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DWC’s Delegate of Diocesan Affairs, had convinced Lori to meet with CCA representatives in March but the offer was withdrawn at the last minute.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 here.
An account of the Chrism Mass witness, with pictures, can be read here.