Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Plans To Identify Priests Accused of Abuse

In this March 28, 2017 photo Archbishop William Lori leads a funeral Mass for Cardinal William Keeler at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. Lori, of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, announced in a news release Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 he plans to release the names of all priests and deacons who have been “credibly accused” of child sexual abuse since 1950. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WHEELING — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is following the trend of neighboring dioceses and releasing the list of names of who it said are priests, deacons and others with “credible” child sexual abuse allegations against them.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who is currently serving as apostolic administrator for the diocese, made the announcement Wednesday. In a statement released from his office, the archbishop said the diocese will release the list going back to 1950. Lori said none of the people listed are currently in active ministry.

Lori appointed Bryan Minor, delegate of administrative affairs for the diocese, to oversee the process of reviewing files. Diocese spokesman Tim Bishop said that process, which is in the hands of the Diocesan Sexual Abuse Review Board, could take several weeks.

“The work of the board and the work of gathering these files is about 75 percent complete,” Bishop said.

The spokesman said he could not speculate on how many names the list might include. The board is tasked with reviewing the files of 800 priests who have served in the diocese over the course of nearly 70 years, he said.

Bishop also said the diocese has had several leaders during that time whose files also have to be reviewed.

Those leaders include the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, who resigned as bishop in September amid allegations that he had sexually harassed adults. Although the investigation is ongoing, there has been no indication that Bransfield had abused children. Bransfield, 75, had been in charge of the diocese for 13 years. He also had reached the age bishops are required by canon law to submit their resignation.

Bishop said the diocese has been working toward releasing the list of names for the past two to three months. The diocese that serves all of West Virginia is the most recent in a growing number of Roman Catholic dioceses that have said it will release the names of accused religious leaders who they believe have credible allegations of child sexual abuse. However, Bishop said neighboring dioceses’ decisions to release those names did not influence Wheeling-Charleston.

Lori said he hopes releasing the names will help those who have been hurt in the wake religious leaders who have sexually abused children.

“The trust of the people has been badly damaged,” Lori said. “Disclosing the names of all those credibly accused of abuse is a critical step toward repairing that broken trust. I pray this will lead toward healing and demonstrate the Diocese’s firm commitment to transparency and accountability.”

Meanwhile, Minor said the diocese will release the list as soon as possible.

“For the sake of transparency and openness, we will release the list as soon as the preparatory work is complete and after it has been reviewed and confirmed by our independent Diocesan Sexual Abuse Review Board,” he said. “We ask all West Virginians to join the faithful of the diocese and remember in prayer all those who have been affected by sexual abuse.”

Bishop said the diocese likely will release the list during a press conference when it is available and will publish the list, too. When its list is published, Minor said that the diocese will continue to support victims.

“The Diocese has a longstanding Victim Outreach program, and we will continue to make those services available to our local Church,” he said.

Dioceses that border the Northern Panhandle already have taken similar steps. The Diocese of Pittsburgh released its list following a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation of six Pennsylvania dioceses that covered a span of seven decades. Of the 90 priests and other religious leaders listed as offenders in western Pennsylvania, 68 were priests in the Pittsburgh diocese.

The Diocese of Steubenville said in September that it, too, would release by the end of this month a list of priests who have been removed from parishes because of sexual abuse and misconduct allegations. Spokesman Dino Orsatti said at the time of the announcement the diocese will review files back to 1944, and that he believed the list would contain between 12-20 names.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said it encourages those who may be the victim of abuse by any member of the church to contact civil authorities or the diocese’s Office of Safe Environment at 304-233-0880.

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