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Alleged sex abuse and greed: 3 Catholic voices address the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese scandals

MORGANTOWN — They call themselves Lay Catholic Voices for Change and one of the words they use to describe their reaction to the unfolding sex abuse and financial mismanagement scandals in the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston is “outrage.”

They also use other words: horror, disappointment, pain, and more.

Here are three voices.

Kristen O’Sullivan is a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Princeton and is organizing the lay response in the southern part of the diocese.

“I feel passionately about this,” she said. “We can’t keep being quiet about this as lay people.”

She addressed the reassignment of three vicars tied to former Bishop Michael Bransfield: Rev. Frederick Annie, now at St. Mary in Star City, Rev. Anthony Cincinnati, pastoring St. Francis de Sales in Morgantown, and Rev. Kevin Quirk, now serving in Paden City and New Martinsville.

“I am just horrified that they decided to do that.” She’s talked about it with other lay people in her area. “Those men, in our estimation, should have been removed from their priestly duties until and unless further investigation shows they had no wrongdoing.”

It makes no sense to just move them, she said, but it’s the same kind of shuffling the hierarchy has done in the past. “It’s always at the detriment of the parishes. … It seems that those priests, those men, have the backing of the hierarchy.”

In the past, she said, lay people have had little say and little power to have their concerns addressed. “We’re trying to turn that around at this point. Some of us wish we had done that long ago. We are the church. The lay people are the church. Not the other way around.”

The LCVC letters outlines specific goals in five areas. As far as the process of moving forward, they’re still working on that, she said. The northern laypeople have been working on it for a few months while their southern borthers and sisters are just getting involved. She’s been disseminating information this past week to enable people to decide if they’ll sign on. And they want to voice concerns about some things that weren’t included in the letter but hope will be addressed later.

“This is just a start.” An idea she has is based on pastoral letters from bishops that the bishops assembled form listening sessions. She’d like to see created a listening session format by lay people for lay people, “to be able to address how these terrible abuses of power in our own diocese have directly impacted the faithful.”

O’Sullivan terms herself a “cradle Catholic” who has worked for the church in various capacities over the years and has also struggled with faith – not faith in Christ but faith in the church. She’s not fallen away but at times struggled to stay.

Solutions, she said, will require conversations between the laity and the hierarchy where the laity are equal footing, not just regarded as suggestion makers hoping for some movement from the real decision makers. Some aspects of diocese management, such as finances, may need to be taken away from the hierarchy.

The letter, she said, calls for complete sunshine in financial dealings through an independent auditor so that they know how deep the problem is. “Right now we’re shooting in the dark.” They’re always told things are fine, but then come new revelations and redactions. “It’s hard to come up with solutions when we don’t know what the entire problem is.”

The conversation concluded with O’Sullivan exploring some of her personal feelings.

“I as a catholic, I as a Christian, I as a human being, feel that I am called to the best of my ability to be Christ in the world. The church as it stands now has not been a steward of that. For me, until and unless the church becomes the true stewards of Christ, I will not be able to participate on a full level.

“The hypocrisy in it is just too much for me and when I walk into Mass. Rather than feeling Christ’s presence I feel shame.” She takes her mother to church and it’s hard to tell her she’s not going in. “It’s a very painful thing.”

She knows others don’t agree with her approach and she pushes no one to join her; it’s a personal decision for each. “For us, the concept of being separated from the Eucharist by not attending is a very, very painful thing.”

There are many who forced by the structure of the hierarchy who can’t participate in the Mass by decision of the hierarchy. “This is something that I will bear until we can get rectification or I find a new spiritual home.”


Our next voice lives in another state but grew up in the diocese and still has close ties. Because of certain sensitive issues, we agreed to protect the person’s identity.

The person is not part of LCVC, did not sign the petition and contacted us separately via email, following up with a phone conversation.  They set the stage with this email comment: “I am very upset that Monsignor Cincinnati continues to serve as the school pastor at St. Francis Central Catholic School. According to the Vatican report, this man knew that the bishop was sexually harassing young men (seminarians) yet stood by and did nothing. How can this man possibly be allowed to continue working with children from 3 years of age to young teens? It is simply unfathomable that a priest who condoned sexual harassment would be permitted to be a school pastor.”

The phone conversation turned to the question of the moral authority of the three vicars who resigned and were moved to other jobs.

“I think that’s part of the issue that I have. On the one hand, the church says we need to have this sense of transparency.

At Mass, they pray for people in the community and in the world. “Part of the prayers of the faithful is that we always pray for people who have been victims of sexual abuse. The fact that the church on the one hand presents this ideology that we are transparent and we’re dealing with and we’re trying to be open and we’re having a dialog and we’re encouraging people to come to meetings and discuss it.

“On the other hand we’re placing a monsignor who, as the report from the Vatican says, was doing these horrific deeds at the behest of the bishop, and we’re just going to place him in an assistant pastor role and not inform the parish, and not come forward and give him an opportunity to present his side.

“This idea that we have this prospect of transparency at the same time we have this cloak of secrecy, it fosters the sense of insecurity in the faith. And it enables people who are doubting their faith to once again believe that the faith isn’t true.”

Maintaining faith under corrupt leaders is very difficult. “And I think that people who don’t have a strong basis in their faith, who are teetering on [leaving}, it doesn’t take very much for people to become unfaithful when we are surrounded now with almost a decade of report after report within the church of terrible atrocities, victims of sexual abuse, victims of sexual harassment, misuse of power and authority within the church.

“What I try to remember is that even though they are representations of God, they are talking to us through Him, they are human and humans are fallible. I believe that a lot of this is beyond belief. It is very difficult to sort of wrestle with the fact that this patriarchy is continuing to lead people down the wrong path.”

What is on the horizon going forward?

I think I’m still in a state of shock. I’m still in the phase of trying to educate people and that was my goal by contacting your newspaper. … I haven’t thought much beyond that, to be honest.”

These troubles are not isolated to West Virginia, or even the U.S., but the response has been different in other dioceses. “In our parish, in our diocese, there has been an air of transparency.”

The bishop has visited parishes and met with parishioners and talked about the state of the church, remaining faithful, effecting change. “They seem to have removed this cloak of secrecy. And I think that this was happening in West Virginia at the bishop level, at that level of authority, is so reprehensible.”

One church struggled to raise funds for renovations while Bransfield spent $2.4 million on travel and $1,000 a month on alcohol.

“It’s just beyond to belief to me that at that level, the bishop would misuse his authority and misuse the faith and trust the people would place in him. ..  I just thing we are much more open and much more transparent. … I have no idea why these monsignors haven’t been defrocked.”

The Washington Post story on the Vatican report notes that Annie and Quirk discussed Bransfields conduct with young men, but Annie refused to take it to the Nuncio, considering that action career ending.

“So what? If you can’t stand up for your faith. If you know that the bishop is wrong, how can you possibly instruct other people about social justice and being the change in the world?”

There’s a Latin phrase that translates to “Let your light shine forth.”

“How can we propose that young people do that when you’re turning a blind eye?”


Allison DeGeorge is part of LCVC and posted the petition at change.org.

Speaking of Annie, Quirk and Cincinnati, she said, “Their moral authority, I think, has been compromised. In general we know what’s right and what’s wrong, and these are supposed to be our spiritual leaders, our moral shepherds. They closed their eyes and turned their heads and closed their mouths when they should have been caring for their church and us and their flock.”

On the other hand, they have been in ministry for a long time and have done good things. “We all have wounded, broken, bad parts of ourselves. We all have good parts of ourselves. I don’t write them all off as evil. I still think they can act in ministry. It’s up to them also in that ministry to prove that we can trust them again.”

The Washington Post story says the lay panel report to the Vatican, which has not yet been released, calls for Bransfield and his three aides, “who enabled the predatory and harassing conduct” and who so far has just been reassigned, to be removed from office.

The LCVC letters calls for that report to be released, and those facts needs to be further revealed, she said.

How does this affect her faith?

“My faith isn’t in them. My faith is in our church as a whole – and that is the body of Christ, with Christ as the head. And He hasn’t changed. … My faith has grown deeper, more desperate for whatever the truth is, in seeking God, hot just relying on something that’s been said to me from my leaders.

What happens moving forward with the letter?

“We are lay Catholics using our voices. But I don’t know if those voices will be heard. We as the Body of Christ have the right and the duty and the obligation to speak and to let our pastors hear what we want and what we think. If they think otherwise, they can inform us. But we also have been given an intellect as [art of our soul, and we’re to use it for good.”

The petition, she said, will also be presented to the archbishop. “We just wanted to let the people have an outlet, to let their voices be heard.”

She concluded by noting that she and her family have been deeply involved in the church all their lives. Her son was in seminary the past two years. “He’s seen things he never should have seen.

“When it hits personally, you have to kick back. You can’t let somebody else take care of it.”

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