West-Virginia Audit

Gordon Gekko

With impressive boldness, lay people in West Virginia have banded together and won a promise from Archbishop Lori. Lay Catholic Voices for Change threatened to withhold donations until an independent auditor checked the diocese’s books. Lori promised that such an audit will occur, with a report to be published for everyone to read.

Of course, the Archbishop currently sits on another, more important report. The findings of the investigation into former-bishop Michael Bransfield’s free spending and sexual harassment of seminarians and young priests. Lori has insisted that he will not, cannot publish that one.

And, of course, Archbishop Lori, in his letter making his promise, clearly explains how he never could possibly have done anything about this before now, and how he himself makes an honest living, and lives in a reasonable domicile, and meets with committees even when he’s tired, etc…

…Dear reader, you ask: Why so obsessed with West Virginia, Father Mark? To the point where you lose your temper and fling around bad words?

1. It’s our sister church, united with us by two centuries of intertwined history.

2. It could have been us. Richmond.

Pope John Paul II named one Philadelphian, Francis X. DiLorenzo, bishop of Richmond less than nine months before he named another Philadelphian, Michael Bransfield, bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.

Walter Sullivan had turned 75 years of age, and submitted his resignation, three months before Bernard Schmitt, then the incumbent in West Virginia, did the same. The bishop/sausage-making apparatus churned out two Philadelphians in quick succession for these openings. If Sullivan were a few weeks younger, or Schmitt a few weeks older, it could easily have gone the other way.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

After all, neither DiLorenzo nor Bransfield had any particular affinity for either Virginia or West Virginia. Neither of them came with any talents or dispositions particularly suited for ministry in Virginia or West Virginia.

Anyway, during the ensuing thirteen years: West-Virginia Catholics lived through the ever-growing sense that something was rotten in their state of Denmark, so to speak.

Our bishop lives way too high on the hog. Drinks too much. Travels outside the diocese more than he should. Yes, he has some winning qualities. And an awful lot of rich friends, apparently. But I can’t shake the sense that he acts more like Gordon Gekko than like Jesus Christ

So people complained. Up the ecclesiastical chain of command. People who cared about true religion, serving God, the spiritual integrity of His Church, etc.

But, for thirteen years, the Church powers-that-be were like: No, people. Nope. This is normal. Quit complaining.

Metropolitans of Baltimore O’Brien and then Lori; papal nuncios Sambi and Viganò; Popes Benedict and Francis: Quit complaining, West Virginians. Bransfield’s cool. This is normal.

Thirteen years of increasingly painful cognitive dissonance for priests, seminarians, Catholics paying attention. Thirteen years of ever-increasing surreality.

Could have been us, here in Richmond.

(Some might say: Wait a minute, Father! That was us. Our Philadelphian pushed us way into the realm of the surreal, too! …Ok. Fair enough. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Anyway: After thirteen years of Quit your complaining! West-Virginia Catholics now have received some slender vindication. They rightly complained.

But it seems like cold comfort to me. After all, the problem always was: Why is the shepherd of the flock so into himself? Why so preoccupied with himself?

As I mentioned, Archbishop Lori wrote the Catholic people of West Virginia a letter, promising an audit. The letter focuses on one particular person.

–One of of the West-Virginians who took a chance, speaking out  to try and right the ship? No.

–The brave soul who leaked all the information about the bribes to the higher-ups, that forced Lori’s hand to concede to an independent audit? Did Lori find the courage actually to thank the leaker? By no means.

No, Archbishop Lori’s letter to the Catholics of West Virginia focuses on the one person that concerns William Lori. The one person that truly preoccupies him. The same person he has focused on during all his numerous interviews and statements on the subject of the church crisis in West Virginia.

You guessed it: Just like Michael Bransfield’s main preoccupation in life has been, ultimately, Michael Bransfield, William Lori’s perennial concern is, above all, of course, William Lori.

The shepherd writes a letter to a confused and disenchanted people. About himself.

In one way or another, that’s basically what’s been happening for the past year, all up and down the East coast, and other parts of the country, too, for all I know, and in Rome. That’s what drives me to use bad words and conclude that our ecclesiastical situation totally sucks.

We are in the thrall of a mafia that may or may not be riddled with homosexuality, but which certainly lives its entire nervous, inept life in front of the mirror.

5 thoughts on “West-Virginia Audit

  1. The bishop I grew up with was always writing letters about ecumenism and apologizing for his predecessor in the pre Civil War era, but that is Charleston, SC…

  2. As is often remarked: “It is a thankless job but someone has to do it.” That you for your courrage. We are lucky to have you in our diocese.

  3. I know it probably doesn’t help much but sanctions were just levied against Bransfield….you as always are in my prayers….

  4. After a week of study and worship (no TV, no e-mails, no phone calls) at a Carmelite Retreat Center, it is hard to come back to the reality of everyday life, and part of that reality is what Fr. Mark’s writing addresses. Like others, I thank him for his courage and caring enough to speak out. I pray for the church and am thankful for the priests who have not succumbed to self-indulgence. I pray also for those priests who have forgotten what it is to be a priest. I pray for myself that I may not lose my own way but reflect God’s love in my own life and actions.
    Judy R.

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