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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-927-5798.