By Colleen Rowan “

You make a promise, and you keep it,” that is how trust in the Catholic Church will be restored, Bishop Mark E. Brennan said. The bishop shared this and other thoughts when sat down with The Catholic Spirit Nov. 22 to talk about his Oct. 13 presentation “Lack of Trust in the Institutional Church and the Need to Restore It” to the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA) in San Diego, Calif. “I was asked to speak about the lack of trust in the institutional church,” Bishop Brennan said. “But I also wanted to talk about how you restore that trust. How do we move towards building up trust in the church? Basically, you do this by proving you’re trustworthy. You keep your word. You keep your promises.” That is what Bishop Brennan has been focusing on in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston since becoming its ninth bishop in the summer of 2019. He has since been traveling the diocese and getting to know his people. “I’ve been to almost all the parishes now,” the bishop told The Catholic Spirit. “I’ve been to 23 of our 24 Catholic schools since the school year began in late August.” The bishop shared this in his address to the CLSA as well as other efforts in the diocese to restore trust, starting with the Diocesan Finance Council. The bishop emphasized that canons 492 and 493 envision a council that truly functions to assist the bishop in diocesan finances. “Building on the efforts of Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who served as apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston for a year and gave it much attention, I was able to increase its geographical representation and include more women on the Council,” Bishop Brennan told the CLSA. “I also directed the council to work with the Diocesan Finance Department in the formation of the annual budget. That was new to everyone but, with a few bumps and scrapes along the way, a good budget was formed for the current fiscal year. Archbishop Lori promised that the annual audit of diocesan finances would be published. We have done that for two years with generally favorable reviews.” Bishop Brennan then pointed to the establishment of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He noted that the history of such councils in the U.S. is uneven but thought it would be good for Wheeling-Charleston, especially since the people had no voice with which to express their views in the light of the scandals the diocese had endured. “I wanted this to truly be a council reflective of our Catholic people, so I told my pastors to ask their parishioners to nominate persons they considered appropriate for such a council,” the bishop told the CLSA, describing the diocese’s vicariate structure and the election process. He shared that the council has 18 lay men and women, including a number of young adults. A few members are ex officio, such as the vicar general and vicar for clergy, a representative of consecrated persons and a permanent deacon elected by his fellow deacons. “I find the council to be full of zeal to work for the cause of Christ in our state,” the bishop told the CLSA. “I believe the council will be a very fruitful consultative body for our local church if it has substantive work to do. It also reflects Pope Francis’ emphasis on synodality in which communion with one another in the Holy Spirit is affirmed, participation of all is assured and the Church’s mission to evangelize is promoted.” In more efforts, Bishop Brennan pointed to “healing circles” in the diocese where clergy, religious, and the faithful can talk openly about the scandals of the church. Talking about it helps, the bishop said, but cautioned the faithful to not just focus on the past. “My overall impression is that West Virginia Catholics don’t want to get stuck in the past. They do want to move forward,” Bishop Brennan told The Catholic Spirit. Looking beyond West Virginia, Bishop Brennan said in his address to the CLSA, that parishes, schools and youth programs are safer for young people today than they were 30, 40 or 50 years ago. “In addition to those diocesan Review Boards that function well,” he said, “we do extensive screening of candidates for the priesthood and diaconate, Catholic school teachers, youth ministers and volunteers who work with youth.” Bishop Brennan went on to tell the CLSA of that as a parish priest in 2002, he thought the bishops should have applied the provisions of the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to themselves. “I still think so,” he said in his address. “In the 2018 revision of the charter in a section near the end entitled, ‘Statement of Episcopal Commitment,’ we bishops said: ‘We will apply the requirements of the Charter also to ourselves, respecting always Church law as it applies to bishops.’ I would favor a definitive vote by the Bishops’ Conference saying exactly that and asking for Rome’s approval to make it particular law for the church in the United States. That would give the statement teeth. I hope that some people might say, ‘A little late in the game but the right move,’ and that it would enkindle a little more confidence in episcopal leadership, give encouragement to our Child Protection officers and remove resentment from priests and deacons who know that, presently, the Dallas norms that apply to them do not apply to bishops.” Bishop Brennan also told the CLSA that a better effort must be made in reaching out to victim survivors of clerical child abuse. While monetary settlements are made, he said, they do not bring healing. Counseling is offered either through the church or by a counselor of the victim’s choice. Many bishops have spent hours listening to the stories of those who survived abuse, Bishop Brennan said, but it is difficult to reach victims. “The wounds are so deep and stay so raw,” Bishop Brennan said. “I have met with a few victims but not many have accepted my invitation to meet with them. The lack of trust in bishops becomes very palpable in this experience. But we must keep trying, especially because the spiritual good of these brothers and sisters is at stake.” These are just some of the issues Bishop Brennan shared with the CLSA. His talk will be printed in full in an upcoming CLSA publication. In ending his address to the CLSA, the bishop said: “The Catholic Church has been through worse times than these but that does not excuse indifference and inaction on our part today. This is, after all, the Church Christ founded, the sacrament of his salvation for a world that desperately needs his saving grace. It is the Lord’s will that his church have shepherds at different levels. That makes it imperative to show by our words and deeds that our people can trust us. Only when they hear the echo of Christ’s voice in ours will they follow us. Only when we lead with integrity will we be worthy of our calling.”