With the culmination of Advent and the Christmas season upon us, I am glad to have this opportunity to reflect during this Holy time of year on where we have traveled on our faith journey during the past year, just as we look ahead to what challenges and opportunities we now face together as members of this local Church, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
Christmas, as we know, provides an occasion to again celebrate the defining intervention of God in human history, such that all reality is reordered in the light of His great mercy, unconditional love and call to share in equal measure that which we have received through Jesus, His Only Begotten Son. It is both a gift and a necessity that we seize this opportunity to realign our perspective not only as we strive to make sense of the challenges we confront in the life of the Church today, but in order to refresh our spirits and reassert our commitment to carrying out the work of Christ’s Gospel.
Since becoming the Apostolic Administrator of this diocese, I have traveled this beautiful state to celebrate Mass and meet with priests, religious women and men, and lay people. A number of policies and councils have been reconstructed—including the finance and buildings and properties councils—to include more lay involvement in the operations of the Diocese.
In my travels, it is clear to me that many Catholics are suffering from a parallel crisis of Catholic identity that is very much a byproduct of the ongoing and painful saga that our Church has been confronting very conspicuously since 2002, and has hit so very close to home for many of you.
As part of my appointment, I was charged with overseeing the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Bishop Michael Bransfield. The investigation has continued well in to December, and it may take longer to complete. There are many issues to consider, and we have been open to receiving the comments of many people, all of whom wish to be heard before I write my final report back to the Vatican later this winter. I am grateful for your prayers and patience and very much appreciate the cooperation of everyone involved in the process. The need for this investigation is, of course, deeply regrettable and I am keenly sensitive to the wide range of emotions and challenges to faith that this situation has caused. Because there is so much at stake, we are moving forward carefully and comprehensively and are committed to getting this right. We all look forward to the resolution of this investigation so that we may move forward confidently and achieve the healing that is so essential to all.
As the investigation team continues their work, we too must make every effort to restore trust and transparency in our Church. Last month the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston released the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors as it pertains to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People set forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We hope the release of this list will prove one of many steps that leads to restoring trust among parishioners and the broader community in West Virginia. This release of names of those who have committed crimes and violated their solemn vows also reminds us of the painful ways in which this crisis has been handled. I offer my sincerest apologies to all victims of sexual abuse and vow to strive to take proper action to ensure the safety of children and others in our care. I also hope that the release of these names gives strength to those victims who have not yet stepped forward but may now find the courage to do so, knowing that they are not alone and are assured of our support.
Many have understandably questioned, or have been asked to explain, why they are still Catholic. We struggle to explain the inexplicable to family members, friends and associates— to our children. We grasp for words and context to help ourselves and others make sense of that which defies reason, understanding and belief. In a very real way, there is a sense that we are somehow also defined by the criminal acts of those who betrayed their faith, their vows and very identity as members and leaders of the Catholic Church. We feel a sense of guilt by association. We are simultaneously outraged and, at the same time, deeply saddened and disappointed. We want most of all to again feel pride in our Catholicism, without qualification or excuse—to be at peace in our mind and souls, to again feel joy and to be hopeful.
What gives me hope and great energy—as I hope it does you— is the abundant evidence of what continues to be a vibrant and active faith throughout our Diocese. From the selfless service of our priests and lay women and men with whom they minister in the parishes of the Diocese, to our principals and teachers and consecrated religious serving in institutions ranging from education to healthcare, the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being accomplished each and every day and in so many ways through countless acts of charity and service to others. It is the relentless work of being Christ to others—providing food to the hungry, clothing and shelter to those who have not, comfort and resources to those in the grip of addiction or faced with no options, no hope. We have every reason to celebrate both the immeasurable and measurable impact of our faith over this past year through the many and varied ministries of our Church, including the outreach and support provided to nearly 6,000 children served through programs at Catholic Charities West Virginia; the hundreds of thousands of meals served by volunteers throughout the state in our food pantries; the education of over 5,000 young people in our 25 primary and secondary schools; the more than 1,100 young men and women being served in the state’s only Catholic Institution of Higher Education—Wheeling Jesuit University; and the assistance and care provided to 544 seniors in 7 sponsored senior centers. These examples, and so many others, are the evidence of God’s unconditional love, care and concern made manifest by you and your fellow Catholics—the undeniable reality of His abiding presence among us.
This is what constitutes our true identity as Christians and Roman Catholics and it is this ongoing legacy of selfless giving that we celebrate in this season of new beginnings—this season of renewed hope.
As much as I enjoy being your “interim pastor”—learning about you and the great things you are doing to further the mission of Christ—I know that you are anxiously awaiting a permanent pastor for the Diocese. In the near future, a new bishop will be named to shepherd the faithful in West Virginia. While the next bishop will be selected by our Holy Father, part of my duties as Apostolic Administrator is to gauge the needs of this diocese and evaluate its many strengths and resources needed to continue the various ministries that serve so many throughout the state.
Let us continue to rely on one another, supported by faith in Jesus Christ who alone is the source of all the good that we reflect and accomplish. It is my prayer and wish for each and every one of you that the spirit of Christmas will enliven your celebrations with family and friends and inspire your continued witness to God’s great love throughout the New Year upon us.
Archbishop William E. Lori is pictured with Our Lady of Peace School’s Children’s Choir, which sang Christmas carols at the chancery in Wheeling Dec. 13.