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