity and a sign of cooperation between laity and clergy. Nearby priests exchanged handshakes with the laypeople, but Archbishop Lori did not.

The pair joined other witness participants outside the Cathedral after Mass to talk with parishioners and clergy, to distribute articles about clergy abuse and the investigation of former bishop Michael Bransfield, and to hold signs with messages for local church leaders. Archbishop Lori did not engage the lay participants outside after the Mass, and he continues to turn down invitations from organized groups of laypeople to discuss concerns about the state of the Diocese which Lori now oversees.

The group released the following statement after their witness action:

To Archbishop Lori, members of the clergy and the People of God in West Virginia:

As concerned Catholics, we approach the altar to offer a sign of peace, in hopes for the healing and peace that only truth and openness can bring.

We believe that for too long, the laity have been held at a distance, kept in the dark, and treated as inessential to the fundamental mission of the Church.

And so, on this occasion of the renewal of priestly vows, we also renew our commitment to remain active as full members of the Body of Christ, equal in dignity if different in function from the clergy. Our presence today is not fundamentally protest, but rather a promise to remain engaged in spite of the temptations to cynicism and despair.

We call on the clergy to reject attitudes of defensiveness and secrecy surrounding abuses of the past and present, and to give an honest account of the failures of the Church so that all may grow together in holiness.

We call for transparency and accountability from all who are entrusted with positions of power within the Church, that we as a body might remain faithful to Christ, who came into the world to testify to the truth (John 18:37), even at the cost of his life.

We ask especially that the clergy and other members of Church leadership listen to the voices of those who have been wounded by the Church, and to recommit to extending welcome and peace to those who are vulnerable and estranged, that all may be healed and embraced in the peace of Christ.

Concerned West Virginia Catholics
Tuesday of Holy Week
April 16, 2019

Media contact:

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CCA Writes Pope Francis to Urge Ordination of Women Deacons

The following letter was approved by the CCA Board of Directors and sent to Pope Francis last week.

His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

February 26, 2019

Dear Pope Francis,

We are writing to express our hope that the Church will soon be able to call forth women, as well as men, to serve as ordained deacons in the ministries of liturgy, word and charity. We are aware that a committee which you commissioned to study the possibility of ordaining women deacons is complete and its report is now before you.

We are the Catholic Committee of Appalachia—an organization that has sought to be a force for the poor and neglected of our mountainous area for almost 50 years. We trust that the commission has presented to you a strong theological basis for the ordination of women to the deaconate. We urge you out of our sense of need and fairness to allow this to happen.

Jesus entrusted the Church with the mission to embody and proclaim the Good News of love and mercy to all nations. In our part of the world, the Appalachian region of the United States, we have both great missionary opportunities and formidable pastoral challenges. We still have large areas that are underserved by any Catholic clergy, and we hear regularly from our members of chronic unmet pastoral needs.

We are grateful for your courageous consideration of the possibility of women deacons and urge you allow those worthy women among us to serve in this capacity.

Your brothers and sisters in Christ,

Donald Becher
Member Representative

Edward Sloane
Chair of the Board of Directors

Sarah George
Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors

Jeannie Kirkhope

Michael Iafrate

on behalf of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia

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CCA’s Episcopal Adviser Speaks Out on Covington Catholic Controversy

Lexington, KY Bishop John Stowe, who has served as Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s (CCA) Episcopal Adviser since 2015, has responded to the controversy surrounding the recent confrontation between several students from Covington Catholic High School and the Indigenous activist and Omaha elder Nathan Phillips following the March for Life in Washington, D.C. last week. The Covington diocese is adjacent to the Diocese of Lexington. Portions of both dioceses fall within the Appalachian region.

Stowe spoke out in an op-ed published today in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Titled “Wearing a Trump hat? That’s not exactly pro-life, says Catholic Bishop John Stowe,” the bishop stated “As the leader of the Catholic Church in the 50 counties of Central and Eastern Kentucky, I join the Diocese of Covington and other Catholic leaders in apologizing in the wake of this incident.”

The statement continues:

I am ashamed that the actions of Kentucky Catholic high school students have become a contradiction of the very reverence for human life that the march is supposed to manifest. As such, I believe that U.S. Catholics must take a look at how our support of the fundamental right to life has become separated from the even more basic truth of the dignity of each human person.

Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.

We cannot uncritically ally ourselves with someone with whom we share the policy goal of ending abortion.

Stowe goes on to explain how the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion emerged from and should be understood in the context of a prior commitment to nonviolence, and then highlights the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ ongoing teaching condemning all expressions of racism.

Stowe’s statement concluded with a strong reminder to the pro-life movement:

The pro-life movement claims that it wants more than the policy change of making abortion illegal, but aims to make it unthinkable. That would require deep changes in society and policies that would support those who find it difficult to afford children. The association of our young people with racist acts and a politics of hate must also become unthinkable.

CCA Co-Coordinator Jeannie Kirkhope described Stowe’s op-ed as “The strongest message I’ve heard from a bishop in a long time.”

CCA Co-Coordinator Michael Iafrate added, “Beyond the incident itself, the ugly response to the Covington controversy among some sectors of the Catholic Church has shined a light on the deep racism that plagues the Body of Christ. We are proud of our episcopal adviser for speaking out so clearly in a time when prophetic words are needed. This is the kind of bishop we need in these times.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, a Kentucky archdiocese which also neighbors the Diocese of Covington, made a statement on January 19th condemning the actions of the students but retracted the statement on January 22nd.

Read Bishop Stowe’s op-ed here.

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CCA Featured in new Salt + Light Documentary, “Magisterium of the People”

Salt + Light Media has announced the premiere of the new documentary Magisterium of the People: The Story of the People’s Pastoral from the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. The film, directed and produced by Sebastian Gomes, highlights the work of the grassroots church in Appalachia, including the development of CCA’s third pastoral letter, The Telling Takes Us Home.

Salt + Light’s description of the film reads: 

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia has been listening to the cries of the poor and the earth since 1970. Its hallmark: three pastoral letters published over the last forty years that have told the story of a land and people struggling for survival against a system of exploitation and indifference. The third pastoral letter, issued in 2015, did not come from the Catholic bishops of Appalachia, but from the people themselves. It was a bold and prophetic step, to listen yet again to the cries of the poor and of the earth, to bring the “periphery” into the center, and to create new paths forward toward justice, peace and wholeness in their communities and for creation.

The film premieres Christmas Day at 8:00 pm on Salt + Light TV. The station provides a free online stream live at http://www.saltandlighttv.org/live. View the trailer below.

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Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Releases List of Priests Accused of Abuse

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (DWC) has released the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors, both the names of credibly accused clergy from the DWC and credibly accused priests from other regions or dioceses who have served within the DWC, but for which no claims have been filed in the DWC. A full press release and access to the list is available here.

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Diocese of Steubenville Releases List of Priests Accused of Abuse

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia applauds the Diocese of Steubenville for changing course and releasing its self-generated list of priests accused of abuse. We continue to insist that, while this is an important step, it is not enough. An independent investigation by civil authorities is the only way to guarantee a greater degree of transparency, accountability, and justice for survivors.

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“Lay Involvement” in Church Investigation Does Not Guarantee Truth or Transparency

But the laypeople of “unimportant” diocese have the ability to influence the entire U.S. Catholic Church on accountability

By Michael J. Iafrate

What is happening in the Catholic Church in West Virginia is truly remarkable, notable and important to watch.

Occurring in the immediate wake of the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick scandal and the release of the damning PA grand jury report, the resignation and subsequent investigation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield for alleged sexual harassment of adults are of national significance. His past history in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. connect him directly to wider circles of influence at play in the U.S. church at this time. Additionally, the present investigation of Bransfield takes place just six years after he was alleged to have abused minors decades ago in his home diocese of Philadelphia, allegations that Bransfield and other officials of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston have consistently denied.

Still, more than just another clerical spectacle, the laypeople of our mainly “rural” and presumably “unimportant” diocese are in the position to influence the entire U.S. Catholic Church on a path toward greater transparency and justice, away from all forms of abusive behavior.

There are signs that West Virginia Catholics are doing just that.

Read the rest at Medium.com.

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CCA’s Efforts in the Abuse Crisis

A year ago this coming November, Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) published a statement on sex abuse in the Catholic Church following the death of our friend, Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). Part of that statement focused on sex abuse in the church in Appalachia.

In light of the impending retirement of the bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (DWC), Michael Bransfield, CCA wrote a letter to the Apostolic Nuncio and the Congregation for Bishops with a long list of criteria for what many West Virginia Catholics are looking for in a new bishop for the diocese.

Since then, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which included mostly Appalachian dioceses and implicated a number of our bishops, both past and present, rocked the church not only on a regional scale, but on national and global ones as well.

Finally, the resignation of West Virginia’s Bishop Michael Bransfield, and his subsequent investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct, compelled CCA to further our efforts to protect the vulnerable in our region and to work for church reforms necessary to address the roots of the problem.

Thus far, we have dedicated a page of our website (ccappal.org) as a resource for current news about the abuse crisis as it impacts Appalachia. The articles, opinion pieces and analysis listed focus, in part, on the Bransfield investigation but look beyond it to surrounding states as well.

Included in that list is an open letter to the diocese written by our Co-Coordinators and published in five of the largest West Virginia newspapers, asking questions and calling for various measures to be taken during the investigation of former Bishop Bransfield.

The piece drew the interest of some groups and individuals who have since come to us with their own unfortunate experiences with the Bransfield and/or DWC. This has brought us back into the role of conducting listening sessions, as we did for the past three Appalachian Pastoral Letters (1975, 1995, 2015).

As West Virginia Catholics await a new bishop to be named by Pope Francis, Archbishop Lori of Baltimore acts as Apostolic Administrator and has appointed Bryan Minor, a layman, as Delegate of Diocesan Administrative Affairs. Bryan’s job is to manage the day to day operations of the chancery and its many departments in Archbishop Lori’s absence. Our listening led us to collect and compile the many questions West Virginia Catholics had for Minor and Archbishop Lori.

CCA’s Co-Coordinators recently met with Minor to ask those questions and to discuss concerns about transparency and the credibility of the five-person investigation team. We were encouraged by Minor’s sincerity, candor, remorse, compassion and commitment to work towards healing in the Diocese. The meeting resulted in further commitment from him to keep CCA abreast of the investigation process and to collaborate with CCA regularly to increase the flow of information to the people of the Diocese.  We trust that the DWC has begun a process similar to that of Steubenville and other dioceses that will eventually result in the publication of a list of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse over the last several decades in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Although we advocate for a external investigation of diocesan records, the publication of such a list is an important step toward transparency and would, at this, time, be preferable to a WV Attorney General subpoena of that list.

In that vein, CCA will publish on our website any DWC documents that are helpful for understanding any investigations taking place, as well as any forthcoming list of priest abusers and allegations.

In addition, CCA staff will be meeting with Archbishop Lori to probe for more accountability. That date is to be announced and the results of the meeting will be posted publicly.

CCA Co-Coordinator Michael Iafrate has been interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer and WTRF Channel 7 News in Wheeling regarding the abuse crisis.

CCA Co-Coordinator Jeannie Kirkhope is in the process of setting up listening sessions for concerned Catholics of the Diocese. If you or your group would like a meeting either with CCA or Bryan Minor, please contact Jeannie at cca@ccappal.org or 304-927-5798.

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