Group wants contributions withheld from diocese

PARKERSBURG — An organization in West Virginia has encouraged parishioners to withhold contributions to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston pending a new and independent financial audit.

Lay Catholic Voices for Change, based in Morgantown, in June sent a letter and email to Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore seeking a full financial disclosure and audit, the full release of an investigation with victims and witnesses redacted, those allegedly complacent or involved in covering up or failing to report former bishop Michael Bransfield’s conduct or using intimidation to force people to be silent.

Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of the diocese by Pope Francis in September after Bransfield retired and was instructed to commence an investigation into Bransfield, which has been completed and sent to the Vatican. The report was acquired by The Washington Post, which said the probe found lavish spending from diocesan funds by the former bishop, including on his residences, gifts for other clergy, travel and alcoholic beverages.

Lori did not respond to Lay Catholic Voices by June 28 as it requested, prompting a second letter on Tuesday to Lori calling for an independent audit, a timeline for its completion and release and that parishioners in West Virginia are being asked to withhold contributions to the diocese.

“Until such action by the diocese, LCVC will encourage the withholding of donations that go to and through the diocese,” the organization said on its Facebook page. “(The organization) is not encouraging withholding of donations to local parishes. However, parishioners who are concerned about the percentage of the general donation that goes to the diocese may ‘earmark’ donations toward specific uses in their parishes.”

Parishioners are encouraged by LCVC to withhold donations intended for the diocese, including the Catholic Sharing Appeal, the Priests Retirement Fund, for the education of seminarians, the Diocesan Scholarship Association and Catholic Charities West Virginia, and to national causes where the money goes through the diocese.

A comment from the diocese was not immediately available.

The call to action is during the weekends of July 20 and 21, July 27 and 28 and Aug. 3 and 4, the organization said. Parishioners in all Catholic churches in West Virginia are asked by LCVC to put empty white envelopes in the collection plate that say “Not a Dime to the Diocese.”

“This creative method affords parishioners the opportunity to boycott donation to diocesan coffers and, at the same time, continue to support the local parish,” the Facebook post said.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.