WHEELING, W.Va. — The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is taking a step in reformation following the fallout of events surrounding former Bishop Michael Bransfield by bringing back the Diocesan Pastoral Council of lay members.
The catholic diocese of West Virginia and current Bishop Mark Brennan announced on Thursday that the council was being reestablished following a lengthy absence under the leadership of Bransfield.
There was pressure to reform the church structure from the West Virginia Lay Catholics for Change after a church investigation examined multiple credible allegations of sexual harassment of adults, as well as millions of dollars of financial improprieties, against Bransfield.
The former bishop, who held the role from 2005 to 2018, apologized in August in a short letter but that did not suffice for lay leaders. Bransfield was supposed to make public apologies as part of a “plan of amends” established in November 2019.
Lay members felt their voices were not being around the state for more than a decade.
The council, which was originally established under Bishop Joseph H. Hodges in 1968, will work with Brennan in outlining and developing priorities, initiatives, and plans to fulfill the mission of the church.
The full mission of the council that includes three lay members from each of the six Vicariate councils is five-fold and includes:
– To assist the Bishop, through consultation and cooperation, in developing pastoral priorities, initiatives, and plans to fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ within the Diocese in the light of its existing social, economic, demographic, and cultural circumstances and resources;
– To act as an authentic and reflective voice of the people of God;
– To provide an honest and open forum of dialogue and communication regarding pastoral affairs among the Bishop, laity, religious, and clergy;
– To collaborate with the Presbyteral Council, Parish and Vicariate Pastoral Councils, Vicariate leadership, and Diocesan offices in furthering the mission of the Diocesan Church;
– To be a visible sign of the unity of the people of God in the Church at Wheeling-Charleston. Beginning in 1968, the council served a vital role in the life of the diocese and the spiritual formation of the faithful.
Tim Bishop, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston spokesperson told MetroNews that this had been a goal of Brennan once he was installed in August 2019 but it took time to come together.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, each parish held an election and chose two laypersons to form, with those elected from other parishes, a Vicariate (regions) Council. The Vicariate Council then elected three persons from its membership to serve on the Diocesan Pastoral Council making each member an elected member from among the faithful.
The newly formed Diocesan Pastoral Council consists of the following members:
– Beckley Vicariate: Gina Boggess, Darleen Whelan, Jim Copolo
– Charleston Vicariate: Mac Bailes, Kim Enders, Susan Bossie-Maddox
– Clarksburg Vicariate: Jim Archer, Charlotte Vester-Velloso, Perri DeChristopher
– Martinsburg Vicariate: Paul Buede, Kathleen Brockett, Linda Abrahamian
– Parkersburg Vicariate: Denise Laurine-Klug, Linda Nedeff, Colleen Newhart
– Wheeling Vicariate: Kevin Britt, Jerod Buck, Denis Wilson
Joining the 18 lay members are the Diocesan Bishop, the Vicar General, the Chancellor of the Diocese, the Vicar for Clergy, the Chair of the Presbyteral Council, the Delegate for Consecrated Life, and several appointed members.
Brennan stated in a release, “I look forward to having a Diocesan Pastoral Council that can bring to my attention concerns and ideas to enhance the spiritual and apostolic life and work of the Diocese and react to plans and issues I may bring up.”
Bishop told MetroNews the council will set goals and committees at its first meeting later in February but the goal for the diocese with the council is simple: more lay involvement.
“The church belongs to all of us. It doesn’t just belong to the priest, it just doesn’t belong to the faithful It.s a team effort,” Bishop said.
“So getting the team together to hopefully address some of the concerns that they have and give input and ideas on the direction is a great idea.”
According to the diocese, under the guidance of Most Rev. Bernard W. Schmitt, seventh Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, this council helped form the four major documents of the Ninth Synod of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
The full group will meet three times a year with its first meeting set for February 19-20 at St. John’s in Charleston. The Charter for the Diocesan Pastoral Council can be found on the diocesan website here. Committee assignments are likely to be handed out then and Bishop said those members would meet more often.
Bishop said the past few years and pandemic has been tough on the catholic church in West Virginia but said he believes it has brought more people in the diocese together.
“We are looking after one another, we are calling to check on one another,” Bishop said. “More people are serving as extraordinary ministers of communion and visiting each other.
“There for a while we were all shut-ins. We would have online Zoom prayer services or call each other on the phone and pray together.”