An Open Letter to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston

An Open Letter to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
West Virginia Catholics want “specific, achievable actions” and full investigation

As the Roman Catholic Church reels from new revelations of the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, thousands of Catholics from various corners of the church have loudly demanded the mass resignation and/or dismissal of U.S. bishops in order to “clean house.” In the midst of this turmoil, Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston offered his resignation to Pope Francis, not as penance, but in the manner customary for bishops who have reached the age of 75. (Bransfield turned 75 on September 8th.)

Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in a matter of days and appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore as temporary administrator of the Diocese. Further, the Vatican charged Lori with the task of conducting an investigation of Bransfield’s alleged sexual harassment of adults.

The swift acceptance of Bransfield’s resignation and subsequent investigation is not surprising. Abuse allegations have haunted Bransfield, resurfacing most recently during the criminal trial of Catholic priests in Philadelphia in 2012. But more, Bransfield’s lavish lifestyle and flaunted political allegiances marked his episcopacy with signs of clerical privilege and entitlement that are the root cause of abuse by members of the priesthood, including sexual misconduct. Continue reading

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The End of the World as We Know It: Divesting from Injustice and Reinvesting in Another Possible World

by Edward Sloane

Once upon a time, the conservative political commentator Francis Fukuyama said that with the collapse of the Soviet Union we had reached the end of history. Others joined the chorus; globalization had made the world flat and capitalism was here to stay.1 Today the confident and triumphalist mood of the 80s and 90s has been severely shaken as the reality of climate change sinks in and promises to usher in a very different historical epoch. Indeed, we are conscious of reaching an end, but as we look around the fear is that it might be the end not of history but of humanity. At the same time, activists are showing us that another world is possible, encouraging institutions to divest from fossil fuels, severing their financial ties to the fossil fuel industry by “getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.”2 At the same time, this movement has been controversial particularly among Catholic institutions, the majority of which have been reluctant to make this move despite strong pressure from students and other activists. These institutions often cite the ability to advance institutional mission.3

In a 2017 article published in America Magazine, Jim McDermott, takes this latter position, suggesting that shareholder advocacy is the more ‘Catholic’ option. McDermott, tellingly cites Francis G. Coleman, the executive vice president of Christian Brothers Investment Services, “which manages nearly $7 billion in assets for Catholic groups around the world.” McDermott notes CBIS’s skepticism toward divestment as a strategy, “at the same time, at C.B.I.S., the question of writing a group off speaks to a challenge of our faith. ‘When do you stop talking to the sinner?’ asks Mr. Coleman. ‘It’s a fundamental faith question. And our faith teaches us you don’t stop talking to the sinner. Our belief is that if you keep talking there’s always the possibility for faith and evangelization.’”4 In the article, McDermott fails to engage the voices and reasons of activists or the voice of Earth itself. He also fails to take divestment seriously as a Catholic option. His perspective remains firmly within a top-down, status quo model that privileges the voices of elite managers as authorities.

Continue reading

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CCA Response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) released a Statement on Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in November 2017 following the death of Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP. The continued relevance of our 2017 statement could not be more clear as the People of God respond to new reports of clergy abuse over the past weeks. CCA reaffirms our November 2017 statement and the calls to action contained within it.

The recently released Pennsylvania grand jury report is in many ways a window into the innerworkings of the hierarchy with global relevance for the Catholic community. As most of the dioceses contained in report fall within the Appalachian region, the report is also, in many ways, an expression of the Appalachian church that implicates a number of our bishops, both past and present.

The Pennsylvania report provokes Catholics in our region to reflect on both the global and regional causes and implications of sexual abuse in the Church. CCA’s 2017 statement began some of that reflection, and we remain committed to efforts to protect the vulnerable in our region and to work for church reforms necessary to address the roots of the problem.

Specifically, CCA calls for the following immediate actions. Although some Appalachian bishops have been publicly resistant to doing so, CCA insists that all bishops of the region release a statement of priests and bishops accused of sexual abuse within their dioceses. We also insist that each diocese disclose the amount which has been paid in settlements and legal costs related to abuse and make all documents pertaining to sexual abuse by clergy and bishops available to the proper authorities.

Read CCA’s Statement on Child Sexual Abuse in the Church here.
Read the Pennsylvania grand jury report here.

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Catholics Conduct Prayerful Witness at Good Friday Liturgy

(Wheeling, WV) — Two Catholic activists associated with the West Virginia chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA), the Catholic Worker movement, and the Women’s Ordination Conference took part in a prayerful witness action at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Wheeling, West Virginia before, during, and after Good Friday services, March 30th.

Before the service, they prayed a “Litany of Resistance” aloud in their pew as people took their seats. Using traditional Catholic prayer forms, the litany expresses sorrow and contrition for the social and ecological sins of the world and of the church, including racism, violence, misogyny, and ecological destruction. The litany encourages Catholics to resist “spiritualities that mask injustice” and the institutional silence and complicity of our churches.

Wearing shirts that read “SILENCE CRUCIFIES” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” the activists paused to pray at a side altar bearing the statue of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the diocese, during a traditional communal procession of the “Veneration of the Cross.”

After the service, the activists held a large banner outside the cathedral that read “SILENCE CRUCIFIES,” surrounded by the words racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, coal, and war. They again prayed the Litany of Resistance and made themselves available to speak with parishioners as they exited the church.

The activists released a statement of mourning, expressing concern about the silence of local church leaders in the face of social injustice. The statement names racism, xenophobia, gun violence, and the ecological effects of extractive industry as sins which “crucify” the region, and challenges church leaders to renounce their silent complicity with these crucifixions and speak prophetically for justice. The full statement follows:

Continue reading

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Statement on Strike of West Virginia State Employees

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia has released a statement on the strike of West Virginia state employees. The entire statement can be read here.

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CCA February Update

CCA’s February update has been sent out via email, and is also available here. Check it out for announcements regarding upcoming events like our Cherokee Retreat and day of reflection for priests, as well as updates on CCA’s relations with bishops, job announcements, an At Home in the Web of Life anniversary edition, and more.

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Happy 2nd Birthday to the People’s Pastoral!

Happy birthday to The Telling Takes Us Home which was published two years ago today! 2017 has been a year packed with continued conversations about the pastoral, and we are looking forward to sharing the document and its message in new ways in 2018.

As we mark this anniversary, we would like to remind you about our recently produced video about the pastoral, and we are also happy to announce that an abridged newspaper edition of the pastoral will be available just after Christmas. Both the video and the abridged version are perfect for use with students, parish discussion groups, activist groups, etc. Please inquire about bulk rates. Please let us know how we can help your community discuss the pastoral and work to put it into action!

The cover of the forthcoming abridged newsprint version of The Telling Takes Us Home.

We also look forward to the summer 2018 release of the Salt + Light Media documentary The Francis Impact which celebrates the five year anniversary of the election of Pope Francis by taking a look at grassroots movements and individuals who have been inspired by his papacy. The documentary will feature stories from Appalachia, including the story CCA and the People’s Pastoral. For information about the documentary, and some behind the scenes photos of the film crew’s time in West Virginia and Kentucky, click here.

The best way to celebrate the pastoral is to introduce someone you know to the document, and to CCA, today! You might also point them to this collection of endorsements to see the exciting things people have been saying about the pastoral, or invite them to check out some of the coverage the document has received.

CCA wishes all of our members, collaborators, allies, and supporters a blessed Christmas and a joyful new year.

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New Video on the People’s Pastoral

We are happy to share this new short video reflection on CCA’s “people’s pastoral” letter, The Telling Takes Us Home. Immersion and service groups coming to the Appalachian region may find this video particularly helpful. Please let us know how you are using it! A higher quality version is available to stream and/or download here.

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CCA, Bishop Stowe, Among Supporters of RECLAIM Act of 2017

Last week, religious communities sent a letter to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives expressing support for a bipartisan bill that could jump start economies in coal communities: the RECLAIM Act of 2017.

The RECLAIM Act brings hope for real help for Appalachian communities most in need of economic revitalization. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission 2010-2014 poverty rate report, the combined Appalachian regions of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia have a poverty rate that is 4 percent higher than the national average.

Co-Coordinator of Catholic Committee of Appalachia Michael Iafrate said of the legislation, “People in Appalachia have been working to change the dominant story we tell about the region in an effort of reimagining their communities and forging new paths forward beyond coal. The RECLAIM Act is a reasonable first step in assisting these communities to bring these efforts to life as we continue to have difficult conversations about our region and its place in this nation’s history.”

Signed by 40 religious denominations and faith-based organizations, the letter provides faith communities’ reason for supporting the RECLAIM Act:

…we are deeply invested in ensuring every person has the opportunity to reach his or her God-given potential. We also believe in our moral responsibility to ensure God’s creation continues to help future generations thrive. For these reasons, we urge you to look towards real solutions for a just transition for coal communities.

West Virginia Council of Churches Executive Director Rev. Jeff Allen said, “In West Virginia alone, the RECLAIM Act could help us work on an estimated $1.5 billion worth of abandoned mine clean-up work. The people and the lands of Appalachia have made sacrifices to provide energy for this country. It is a moral responsibility for our country to re-invest in our region for new economic opportunities and to heal God’s creation.”

Likewise, Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington, KY, who serves also as CCA’s Bishop Liaison, wrote in support of the RECLAIM Act in an editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Stowe said,

As a community of faith, we look for these kinds of opportunities which protect and restore the wonders of creation and offer possibilities for meaningful employment. The time is short for the passage of the RECLAIM Act. Let’s make sure our representatives are in support and ready to act.

The letter called on House leadership to bring the RECLAIM Act of 2017 to the House floor for a vote as soon as possible.

The letter of support from religious leaders was spearheaded by Creation Justice Ministries, who represents the creation care policies of 38 Christian communions, including Baptists, mainline Protestants, Historically Black Churches, Peace Churches, and Orthodox communions. Learn more at www.creationjustice.org.

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CCA Statement on Child Sexual Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia has released a statement on Child Sexual Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The entire statement, which was approved by the CCA Board of Directors, can be read here.

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