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Lay Catholic Voices for Change


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A Brief History 


     Michael Bransfield held the position of bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston from 2005 to the time of his resignation in 2018.  During his time as bishop, he abused alcohol, engaged in acts of sexual harassment, and exercised unchecked power in using diocese income and resources for his personal benefit. 

     Diocesan officials did not report Bransfield’s actions to law enforcement nor did they share information about Michael Bransfield’s abuses with the lay Catholic public. 

Bransfield’s many abuses were made possible by structural problems in how the church is governed. 


     In November of 2018, following the resignation of Michael Bransfield, the diocese released a list of clerics against whom credible accusations of sexual misconduct had been made. Michael Bransfield’s name was not on this list. 

The diocese and its clerics called on lay people to pray for the victims of clerical abusers. The diocese did not call upon clerics to pray for their victims. 

     In the wake of Bransfield’s resignation, the Vatican installed William Lori, Baltimore archbishop, as apostolic administrator and ordered a lay investigation of Bransfield’s tenure. The investigators filed a a report that included details of Bransfield’s cash payments, using diocesan money, to influential clerics, including Lori. Lori erased this information before sending the report on to the Vatican.  Lori also refused to release the report to the lay public. 

     The Washington Post procured a copy of the report and published it shortly before Christmas, 2019. 

     In the wake of the report and in the wake of the diocese’s arrogance in asking lay people – not clerics - to pray for the sexual abuse victims of the clergy, parishioners in North-Central West Virginia who were concerned with assisting those abused by Michael Bransfield and with reforming the church formed Lay Catholic Voices for Change (“LCVC”).  

    As one of its first acts, in January 2019 LCVC conducted a lay-led prayer service in downtown Morgantown for reform. There LCVC stated that it would “not let this culture of abuse continue to be swept under the rug, silenced, and ignored. We will not stand silent.” 

(A similar prayer service followed a year later in 2020.) 

LCVC Demands Change 

     The report of the investigation of Michael Bransfield cataloged Bransfield’s many abuses – and also demonstrated the need for reform of the church’s governing structure. LCVC called for a meeting of all interested Morgantown area Catholics in the spring of 2019 to discuss the Bransfield scandal and what reaction lay Catholic should have. Seizing on the report’s findings and reflecting the sentiments expressed at the meeting, LCVC wrote to William Lori in June 2019. LCVC expressed its outrage at the cover-up of Michael Bransfield’s sexual and financial abuses. LCVC demanded a variety of reforms, including but not limited to, the re-evaluation, and reorganization by lay people, of the process for reporting sexual abuse by clerics, the performance of an annual, lay-led, independent financial audit of the diocese, and the involvement of lay Catholics in the bishop-selection process. 

An online version of the letter was signed by over 1,000 people.  

The letter was ignored by William Lori. He did not respond, even to acknowledge receipt of the letter.  

    LCVC wrote William Lori again in July 2019. LCVC pointed out that he had ignored its first letter. The letter continued: 

        'It is our common love for the church community that compels us to shake off any and all complicity with the sexual abuse and financial dishonesty that has corrupted our Diocese. We can no longer permit our donations to support a Diocese whose financial secrecy and dishonesty are the foundation for its underwriting acts of sexual abuse and immoral spending. 

        Until and unless the Diocese hires a new, independent, and trustworthy auditor to audit the 

Diocese’s finances and until and unless the Diocese announces a time line for releasing an independently audited financial statement, complete with the auditor’s opinion, we will not donate money that would otherwise go to or through diocesan offices.'

     This letter and LCVC’s threatened “Not a Dime for the Diocese” campaign generated a response from the diocese. The diocese agreed to conduct and release the audit LCVC demanded. The audit was subsequently performed and released to the public. 


A new bishop 

      In July 2019, Mark Brennan was appointed to replace Michael Bransfield.  LCVC requested a meeting with the new bishop. Mark Brennan subsequently met with LCVC in early November 2019. 

     At that meeting, LCVC sought the following: 

         1. Listening sessions around the state 

         2. Independently chosen lay representatives 

         3. Release of the Bransfield report 

         4. Bransfield apology to victims 

         5. Dismissal of those who knew of sexual abuse 

         6. Dismissal of those who knew of, and helped facilitate, financial abuse

         7. Request for ongoing meetings and exchanges 

     While Mark Brennan was seemingly not receptive to these requests at his meeting with LCVC, later he: 

         • Called for his fellow bishops to solicit lay input during the bishop selection process; 

         • Resurrected the Diocesan Pastoral Council and populated it with representatives from all                  vicariates voted into office by lay Catholics in each vicariate. (An LCVC member was                      among those elected.) 

         • Denounced Michael Bransfield’s August 2020 “apology” as inadequate. 

      Mark Brennan also met with LCVC representatives again in October, 2020.  At that time, LCVC advocated for the establishment of a restorative justice program to advance the healing of abuse victims and the addition of independent lay persons to diocesan boards and committees. 

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The future

     LCVC continues to press for reform in the areas of sexual and financial abuse. It is particularly focused on restorative justice and on reforming church governance such that independent lay representatives have a voice in governance.  To help advance these ends, LCVC is strengthening its connections to other reform groups such as a

         A Church Together in Wheeling

        We Are the Church in Pittsburgh

        Catholics for Change in Our Church

        Restorative Justice WV

and others.  

LCVC welcomes new members. 

INTO ACCOUNT Support for survivors & allies seeking justice, accountability and recovery in Christian contexts

Awake the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, WI Our mission is to awaken our community to the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and work for transformation and healing throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. We know we don’t have all the answers, but as members of the Body of Christ, we feel called in this moment to listen, learn, and lead.

Catholics for Change in Our Church Diocese of Pittsburgh, PA An independent organization of concerned, committed Catholics, based in Pittsburgh, formed to affirm the laity’s rightful role of co-responsibility in the Church. Our focus is to bring about positive changes grounded in working collaboratively with the clergy and having the qualities of transparency, accountability, and competency.

The Movement to Restore Trust Diocese of Buffalo, NY An independent organization of concerned, committed Catholics in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo formed to assert the laity’s rightful role in the Church and to help lead a movement to restore trust and confidence in the Church in the wake of public disclosures about the Diocese’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases.

ACT A Church Together Wheeling, WV

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE WV Restorative Justice information and resources “Restorative justice is a process to involve…those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”

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