WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) — The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s newly appointed apostolic administrator, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, is expressing a message of hope to Catholics of West Virginia in the wake of the announcement of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults by Bishop Michael J. Bransfield.
Pope Francis accepted Bishop Bransfield’s resignation as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston and appointed Archbishop Lori apostolic administrator and instructed him to conduct the investigation into the allegations Sept. 13.
The same day, the archbishop arrived in Wheeling to meet with diocesan staff. On the second day of his visit, the archbishop talked with The Catholic Spirit, the diocesan newspaper, about hope and moving forward with faith in the Lord.
“Our faith, and our hope and our love are fixed not on any one person, not on any one minister of the church — not any one pope, not any one bishop — but on the Lord,” the archbishop said in the Sept. 14 interview. “And the Lord is with us in the strength and power of his death and resurrection. Whatever events rock us … Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever; and let us keep our eyes fixed on Christ.
He said that if there is anything he hopes to do as apostolic administrator as the diocese awaits a new bishop, it “is simply to do what the church must always do — to proclaim the name of Jesus and to allow Jesus to shed his light upon our problems, our dilemmas, our worries and our crises.”
During this difficult time for the church in West Virginia, the faithful must redouble their lives of prayer, the archbishop said, and he encouraged families and parish families to draw close together.
“When we pray, we open our hearts to God,” he said. “We receive grace, we receive inspiration. The word of God sinks into our mind and heart and, ultimately, equips us to deal with the crisis or the problems that are at hand.”
Parents must take time to be with their children and to answer their questions, if they have them, he said, and use this moment to guide them in the ways of integrity and virtue, particularly the virtue of chastity, and all of the other Gospel virtues.
Parish communities, he said, can draw close together in many ways — through the Eucharist, the source of unity, in discussions in which people can share their feelings and find ways to move forward.
The church is made up of saints and sinners, Archbishop Lori said.
“And yet the Lord chose to work in and through us,” he said. “We should never allow that to fade. By working together, we might just be able to show a way for other segments of the church to handle their crisis and difficulties if we handle ourselves in wisdom and charity.”
When asked what he would say to those whose response would be to leave the church, he said it is an understandable feeling.
“But we should make sure that we are not allowing raw emotion to dictate one of the most important decisions of our life — our decision to be with Christ and the church,” he said. “We should remember that Christ and the church are inseparable, and Christ is the source of our holiness, Christ’s presence in the church is what makes the church holy.”
Throughout history, the church’s institutional form has shown the weakness of its leaders and members, Archbishop Lori said, beginning in the Acts of the Apostles.
“It was evident in the beginning,” he said, “It was evident in the betrayal of Judas. It was evident in the denial of Peter. It was evident in the factions that you see in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians and also his condemnation of various forms of immorality. The church is where sinners go to becomes saints.”
But through it all, “the grace of Christ has triumphed,” he said. “We are the latest chapter in that. We have to believe that Christ’s goodness and his grace will not fail us. I would beg them to reconsider and to stay close to Jesus and to his church.”
Archbishop Lori said he does not how long he will be apostolic administrator, but that it will be long enough that he will have the opportunity to look into the situation with the help of qualified laypersons.
“I will rely heavily on people who know how to do these kinds of investigations, and I will try to do that as promptly and as thoroughly as possible,” he said. “My part is simple — the preliminary part. I will then turn the findings over to the Holy Father and to the Vatican.”
He also said he hopes to get to know the diocese well enough “that I can understand it and hopefully play some small role in helping to identify who might be good shepherd to lead the diocese forward.”
For whatever length of time he is apostolic administrator, Archbishop Lori said, he will be “as present” as he can and will be “certainly working with the wonderful people who are on the ground here. … I’m confident we can stick together and go forward in a good way.”
“Every day I pray for the people I serve,” the archbishop said. “So every day I will be praying for this great diocese that extends the breath, and length, and height and depth of West Virginia.”
Rowan is executive editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
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