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Brennan says Diocesan Pastoral Council will play crucial role in the church moving forward

WHEELING, W.Va. — Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Mark Brennan is confident with communication inside the diocese moving forward, following the reestablishment of the Diocesan Pastoral Council of lay members last week.

Brennan appeared on Monday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ to discuss why he felt it was important to bring the council back, something that was created in 1968 and had dissolved under the past leadership of former Bishop Michael Bransfield.

Mark Brennan

He said that under the Code of Canon, law that guides the Catholic Church worldwide, it recommends each bishop to have a Diocesan Pastoral Council. The purpose of the council is to advise a bishop on various matters and work with the chief to implement programs, plans and policies of the church as well as promote the mission of the church.

Brennan said the church is not a democracy or monarchy but a joint effort that helps spread the word of the gospel.  The council consists of three lay members from each of the six Vicariate councils.

“There is great need to win back folks we have lost from the church. There are hundreds of thousands of West Virginians with no religious affiliation. There is a lot of room out there to be proclaiming the gospel and winning people for Christ. That’s what we have to be about,” Brennan said.

There had been 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 and pay $792,638 restitution.

Brennan said Monday that Bransfield wrote a check to the diocese recently for $441,000, an amount the Internal Revenue Service said that he should pay back. The bishop said that the Holy See, the universal government of the Catholic Church and operates from Vatican City State, accepted the payment. Bransfield also had his retirement plans reduced by two-thirds.

Brennan explained that from the point of view of the Holy See, Bransfield’s actions of forgiveness satisfies. He said he is fine with what Rome has accepted but understands some inside the diocese just have not gotten over it yet.

“I respect the fact that there are some folks who are still very upset about it, angry, bitter. I understand that,” Brennan said.

“We are trying to help them work through this. We will offer the parish as a way they can gather together and see how they feel and work through those feelings.”

The full council group will meet three times a year with its first meeting set for February 19-20 at St. John’s in Charleston.

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