Who Failed The Church?

It’s a fact of life. We all have bosses. Whether you work in a factory, department store or newsroom, someone is watching over you. Here at the newspaper office, there are bosses whose job it is to see that every department runs smoothly. They have to do reports, evaluations and maintain oversight. And if something goes wrong, the bosses have to answer for it.

I don’t care if you own a small business, a billion dollar company or run a Catholic diocese, you will answer to a higher power at some point. That’s why it is so difficult to understand how things have gone so wrong in the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. The dirty secrets of its top man, former bishop Michael Bransfield, continue to be brought to light. How much we don’t know is palpable.

This week, we learned details of the tens of millions of dollars spent by Bransfield to allow him to live a life of luxury while he made appeals to church members to help the poor. When he came to this state to lead the Catholic Church, he brought with him the ways of a much wealthier diocese. Sorry we disappointed him with our live-within-our-means attitude.

For months, the Catholic faithful of West Virginia have had to endure learning of the scandalous behavior of the man who stood before them and preached one thing and lived a life totally opposite of the Gospel he espoused. The now-confirmed abuses of excessive living and spending that many heard whispers about over the years was disgusting enough, but the sexual harassment allegations cut to the quick. We learned of the “hush money” he paid out to some of those he targeted.

This week, as more of Bransfield’s abuse of power became public, you could almost hear church doors slamming shut. The place considered sacred by the Catholic population has been tainted by the mismanagement and lack of true morals in the highest of authority in the church.

Catholics in this state are angry, fed up and have turned to other religious outlets.

Pastors continue to urge their parishioners to keep the faith. They quote one Bible verse after another. Yet attendance continues to fall off, the collection plates aren’t being filled and trust has gone out the door.

Where was the oversight of this diocese? The finger-pointing does no good now. The damage is done and many want some positive return on their investment of faith in a church that has failed them. How to make that happen is anyone’s guess.

Catholics in West Virginia will continue to embrace the Mass as the one constant in their faith. But the sheep are finding it hard to follow the mortal men who have failed them. I pray that there are no more secrets, that the rebuilding happens and the next bishop in this diocese has the God-given ability to lead us out of this quagmire.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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