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.
by GREG BYRNES
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
"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. Š 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
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. Š 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