Open the records

Over the past month, I have written two letters to the editor, published in The News and Sentinel and elsewhere, calling on the Catholic church to be proactively transparent about the scope of the sexual abuse scandal in the wake of the revelations in the August Pennsylvania grand jury report. The first letter was a call for transparency from the Church in general, and the second letter called specifically on Bishop Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston–which covers the entire state of West Virginia–to release the names of all priests, bishops, and church officials credibly accused of sexual abuse or the cover-up of abuse.

Not surprisingly, this call was not met with any public response from the Diocese, so I followed up with the Diocese myself. I was told by the Diocese’s spokesperson that the Diocese has nothing to disclose because they “did not hide anything,” and that the Diocese does not plan to disclose any information about abuse by clergy members beyond what is already in the public record.

On Thursday, we found out why the Diocese was reluctant to release this information. In a move that made national news, the Pope himself ordered an investigation of Bishop Bransfield in connection with sexual harassment charges, and the Bishop immediately resigned. The Pope did not act on public information, so clearly the Diocese was hiding something: whatever information about the Bishop’s misconduct that led the Pope to intervene. For the Pope himself to intervene (the rough equivalent of a CEO of a multinational company directly intervening to fire a middle manager), one can only assume that the Bishop’s conduct was extremely reprehensible. This also proves that the Diocese does have more information relating to misconduct than what is currently in “the public record” (to use the Diocese’s language). The State’s Catholics–its parishioners and especially the students and alumni of the Diocese’s schools (which I attended from pre-school through high school)–deserve to know.

As I’ve stated publicly and in my exchange with the Diocese, the Diocese does not in any way whatsoever deserve the benefit of the doubt on this matter. The game is up. Shame on the Diocese for hiding what they’ve hidden and for trying to avoid accountability through intentional opacity and verbal gymnastics. The only acceptable course of action now is for the Diocese to open its internal investigation records to legal and civil authorities and to proactively release the names of all priests, bishops, and church officials who have ever been associated with the Diocese and have been credibly accused of abuse or the cover-up of abuse. Whether or not the Diocese takes any proactive steps toward transparency–not likely, given that its spokesperson explicitly denied that possibility to me–West Virginia Attorney General Morrisey should follow in the footsteps of several other states’ attorneys general (at least New York, New Mexico, New Jersey, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Nebraska, as of this writing) and move to investigate the Diocese. Over the past month, the Diocese has shown an utter lack of leadership and accountability. The Diocese will not hold itself accountable, so we now must demand accountability through other means.

Matt Coyne

Parkersburg Catholic High School Class of 2007