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Lay Catholic Voices for Change
2020-2021
activity summary report

     Our general in-person LCVC meetings have not been possible over the past two years. During this period, the Steering Committee has continued to meet virtually via Zoom.  At this time, we would like to update you on our activities since the last general in-person meeting. Our intent is to offer LCVC members an activity summary report annually moving forward.

     March 5, 2020 LCVC held its last general in-person meeting. As reflected in the minutes, topics of discussion from that meeting, were the financial audit, the names of parishioners who were on the Diocesan Pastoral Council election ballot (this ballot was cancelled and held several months later with a different slate of candidates), lay governance letters, and restorative justice conference that several members attended. The next General and Steering Committee meetings were cancelled.

     September 2020 to the present The Steering Committee began meeting via Zoom and continues to do so on nearly a monthly basis. Ginny Aultman-Moore resigned from the Steering Committee and was replaced by Patricia Schaeffer. Judy Pazerski has continued to email pertinent information and announcements to our LCVC email list.

     October 12, 2020 Members of ACT (A Church Together-Wheeling, WV) and LCVC meet with Bishop Brennan and some chancery staff at St. Francis de Sales, Morgantown. On October 17, 2020, a report on this meeting was emailed to LCVC members.

The following is a synopsis of our discussions and activities during these two years:

 

  • Diocesan Finance Council 

     LCVC members will recall that Michael Bransfield’s misuse of diocesan funds was made possible by a Diocesan Finance Council (DFC) that failed to pay attention to his activities and/or failed to confront him about his activities. 

 

     All members of the Bransfield DFC were appointed by the Diocese. There were no members who were placed on the DFC by any person or body other than the Diocese.

In the belief that the lack of independent DFC members was a contributing factor to the Bransfield scandal, we suggested to the Diocese that lay people be given a formal role in the appointment of independent DFC members. In late 2020, the Diocese rejected this proposal, citing Canon Law for the proposition that all DFC members have to be appointed by the Diocese.

 

     In reaction to this, LCVC’s Steering Committee decided to propose names to the Diocese for it to appoint when openings on the DFC occurred in the future. LCVC consulted with sympathetic clergy and with a range of lay people for the identification of nominees. At the end of this search, LCVC identified two persons who were willing to have their names forwarded to the Diocese: Maria Lorensen of Martinsburg and Bob Wright of Parkersburg. Bishop Brennan sent a cordial response, pledging to pass our suggestions to the Diocesan CFO, Mr. Patrick Henry, for consideration when openings on the council occur.

 

     To read Bishop Brennan’s letter, go to our LCVC Website. Under heading “recent activity,” you will find Bishop Brennan’s letter. LCVC’s website link is noted below.

 

  • Restorative Justice 

     Several members of LCVC’s Steering Committee attended the Restorative Justice conference at Wheeling University, February 2020. Presenters were from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis. The Wheeling Restorative Justice Committee via Zoom presented information sessions, restorative justice training, and follow-up sessions. 

 

  • LCVC Website

https://www.laycatholicvoicesforchange.com/

     The link was emailed to the LCVC membership list on October 24, 2021.  Take a look at it if you haven’t already. It conveys our LCVC history and contains lots to ponder in our search for honesty and transparency. (Much gratitude and appreciation extended to Allison DeGeorge who created our website and continues to maintain it.) 

 

  • Bransfield Report  

     The 2019 “Report to Archbishop William E. Lori, Archdiocese of Baltimore” of the “Investigation of Bishop Michael Bransfield, Former Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston” was never released publicly, including not to the DWC laity.  However, a redacted version of the report was published in the Washington Post (WP) after concluding that it was not going to be released publicly.  This was followed by articles in the Dominion Post (December 25, 2020-Morgantown, WV) referencing the WP report, and the Wheeling Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV).   

 

     There were substantial additional references in the report regarding allegations of possible misconduct by Bransfield with minor(s) prior to his tenure in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, specifically in Philadelphia.  The report suggested “significant reason for concern” regarding “allegations of sexual misconduct with minors” and said that “this matter may warrant further inquiry.”   Bishop Brennan declined to follow-up on these matters in the aforementioned meeting with LCVC members in October 2020.  LCVC sent letters to the four authors of the “Report on Bransfield” in 2021.  One author responded, referenced Pope Francis’ promulgation, “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (Light of the World), and encouraged LCVC to continue its pursuit of these serious allegations with both the Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  Letters sent to these two representatives in September 2021 yielded no responses.  Follow-up letters will be sent in early 2022.  


 

     As stated by Buffalo Diocese Bishop Michael Fisher:*

Ultimately, our commitment to ensuring that the crimes and sins of the past cannot be repeated in the present will be measured not by what we say, but by what we do.  This requires a “zero-tolerance” policy for any member of the clergy, lay employee, or volunteer who commits an act of abuse toward a minor or vulnerable person, or an act of harassment towards an adult.

*Op-Ed by Bishop Michael Fisher, The Buffalo News, September 26, 2021.

 

  • Letters to Cardinals Cupich and Tobin 

     On May 24, 2021, the Steering Committee, on behalf of LCVC, sent letters to Cardinal Blasé Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark.  The purpose of the letters was to seek increased lay involvement in the bishop selection process.  DWC’s Bishop Brennan had suggested to the 2020 fall assembly of the USCCB that a comment period be allowed for lay input following the investigation of candidates for bishop.  

The letters advocated more fundamental reform in the bishop selection process.  The reforms presented in the letters would have the “Church entertain lay nominations of candidates and give weight to lay opinions of candidates for bishop during the selection process.”  In 2004, the USCCB’s National Review Board for the Protection of Children recommended more lay involvement in suggesting names of candidates for bishop and in the vetting process.  That suggestion was never implemented.

LCVC did not receive responses to the letters.      

 

  • Diocesan Audit Review 

     In late 2021, we sent a letter with our questions on the 2021 diocesan financial audit to Mr. Patrick Henry, Diocesan Chief Financial Officer. Several elements in the audit were addressed in our letter. Some important issues we asked for information on are: 

1. Victim Outreach Fund - Who oversees this fund? How is it funded? How are funds used?

2. Future of Wheeling University - What financial obligations does the diocese hold?

3. Diocesan Real Estate - Who overseas these holdings? How is it insured that money is spent wisely and within budget on construction projects? 

4. Compliance – a financial audit is just that, a thorough summary of money in and money out. An audit does not necessarily show compliance to rules and guidelines. Does the diocese have an independent compliance office? Is the yearly audit the only tool for diocesan financial oversight?

     We were assured by Mr. Bryan Minor that Mr. Henry would answer our questions. Eventually, we did receive a letter from Mr. Henry. Its contents were unhelpful and its tone was dismissive. In prior phone conversations with Mr. Henry, he said he would answer our questions on the audit. He did not. We contacted Mr. Bryan Minor regarding such; he asked for our questions on the audit. We sent them to Mr. Minor on January 29, 2022 and are waiting for his response.

 

  • David Haas 

     David Haas’ music was still being used in some diocesan parishes despite recommendations against this due to substantial reports of Mr. Haas’ sexual abuse and harassment of women. We, as a Steering Committee, reviewed this and decided to not take up this issue; such action at this time would not fall under our mission and goals.  Since then, GIA Publications Co. has asked diocesan offices to end use of Mr. Haas’ music in their parishes.

 

  • Review of DWC Sex Abuse Review Board/Office of Safe Environment 

     There were conversations with Bryan Minor inquiring about the relationship and interaction between these two diocesan entities. The diocesan policies posted online were also reviewed. No further action was deemed necessary at the current time.

 

  • Synodality 

     LCVC’s Steering Committee is reviewing the synod discussion questions. We are selecting the ones that our mission calls on for a response. Once we have our responses composed, we will share them with LCVC’s membership. 

Lay Catholic Voices for Change 

 

identity statement

     We are concerned and involved West Virginia Catholics

     addressing the crisis of sexual and financial abuse in our diocese.

mission statement

     LCVC works to accomplish through independent lay involvement,

     transparency, accountability, and healing for clerical sexual and

     financial abuse in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

goals

demands accountability for church sexual abuse

demands accountability for church financial abuse

effect change by promoting transparent communication

and independent lay involvement

in church governance

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