Some Attending Voice of the Faithful Meetings Find They Have No Voice

National Catholic Register July 27-Aug. 9, 2003 by GREG BYRNES

Some Catholics attempting to bring traditional Church teaching to discussions at chapter

meetings find themselves marginalized and in some cases subjected to old-fashioned political hardball.





Register Correspondent


PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Voice of the Faithful says it stands for giving the laity

a greater voice in the running of the Church. But apparently, some

concerned Catholics are not allowed a voice at the reform group's own



Some people suspect Voice of the Faithful, a self-proclaimed reform

movement founded in the wake of the clerical sex-abuse scandals, has a

hidden agenda and is an organ of dissent from Church teaching. Some

Catholics attempting to bring traditional Church teaching to discussions

at chapter meetings find themselves marginalized and in some cases

subjected to old-fashioned political hardball.


The Diocese of Providence, R.I., allows Voice of the Faithful to use Church

property for meetings. Mark Gordon joined Voice of the Faithful after he

logged onto its Web site, while Lawrence Burns joined at a meeting at

Christ the King Church in Kingston, R.I. Both attended several public

meetings, where they apparently didn't make many friends in high places.

In June, they were blocked from attending a closed working session for

members only.


Gordon and Burns said they joined Voice of the Faithful so they could

witness to authentic Church teaching to people who were being misled by



"We were known to be members, but when it came time for this meeting

our names had disappeared from the membership rolls," Gordon said.

"We left. We didn't make a scene, and then [we] sent a protest to the

national organization. They were shocked and said any meeting, open or

closed, should be open to organization members."


But the sentiment of some in the national organization, based in Boston,

was not shared in Rhode Island.


"It was a power play," Gordon said. "I protested to the local coordinator

about our exclusion. The response was that I was not really a member of

Voice of the Faithful in spirit. I was really a Trojan horse. Effectively, [the

coordinator of the group] was trying to play a heavy-handed political game.

We have informed him we are not giving this up. We are not going to be

hounded out of Voice of the Faithful."


A Voice of the Faithful spokeswoman, Luise Dittrich, attributed such

clashes to the "growing pains" of the young organization. She added that

some people have joined in order to disrupt meetings.


The tendency of Voice of the Faithful to feature dissenting speakers has

eroded support it enjoyed or might have enjoyed. Raymond Flynn, former

mayor of Boston and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, was

recently named spokesman for Your Catholic Voice, a group dedicated to

presenting Catholic social teaching in the public forum. He heard many

firsthand complaints about dissent in Voice of the Faithful.


"I had a political talk radio program and spoke to literally hundreds of

people," Flynn said. "[Some] people were very disillusioned with church,

but others were disillusioned with the movements that were being

developed. These movements took on a tone that really was more

committed to almost radical doctrinal change. It wasn't that they were

really interested in their voice being heard but in demanding that their

political philosophy be accepted."


Flynn noted: "The goal was, if you cannot destroy the Church's message,

you destroy the messenger: discredit the leaders, discredit the



Michael Galloway, co-founder of Your Catholic Voice, added that there are

at present certain "angry Catholics who have a bone to pick with the

Church, who want to change the Church by their rules." He believes this

makes it difficult to present Catholic social teaching as a basis for

public-policy decisions.


Voice of the Faithful's avowed goal of a more democratic Church hit a

rough patch at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Some

attendees at a foundational meeting of the Worcester affiliate were told a

two-thirds majority vote of those attending was needed to start the group.

When the resolution failed to get that supermajority of votes, the

Worcester chapter was founded anyway, according to Laurie Letourneau,

a Massachusetts pro-life activist, and Victor Melfa, president of the Holy

Cross Cardinal Newman Society, who were at the meeting. Those not in

agreement were simply free not to join.




Carol McKinley, a member of the Massachusetts chapter of Faithful Voice,

an organization that declares its loyalty to the magisterium, was

concerned about what she heard about Voice of the Faithful and asked

permission to attend a meeting of 45 Boston Voice of the Faithful chapters

in Newton, Mass., in June.


"I wanted to go as a faithful of the Archdiocese of Boston," she said, "but I

am not a member of this organization. I wanted to see the path they

were going in. I was denied access to the meeting because this was just

for members and they wanted to discuss their actions with so-called



McKinley has also repeatedly asked to meet with the leaders of the

national Voice of the Faithful organization to clarify their positions, but they

have failed to respond to her.


Her own organization was started after individuals attending Voice of the

Faithful meetings became concerned with the number of dissenting

authors brought in to speak.


"When the authors would present a heresy or error, we would stand up

and direct them to the Catechism and deposit of faith," McKinley said.

"This led to various techniques of silencing and in some places eventually

lockouts to orthodox faithful. It makes their voting go a lot smoother if they

lock out the voices who are obedient to the Catechism and magisterium."


She said there was a "dichotomy" between what Voice of the Faithful was

saying to the press and to the bishops and "what was really happening on

the parish level."


The keynote speaker at the Newton meeting was Paul Lakeland, who

teaches liberation theology and is chairman of the religious studies

department at Fairfield University in Connecticut. In his recent book The

Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church, Lakeland

advocates that the laity be liberated from the shackles of clerical



Given his status in Voice of the Faithful circles and his leadership position

at a Catholic university, some argue that Lakeland's radical theories might

be the blueprint for a "structural change" Voice of the Faithful advocates for

the Church but has not yet officially articulated. If so, it would brand Voice

of the Faithful as a full-fledged organ of dissent and would mark its radical

break with Church teachings.


Greg Byrnes writes

from Greenwich, Connecticut.

Return to main page