St. Joseph Cathedral in Wheeling, West Virginia. (Photo by Michael J. Iafrate)

With all due respect for the severity of the present health crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is something of a blessing in disguise for Roman Catholic leaders. Although some U.S. Catholic commentators have made waves calling for churches to remain open during the pandemic lest the faithful succumb to “secularism,” the bishops no doubt know that the pandemic gives them a breather from constant media focus on the church’s unacceptable response to clergy sex abuse.

Here in West Virginia, church leaders must certainly be thankful for a break from attention on their handling of the case of former bishop Michael Bransfield…

Altar from a 2018 “Wild Church West Virginia” liturgy. (Photo by Ed Sloane)

Only a new way of life is worthy of being called “resurrection”

The few times my wife or I have gone out for groceries during our state’s pandemic stay-at-home order, we have each said that the world “out there” feels desolate. I’ve heard many others use that word to describe their surroundings as well.

Desolation is certainly an unusual feeling during the first signs of spring and the celebration of Easter. This year, for Christians, this Easter season will paradoxically feel to many of us like a continuation of Holy Saturday or even Good Friday, an Easter observed in the midst of death and of patient waiting for signs of new life.

Chancery of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in Wheeling, West Virginia (Photo: Michael Iafrate)

Two months after the U.S. Catholic Church was hit by a major scandal surrounding a West Virginia bishop, church officials are telling us it’s time to move on. But for many of us Catholics in West Virginia, that message feels like a punch in the gut. Serious reasons remain for Catholics everywhere to pause and demand much more transparency surrounding the case of former bishop Michael Bransfield.

Those reasons have to do with who oversaw the production of the investigative report on Bransfield, what the report said about allegations of child sexual abuse, and the fact that the document has…

Interspiritual friendships and the care of animals

Michael and Ed Sloane with a friend after Wild Church service | photo by Matt Smith

A few months ago, I sat in a crowded movie theatre watching the local premiere of the documentary Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All. The majority of the audience was made up of members of a nearby West Virginia Hare Krishna community called New Vrindaban founded in 1968. The film tells the story of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s journey from India to the United States, virtually penniless, in 1965, his founding of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and the explosion of his spiritual movement. …

Chancery of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in Wheeling, West Virginia (Photo: Michael Iafrate)

Resisting the Jurisdictional Mentality that Protects Abusers in the Church

When the Boston clergy sex abuse scandal erupted in 2002, I was working as a campus minister in West Virginia. One afternoon I sat around a table in a campus lounge with a handful of students and a priest colleague who was also on staff. Together we shared our reactions to the overwhelming reports of the Boston abuse, and the priest and I helped the students plan a prayer service of lament. Nine years later, after moving on to another university in Pennsylvania, the priest was “permanently removed” from ministry following the emergence of a credible decades-old accusation of abuse…

St. Joseph Cathedral, Wheeling, WV (Photo by Michael Iafrate)

But the laypeople of “unimportant” diocese have the ability to influence the entire U.S. Catholic Church on accountability

What is happening in the Catholic Church in West Virginia is truly remarkable, notable and important to watch.

Occurring in the immediate wake of the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick scandal and the release of the damning PA grand jury report, the resignation and subsequent investigation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield for alleged sexual harassment of adults are of national significance. His past history in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. connect him directly to wider circles of influence at play in the U.S. church at this time. …

Michael J. Iafrate

Michael J. Iafrate is a theologian, songwriter, and activist from West Virginia and currently serves as Co-Coordinator of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.

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