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
Co-Coordinator

Michael Iafrate
Co-Coordinator

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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People’s Pastoral Presented to Pope Francis

Last year, our friends at Salt + Light Media visited CCA’s home office in West Virginia to film a segment for their upcoming documentary The Francis Impact. During their visit they suggested we give them an inscribed copy of CCA’s “People’s Pastoral,” The Telling Takes Us Home, to hopefully pass along to Pope Francis, as they are frequently in Rome covering events there (see photo above).

Salt + Light has been in Rome this month covering the 2018 Synod of Bishops on youth, now underway, as well as the recent canonizations of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Pope Paul VI, and five additional new saints. While in Rome, Salt + Light CEO Fr. Tom Rosica was able to hand this copy of Pastoral directly to Pope Francis.

The inscription on the title page reads:

Estimado Su Santidad, Papa Francisco,

Esta carta pastoral del pueblo es una expresión de cómo la gente de fe está intentando escuchar atentamente el “magisterio de los pobres” en la región de los Apalaches en los Estados Unidos y escuchar también el llanto de la Tierra tan devastada por la minería y otras industrias extractivas. Aquí en las montañas de los Apalaches vemos claramente que lo que hacemos a la Tierra, lo hacemos también a los pobres. Le agradecemos a usted que escuche las voces de las bases, que camine con nuestro pueblo, y que nos desafíe a transformarnos en una Iglesia para los pobres, una Iglesia que protegerá y celebrará la santidad de nuestro hogar común.

Con nuestro amor,
Comité Católico de los Apalaches

Your Holiness, Pope Francis,

This “people’s pastoral” letter is an expression of how people of faith are trying to listen closely to the “magisterium of the poor” in the Appalachian region of the United States, including the cry of Earth, which is so devastated here from mining and other extractive industries. In the Appalachian mountains, we see very clearly that what we do to Earth we do to the poor. Thank you for listening to voices at the grassroots, for walking with our people and our movements, and for challenging us to become a church of the poor that protects and celebrates the sacredness of our common home.

With our love,
Catholic Committee of Appalachia

Fr. Rosica writes, “I presented the Pastoral Letter to the Pope last evening. He brought it home with him and made reference to it this morning when we spoke. Keep up the good work.”

Here is CCA’s reply to Fr. Rosica:

Fr. Tom, thank you so much for bringing our letter from Appalachia to the Pope! I’m more or less speechless hearing about this, but what a beautiful “ending” to the story of this pastoral letter from “the people”! And on such an special occasion, following the canonization of San Romero. We are all very excited to hear this.

Jeannie and I, as well as our folks in Kentucky and Virginia, were also very thankful to have spent time with Sebastian [Gomes] and his crew for the filming of The Francis Impact, and we’re looking forward to the release of this special film.

Again, thank you so much from the Catholic Committee of Appalachia for your support of our work!

– Michael Iafrate, Co-Coordinator, CCA

Congratulations to all of us at CCA, and to everyone who has participated in the making and “promulgation” of this pastoral letter from Appalachia, which after nearly three years is still touching the hearts of new people around the world! And special thanks to Angie Iafrate for translating our message to Pope Francis into Spanish!

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New Resource Page on Abuse Crisis in Appalachia

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) published a statement on sex abuse in the Catholic Church following the death of SNAP founder Barbara Blaine. Part of that statement focused on sex abuse in the church in Appalachia.

Since then, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report has rocked the church not only on national and global scales, but on a regional one as well. The report is in many ways an expression of the Appalachian church that implicates a number of our bishops, both past and present. Finally, the resignation of West Virginia’s Bishop Michael Bransfield, and his subsequent investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct, compels 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.

To that end, we have created this page as a resource for current news and analysis of the abuse crisis as it impacts Appalachia, focusing in part on the Bransfield/DWC investigation but looking beyond it to surrounding states. In the interest of transparency, we will also publish diocesan documents that are helpful for understanding any investigations taking place. If you know of a news item, opinion piece, or document that should be shared here, please email ccappalachia [at] gmail [dot] com. Any documents shared here will not be traceable to the individuals who share them with CCA.

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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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