Catholics comment on naming of new bishop; Msgr. Annie to retire

MORGANTOWN — Members of Lay Catholic Voices for Change reacted Tuesday to news that Bishop Mark Brennan has been named as the new Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

But word also emerged Tuesday that Msgr. Annie, former Vicar General of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, serving as assistant priest at St. Mary Church in Star City, has chosen to retire.

Diocese spokesman Tim Bishop said in an email exchange, “With the pastoral care of the faithful in mind, Msgr. Frederick Annie has requested retirement from active ministry; this request has been approved by Archbishop Lori and is effective Aug. 1, 2019. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston thanks Msgr. Annie and all of our retired priests who continue to serve the people of God throughout the state of West Virginia through pastoral and sacramental care.”

On the topic of Bishop Brennan, LCVC has not issued a formal statement, but a couple members were able to offer comments under their own names in time for publication deadline.

Suzanne Kenney: “I want very much to see all of the Catholic faithful in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston to continue to pray for healing of the church here, but more importantly, to pray for the former bishop and those who have suffered abuse, harassment, and exploitation.

“I would like to meet the new bishop when he has had time to settle in. I hope that he will appreciate the efforts of those of us across the state who have spoken out against the wrongs that have been committed. I hope, too, that he will be active in righting those wrongs.”

Matt Vester: “We thank God for answering our prayers that Pope Francis appoint a new bishop who is faithful, courageous, and inspiring, and look forward to working with Bishop Brennan as laity of the Diocese to help rebuild confidence and rekindle a zeal for the Gospel.

“My own suggestions for the new bishop would be, first, to commit himself to as much transparency as possible as he goes about leading us in the rebuilding of our church.  This means being proactive (not reactive) in communications about the outcome of investigations, financial reorganization, and so forth.  Efforts to secure from Pope Francis permission to release a properly redacted version of the investigation against Bransfield would help in this respect, as would the initiation of a complete, independent forensic audit of Diocesan finances in order to reveal the money trails that supported the misconduct of Bransfield and other Diocesan leaders.

“Second, I would urge the bishop to continue to identify and remove the tentacles of the patronage network that had grown up around the former bishop and his clients, some of whom might continue to exert informal authority in various parts of the Diocese.  We owe that much to the vast majority of our wonderful clergy who worked hard and remained faithful despite being subject to leaders who lacked integrity.

“Third, in order to grow the number of vocations in our Diocese, I encourage Bishop Brennan to do what I’m sure he desires to do:  to help revitalize our Catholic campus ministries at colleges throughout the state, especially at our largest university, WVU.  There are numerous Dioceses across the country that have been very successful in assisting the Holy Spirit to produce vocations at Newman Centers.  What these places have in common is encouraging attendance at Daily Mass, increasing opportunities to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prioritizing Eucharistic Adoration, and using the beauty of the Catholic tradition (architecture, music, the liturgy, etc.) to attract young people who are hungering for authenticity and truth.

“Finally, we know that institutional and administrative changes alone will not suffice to heal and rebuild our community of faith.  Ultimately, what will be required is a renewed commitment, individually and collectively, to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

“We pray that God will encourage Bishop Mark as he undertakes the challenge of shepherding our Diocese and leading us in our efforts to love and serve our fellow West Virginians.”

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey also issued a statement. Morrisey is suing the diocese and former Bishop Michael Bransfield in Wood County Circuit Court, alleging the diocese violated consumer protection law by failing to disclose that it employed priests who sexually abused children or had credible accusations of sexual abuse, and failed to conduct background checks for priests, employees and volunteers who had contact with children.

Morrisey said: “We welcome Bishop Mark Brennan to West Virginia and look forward to his leadership as he moves the Diocese forward. Bishop Brennan fills an important vacancy with much to accomplish in his predecessor’s wake.
“As the new head of the Catholic Church in West Virginia, we hope Bishop Brennan will work to increase transparency and restore public trust, all of which can be accomplished through fully complying with our subpoenas and releasing the full Bransfield report.”

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