The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is one of the great tragedies of our time, with thousands of instances where men in positions of respect and authority abused children. The scandal was made even worse by church leaders who covered up the abuses.
Most recently, a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed how the Catholic Church concealed 70 years of child sexual abuses by priests. The investigation identified more than 1,000 child sex abuse victims in six Pennsylvania dioceses.
Through it all, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has remained largely scandal free. However, in September Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Michael Bransfield, Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and ordered Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori to investigate allegations against Bransfield of sexual harassment of adults.
Bransfield’s name also surfaced in a 2012 sexual abuse trial of a priest in Philadelphia where Bransfield once served. Testimony suggested Bransfield was having sex with a teenage boy–an allegation that Bransfield denied and was never proven.
The most recent allegation against Bransfield triggered the assignment of Lori to West Virginia to investigate, and that led to a stunning announcement in a Diocese press release yesterday.
Lori announced that “The Diocese will release the names of all priests, deacons and religious* credibly accused of child sexual abuse since 1950, the period in which it still has records. The release will include a list of accused priests’ assignments during their tenure at the Diocese.”
Our Brad McElhinny reported that close to 800 priests have worked for the Diocese during the period under review, but none of the individuals who will be listed by the church are currently in active ministry.
Bryan Minor, delegate of Administrative Affairs for the Diocese, said church leaders believe transparency is vital to restoring the church’s credibility and to helping victims heal. “Number one, we become open and honest about it. Number two, it opens the door to people who may have been victims, and gives them the opportunity to come forward.”
For years it appeared the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese had escaped the sex abuse scandal… that all the bad priests were elsewhere. But it’s more likely there was never really a thorough investigation, or if there was, the public never learned of the results.
Now the diocese is acknowledging the broken trust, and through a full disclosure of past sins and with an outreach to victims, the church can put itself on a path toward redemption.
* (“Religious” refers to priests that may have served within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, but were members of a religious order, i.e. Marist priests or Franciscan priests.)