Open letter criticizes diocese for approach to scandals

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A group called Lay Catholic Voices for Change has submitted a letter to the Rev. William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, expressing its outrage over the sex abuse and financial mismanagement scandals currently troubling the diocese.

The 44 signatories from 19 churches claim their right to participate in crafting solutions to the problems and spell out five areas with specific recommendations for change. They seek Lori’s response to the letter by June 28.

They have also publicly released the letter in the form of an online petition at and are encouraging fellow Catholics from the diocese to sign on in support.

They say, “We have associated ourselves in response to the sexual abuse scandal, which we see as linked to a broad crisis of political and financial corruption within our Diocese and throughout the Church, to the detriment of clergy and laypeople alike. … We are outraged that the scandal of clergy sex abuse in our Church has been prolonged and perpetuated by coverups in the DWC. We are also troubled and appalled by the coverup in our diocese of Bishop Bransfield’s outrageous spending.”

They admit that as lay people, they have facilitated the cover-ups by acquiescing to a culture of clericalism in the church.

“We must hold ourselves accountable,” they say, “for changing our institution so that these crimes and their coverup cannot happen again. We cannot leave it up to the hierarchy to tell us how they will solve this crisis. Until we resolve to be part of the solution, there can be no effective change.”

Letter signatory and LCVC member Suzanne Kenney said, “We’re about justice for those who have been sexually abused.”

They began to form in January, following a public prayer service and after the reports about the diocese financial issues came out, she said. They decided they needed to tap into the resources they have to effect change. Citing the church catechism, she said, “Lay people have a right and responsibility to make the church whole.”

There are now 72 people on LCVC’s email list. They’re not demanding huge changes, she said.

“We want to see some transparency and some honesty coming out of the diocese. We also want and we’re praying for a bishop who’s going to be able to lead us out of this mess that we’re in, who is not going to participate in cover-ups anymore.

“We’re not going to stand for that anymore,” she said. “We want to know that if somebody is around our children or more vulnerable family members, we want to know they aren’t going to be molested.”

The Diocese did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.

The letter lays lay out their plan to initiate change:

First, prayer for resolve to be successful in the undertaking.

Second, cooperation from the diocese, including the release of the full lay panel report submitted to the Vatican, the names of all complicit in the cover-ups and a lay-led financial audit.

Third, lay leadership involvement in developing a process for reporting and assessing sex-abuse allegations and the choice of a new bishop.

Fourth, confidence that the sex-abuse reporting and investigation process will provide victim advocacy and support for those who will help the victims.

Fifth, open and honest dialog among parishioners and the clergy.

They conclude, “We as laity accept our call ‘to cooperate with [our] pastors in the service of the ecclesial community, for the sake of its growth and life.’ … Failure to accept this call by going along with business as usual will indicate our failure as Church. Therefore, we claim our right as baptized members of the Body of Christ and insist upon meaningful participation, inviting fellow Catholics from across our Diocese to do the same.

Kenney said she wants fellow Catholics who think they are a group of radicals to understand that they are not radical.

“We just see a major … big organizational problem. If you close your eyes to what has happened in the past, not only in our diocese and actually not only even in the Catholic church, it’s wrong, it’s so very wrong to put children and vulnerable adults in a position where they will suffer the rest of their lives.”

Letter signatory Matt Vester offered these comments via an email exchange:

“This group has impressed me because it is comprised of members who have a wide range of theological positions, but who are united in their dedication to helping our diocese get back on its feet following the ongoing revelations about Bishop Bransfield and those who facilitated his actions. It’s often difficult for faithful Catholics to speak out, because we are inclined to trust that the Holy Spirit will work through Church structures. In this instance, the institutional structures were manipulated in ways that abetted immoral if not illegal behavior.

“Since last summer’s McCarrick revelations, there have been calls nationally for the laity to get involved in helping to resolve the mess. LCVC does so motivated by our love for the church and for our priests, many of whom in this diocese are victims of corrupt leadership. We want our priests to know that we love them and wish to share in the effort to rebuild trust, for the sake of the Gospel.

I personally am grateful to those who courageously shared their testimony with the investigative team appointed by Archbishop Lori last fall. I think that making that report public (with appropriate redactions to protect witnesses and victims) would be a crucial step toward rebuilding trust.

“To argue that the report should remain the private preserve of the Vatican is simply to perpetuate the lack of transparency that has gotten us into this mess to begin with. Transparency means providing as much information as possible before an embarrassing report comes out, not doing so when one has no other choice.

“We stand with our faithful priests who have labored for years under the thumb of a privileged few. As laity we want to help them build up the Church and assist our clergy in building up a stronger barrier around the sheepfold to keep the wolves out.”

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