WHEELING, W.Va. — Bishop Mark Brennan was welcomed Aug. 22 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which encompasses the state of West Virginia, in a ceremony filled with song and applause.
After processing into the cathedral, the bishop, who until now was an auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, listened as Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d’affaires at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, read the papal bull of his appointment. Bishop Brennan held up the official document to the congregation “for those with good long-range vision,” he said to laughter and sustained applause.
Asked by Msgr. Erbi if he accepted the responsibility for which Pope Francis chose him, the bishop said, “With faith in Jesus Christ and with the help of God, I do accept the pastoral care of the people of God of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. I resolve to serve faithfully the spiritual needs of the local church.”
Msgr. Erbi represented Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the Unites States, who could not attend due to a meeting in Rome.
Then Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who has been apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston since last September, led Bishop Brennan to the cathedra, the bishop’s chair, and handed him his new crosier, a wooden pastoral staff — taller than the bishop himself — with a large curve at the top.
Archbishop Lori noted that he has known Bishop Brennan since their days in the seminary. “He is the strong, loving and wise shepherd we have been praying for.”
Bringing light to the darkness and service to the people were key themes of the liturgy, including musical selections such as “Christ Be Our Light” and “The Hand of the Lord,” as well as the bishop’s homily.
Quoting from the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, Bishop Brennan began his homily saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of gloom, a light has shone.”
That is an apt description of how Catholics in the U.S. and especially West Virginia have been dealing with anger, frustration and distrust of church leaders, he said, alluding to Bishop Michael Bransfield, former head of the diocese, without mentioning him by name.
Bishop Bransfield resigned in September 2018 amid allegations of sexual harassment and financial mismanagement. Four days before Bishop Brennan was named as the new bishop, Pope Francis announced disciplinary actions for Bishop Bransfield, prohibiting him from living in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and from presiding or participating anywhere in any public celebration of the liturgy.
As part of those disciplinary actions, a communique from the apostolic nunciature posted on the diocesan website July 19 also said Bishop Bransfield would be obligated “to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused; the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston.”
“The scandals we have learned about have caused painful disappointment, confusion, anger and distrust of church leaders. We have to face that situation with open eyes and determined spirits to bring about true and lasting change,” Bishop Brennan said.
But Isaiah’s message to the oppressed people does not end in darkness. “Listen to it again: ‘Upon those who lived in a land of gloom, a light has shone,’” the bishop said. “My friends, it takes no humility on my part to admit that I am not the light,” he said to some laughter from the congregation.
“The light is a child born to us. The light is Mary’s child, Jesus, who calls himself the Light of the World.”
He said dealing with the consequences of past bad behavior is one of his responsibilities as the new bishop, and he promised to address it. But the church has to look forward with the strength to do better and to live the faith with integrity so as to reflect the Lord’s enduring light.
He noted that some people have stopped attending Mass in light of the scandals in the church and that others may have been tempted to stop. “Unity with one another and with God is what God wants from us,” Bishop Brennan said.
After the Mass, Bishop Brennan emerged on a small balcony on the corner of the cathedral, about 20 feet above the ground, to bless the people gathered and all of Wheeling.