“Lay Involvement” in Church Investigation Does Not Guarantee Truth or Transparency

What is happening in the Catholic Church in West Virginia is truly remarkable, notable and important to watch. Occurring in the immediate wake of the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick scandal and the release of the damning PA grand jury report, the resignation and subsequent investigation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield for alleged sexual harassment of adults are of national significance. His past history in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. connect him directly to wider circles of influence at play in the U.S. church at this time. Additionally, the present investigation of Bransfield takes place just six years after he was alleged to have abused minors decades ago in his home diocese of Philadelphia, allegations that Bransfield and other officials of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston have consistently denied.

Still, more than just another clerical spectacle, the laypeople of our mainly “rural” and presumably “unimportant” diocese are in the position to influence the entire U.S. Catholic Church on a path toward greater transparency and justice, away from all forms of abusive behavior.

There are signs that West Virginia Catholics are doing just that.

Our interim bishop, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, appointed Bryan Minor, a layperson, as his delegate to handle daily diocesan operations. In fact, lay administrators are, for the most part, running the show with ordained members of the former bishop’s curia slipping into an almost penitential silence.

Grassroots Catholic organizers recently met with Minor to bring him bold and forthright questions from a number of concerned Catholics. At that meeting, he showed admirable sincerity, ca...

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