“It’s a good day for transparency, accountability and honesty in the Wheeling-Charleston diocese,” said Chuck DiSalvo, a West Virginia University law professor and longtime parishioner with Lay Catholic Voices for Change, which came together in recent months after church officials in West Virginia and Maryland (who were charged by the Vatican with investigating Bransfield’s tenure) declined to share details. “At the same time, we realize this is just a very small step in a very long process. We intend to continue to advocate for reforms.”
The group initially wrote in June to Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who oversaw the probe into his smaller, neighboring diocese and has been serving as temporary administrator since Bransfield’s exit in the fall, demanding the financial accountability moves as well as the release of Lori’s full report on their community. They also demanded to know who had been involved in the coverup of Bransfield’s alleged misconduct and sought better support for abuse victims.
Lori and the Wheeling-Charleston delegate of administrative affairs, Bryan Minor, did not respond, Lay Catholic Voices for Change said, nor did they respond initially to a second letter saying that if they did not make progress toward financial accountability and transparency, members would withhold giving and encourage others to follow their own consciences on the matter.
“You ignore us — Catholics who faithfully support the church with our time, talent, and treasure. You apparently have so little respect for lay people, you chose not to issue even a pro forma response to our letter. You simply ignored us,” read the group’s July 9 letter to Lori.
The June letter, which is also online as a petition, has more than 800 signatures.
In an email to The Post, Minor said diocesan officials had already been working on making the same financial improvements.
The two sides agreed in the last few days on the measures, DiSalvo said.
In a Wednesday letter to the diocese, Lori announced the moves, including others: expanding the Diocesan Finance Council’s size and having it meet more frequently and making capital project spending more transparent. He did not mention any of the lay groups’ advocacy.
Catholics around the country have been astonished by the case of Bransfield, as well as the church report by lay investigators that alleged coverup and mismanagement up and down the diocesan leadership chain. The Post reported that high clerics from across the United States and into the Vatican were receiving checks for thousands and sometimes tens of thousands from Bransfield.
Some active Catholics said Wednesday that reform needs to go much further and expressed concern that the issue of sexual misconduct isn’t being addressed more forcefully. The report needs to be released, said Michael Iafrate, co-coordinator of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. He also works with Lay Catholic Voices.
“The work of exposing corruption — the report — is being kept hidden from people, still. We should be appreciative but not satisfied about the audit,” he said.
“I think beyond the financial stuff, releasing the Bransfield report is essential for addressing the heart of the crisis, which is lack of transparency and accountability related to sexual abuse in the church. Sex abuse has to be at the center of what we’re focusing on. We have to keep victims of sex abuse at the center.”