Open Letter from Lay Catholic Voices for Change
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12 June 2019
The Most Reverend William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore
Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (DWC)
320 Cathedral Street
Baltimore MD 21201
Dear Archbishop Lori, priests of the DWC, and fellow lay sisters and brothers in the DWC:
We represent Lay Catholic Voices for Change, an organization created by parishioners from north-central West Virginia who have been joined by others from around the state. We have associated ourselves in response to the sexual abuse scandal, which we see as linked to a broad crisis of political and financial corruption within our Diocese and throughout the Church, to the detriment of clergy and laypeople alike.
We address this letter to you, Archbishop Lori, but also to the clergy and lay faithful of our Diocese, in order to make specific requests and to express our general understanding of how the massive breach of trust that has torn our Church apart can begin to be repaired.
We are outraged that the scandal of clergy sex abuse in our Church has been prolonged and perpetuated by coverups in the DWC.
We are also troubled and appalled by the coverup in our diocese of Bishop Bransfield’s outrageous spending.
As lay people, we decry the crimes that have been committed. But we are forced to acknowledge that the coverups have been facilitated by our acquiescence to a culture of clericalism that has pervaded our Church.
It is now incumbent upon us to respond to the Catechism’s teaching that “[the laity] have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church” and “a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful” (CCC, 907). We must hold ourselves accountable for changing our institution so that these crimes and their coverup cannot happen again. We cannot leave it up to the hierarchy to tell us how they will solve this crisis. Until we resolve to be part of the solution, there can be no effective change. Therefore, we challenge ourselves and all Catholics in our Diocese to commit to being prayerful, informed, and involved.
First, we must pray, individually and collectively, for the resolve and strength to be successful in this undertaking.
Second, in order to be informed, we need the immediate and full cooperation from Diocesan leaders in the following areas:
● The Diocese must release the full report (with redactions required to protect the identities of victims and witnesses) submitted by the investigative panel appointed by Archbishop Lori on abuse in the DWC.
● In addition to former Bishop Bransfield’s misdeeds and the names of individual priests credibly accused of crimes, we need to know who in the Diocese was complicit in these actions by covering up for the guilty, failing to report abuses, or using positions of authority to intimidate others into remaining silent.
● We also require a complete, annual, lay-led, independent, financial audit of the Diocese.
● On the parish level, full financial accountability should be demonstrated to members of parish councils.
Third, laypeople must be involved in leadership in the following ways:
● The process for reporting and assessing allegations of sexual abuse must be clearly articulated and easily available to the People of God. That process must then be re-evaluated and, if necessary, reorganized by competent lay people. Reorganization must assure that the membership of the diocesan review board is chosen by the laity with no clerical involvement.
● We call for significant lay involvement in matters such as the choice of a new bishop for our Diocese, through a fully transparent selection process conducted by a publicly announced committee. Fourth, in terms of victim advocacy, we must have confidence in the viability and fairness of each level of the process. In particular, we demand that:
● There be a clear entry point for those making a complaint or asking for help;
● Victims be kept informed about what is happening with their cases after they are reported;
● Victims be assigned an advocate / mentor / friend who will actively keep in touch and support them as their case progresses;
● As lay people, we be informed about how to proceed in the event we are approached by a victim;
● Confidentiality be maintained as much as possible and policies of non-retaliation be securely implemented to protect those who come forward.
Finally, on a parish level:
● We must challenge ourselves to have open and honest conversations.
● Our priests must talk about the crisis from the pulpit and offer us opportunities to become better informed.
● We must require priests to support lay involvement in decision-making on the parish level, including budgetary and financial matters.
● We must rise to the occasion when opportunities occur for such involvement.
In summary, we as laity accept our call “to cooperate with [our] pastors in the service of the ecclesial community, for the sake of its growth and life” (CCC, 910). Therefore we insist on helping to resolve this crisis, which involves not only clergy sexual abuse, but also the abuse of power through clerical intimidation, financial corruption, malpractice in the assignment of parish priests, and other problems. Failure to accept this call by going along with business as usual will indicate our failure as Church.
Therefore, we claim our right as baptized members of the Body of Christ and insist upon meaningful participation, inviting fellow Catholics from across our Diocese to do the same. Archbishop Lori, we respectfully request a response by 28 June 2019.
For the sake of Christ and His Holy Church,
Lay Catholic Voices for Change
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