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Diocese Criticized

Editor, News-Register:

An open letter to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston:

I am part of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. I was baptized here. I received my First Communion and Reconciliation here. I was Confirmed here. I have attended Mass in this state every Sunday. When I was 4, I enrolled in Catholic school. That continued until I was 18 and graduated from Wheeling Central.

I was a proud representative of the Diocese. I was proud of the Catholic education I had received and continue to attend Mass and prayer groups while at college. I was an altar server, I was a cantor, I sang in the choir, I read at Masses, I took up the collection at school Masses. I am a part of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

As a part of this Diocese, I have watched with hope that you would handle this situation with grace. I have been let down time and time again. I have prayed for those who are even more hurt than I. I have prayed that you would have courage and take action. But, every scandal causes another pain in my heart, and this is not what I want to be a part of. You are no longer acting as a Diocese we can be proud of.

You have allowed a man unworthy of the title even of “former bishop” to cause unspeakable pain and suffering. I was a part of schools for nearly two decades of my life that taught me what it meant to be Catholic. I was taught to act with kindness and love toward others, but I was also taught to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. I have waited and watched to see what the men and women who worked only a floor above me during my time at Central will do to stop the damage and destruction. What I have seen is not enough.

What can you expect me, as well as current and future students of the Diocese, to learn from this? We had priests and sisters visit us all the time in classes and we would hear about how we should consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. I had friends who joined the seminary after high school. There would be signs hanging in the schools and churches with pictures of the seminarians of our Diocese and I was proud to be able to find people I knew there. Now, I find out that these men were being harassed and manipulated. They were being threatened and silenced. And what have you done to address this? Yes, you have prayed, but you know as well as I that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). How can I believe that the Diocese will protect me if I were to join the religious life? How do you expect me, or anyone else for that matter, to believe that serving God as a priest or sister is something we should want to do? Why would we believe that we are safe, when you have done nothing to correct the abuse that has been done and punish those who contributed to the abuse?

I am not unaware that my ability to attend Catholic school for so long is a huge privilege that I was blessed with by my parents. As I put on my uniform every morning, I knew that not everyone was able to attend a Catholic school and I was grateful. At no point in my school career was my tuition cheap. However, my parents always told my brothers and me that attending a Catholic school was something they prioritized. Every Sunday, my parents would wake their three children up and take us to Mass. When discussing what Mass we would go to that weekend, it was never an “if” but always a “when.” What are your actions, or lack thereof, telling my parents? My parents were taking us to school every day in a place where they expected us to be safe and learn and grow in our faith. Instead, we learn that the students who were willing to spend their free time serving at Mass were placed in an environment that allowed harassment and isolation. How can you tell my parents that the money they spent sending their three children to Catholic school from preschool all the way through high school was used to buy alcohol for Bransfield? To do a $1 million renovation of his bathroom? To pay “friends” that were other members of the priest community thousands of dollars each year as “gifts”? To buy Italian marble altars and remodel anything deemed not good enough by him?

While I was learning about helping the poor and to striving for treasures in heaven and not on earth, my tuition was used to buy the man who was our “leader” anything and everything he wanted.

What I want to know is why? Why are you still waiting? Why are we still paying Bransfield any money at all? Why do we pay for his secretary and driver? Why are we admitting what he did was bad enough that he should not be allowed to live in this Diocese, but it’s not enough to take any action against him? Why are we allowing those who knew about the sexual and financial abuse to continue working as if nothing has happened? Why is he allowed to keep his title? Why are we protecting a man who stole from us for 13 years instead of the members of our community? Why is it more important to make this man happy instead of taking action toward reconciliation and reconstruction of our Diocese?

Jesus taught us to forgive. Jesus taught us to have mercy. But Jesus also wanted us to take care of each other. He wanted us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). When Jesus saw people were misusing the sacred space of His Father’s house, he took action. He removed the unholy people from the temple.

So, to the members of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I ask you to reflect on this in your prayer: “so whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17).

Erin O’Leary

St. Michael Parish School Class of 2011

Wheeling Central High School Class of 2015

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