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The Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston released a “list of amends” last week for the former bishop Michael Bransfield to consider. That list comes in the wake of multiple investigations revealing sexual and financial misconduct. The diocese wants Bransfield to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars and to apologize.
Former seminarian, Wheeling resident and Morgantown native Vincent DeGeorge has spoken out about abuse, saying he was among those targeted by Bransfield. He offered these thoughts on the Diocese’s list.
Board: What was your overall reaction to that list?
DeGeorge: On the whole, I’m pleased that the Catholic Church in West Virginia is trying to make amends. And in this plan, this list proposed by Bishop Brennan is an attempt, and effort, to do that. I’m pleased. However, there are significant and concerning aspects lacking to this amends plan.
I saw the list as soon as it came out, and I read the letter and was honestly stunned. I was surprised by emotions that I didn’t realize were still there. I was surprised by how much hope I still had in the diocese without realizing it. I was really counting on these events to make a difference in a positive direction. And as I read the amends, that hope gave way to disappointment. I didn’t think I would or could let myself continue to be disappointed by the diocese.
Board: What about the amends, first of all, did you find positive?
DeGeorge: That they’re making amends is huge, and that the first three are apologies, asking for Bishop Brandsfield to make an apology for the people he’s hurt — the people in the diocese the people who work for him and the people who he abused: priests, seminarians, deacons, employees. That’s huge. It can’t be understated that we as Christians, as Catholic Christians, have a tradition of forgiveness and reconciliation that starts with one, admitting our faults, our shortcomings, what we’ve done wrong; and two, saying sorry for them. And that is a fundamental step that thus far the Catholic Church has been lacking in. Bishop Bransfield hasn’t apologized. His investigators haven’t apologized. The people who were complicit or participated in his abuse, haven’t apologized. And as a Catholic, and as someone who was abused by Bransfield, it’s hurtful.
Board: What’s missing? What’s disappointed you?
DeGeorge: The last five amends, four through nine I think it is, deal with money and exclusively money. The Vatican gave the Bishop of West Virginia and the Diocese Wheeling-Charleston a tremendous opportunity to effect positive change in asking them to come up with amends for Bishop Bransfield. They could have made the diocese safer for young people, for seminarians; they could have changed the clerical culture in the church. But instead of any ongoing policy change, the diocese chose money, namely their own money. As a victim of Bransfield, as just a Catholic in West Virginia, it’s very disappointing to see the diocese own financial wrongdoing, and I admit there’s financial wrongdoing there. But to see the diocese pick their own financial harm over the human harm that Brandsfield caused on the people of West Virginia, we have to look beyond money. The toll of Bransfield was not in dollars, it was in human lives and the faith of West Virginians.
Board: Do you think Brandsfield is likely to make an apology? Is he likely to accept any of these terms or conditions?
DeGeorge: I have Christian hope that he will. As almost a safeguard, I am trying not to set myself up for disappointment by the Catholic church anymore.
Board: You’ve heard from other victims, and you’ve had an opportunity to talk with people who’ve dealt with similar sort of abuses. Do you have a message for other people who’ve experienced abuse or just people in general?
DeGeorge: I want other Catholics in West Virginia, born here or come here, or if you’re a West Virginia Catholic who’s currently away, to know that the church we knew that we experienced is real and is meaningful, and it doesn’t need to be gone. To the victims of Bransfield, surely that you are not alone, and that no matter how bad Brandsfield or the church has made you feel and continues to make you feel, you are not alone, and this won’t just go away, the way that the Church says people want. Our want for accountability, our want for healing is legitimate. You deserve that.
And I have to note, the amends letter begins with all these prefaces. And Bishop Brennan, who again I think is trying, it said Bishop Brennan has met with a bunch of experts and has met with victims of Bransfield. And the suggestion there is that he’s met with all victims of Bransfield. And I can speak for myself and the other victims that I am in touch with, that that is not the case. I offered, I went to the Catholic Church for more than a year. I was absolutely ignored by the Church. I honestly have some inclination that Brennan is trying and thinks that he is listening. But the system that’s in place is a system where clerics have the first and last say, and as long as that’s the case, as long as we’re not willing to give an iota of power to lay people, especially in this issue of clergy sex abuse, then we can’t expect the Church to operate in any new way.