****Bishop stonewall s Voice of the Faithful CURT BROWN, Standard-Times

Voice of the Faithful s letters go unanswered

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Another 3rd goal ³support cultural change within the church."

Voice of the Faithful protests bishop's ban The Standard Times 14 Oct 03

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River has clamped down on VOTF on Cape Cod and the rest of Southeastern Massachusetts.


Group meets at Sandwich High Sunday

By Edward F. Maroney


'"Now we feel kind of like outcasts. We can't have our own Mass Sunday in one of our churches. We have to rent Sandwich High.' Joan Kelly, Marstons Mills


The Voice of the Faithful is heard in the churches of the Boston Archdiocese, but the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River has clamped down on the group on Cape Cod and the rest of Southeastern Massachusetts.


In response, VOTF ran an ad in Sunday's Standard Times of New Bedford and the Cape Cod Times challenging Bishop George W. Coleman to withdraw a May 22 order to ban the group's news from church bulletins, not permit members to meet in church buildings, and cut off any conversations with local priests.


"We are very angry because Voice of the Faithful has been banned from meeting in our own churches for no apparent reason," said Patricia Casavant of Osterville, whose husband Arthur was one of more than 100 signatories to the open letter. "We supported the church. We paid for these buildings with our own donations over the years."


John Kearns, assistant director of communications for the Diocese, was away at a conference this week. A  message left Wednesday with the office's director, the Rev. Msgr. John F. Moore, was not returned by press time.


On Oct. 14, the Standard Times reported that Coleman told a staff writer inquiring about the Diocese's relations with VOTF that he would have "no comment about that matter whatsoever."


The silence is particularly frustrating for Cape members who see a different treatment of their organization in the Boston area.


"All the Voice of the Faithful chapters (there) that were started prior to Archbishop (Sean) O'Malley's (appointment) are allowed to meet," Patricia Casavant said.


Voice of the Faithful formed in the wake of the clergy abuse scandals that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in America and led to the reassignment of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law and his replacement by O'Malley, Coleman's predecessor in Fall River. Jim Post, a professor of management at Boston University and a co-founder of VOTF, will speak on "The Emerging Role of the Catholic Laity" Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Sandwich High School; the VOTF meeting will be followed by a Mass. All are welcome to attend.


"Now we feel kind of like outcasts," said Joan Kelly of Marstons Mills, who signed the letter with husband Ed. "We can't have our own Mass Sunday in one of our churches. We have to rent Sandwich High."


In a press statement announcing Sunday's meeting, VOTF is described as "a centrist Catholic lay organization that has grown to over 30,000 registered members from over 40 states and 20 foreign countries. Although VOTF originated in response to the crisis in the church, its goals are now threefold: to support survivors of sexual abuse, to support priests of integrity, and to support cultural change within the church."


"Our personal goals are in tune with VOTF," Patricia Casavant said. "To have a church that is operating under the rules of Vatican II. That seems to be ignored sometimes. Laity participation is a big incentive for us. We want a church acceptable for our children and grandchildren, a church free of scandal and oppression."


Joan Kelly, who attends Christ the King in Mashpee, said that "so many of the people involved (in VOTF) are the daily communicants. They are eucharistic ministers, they teach CCD, which we have done. They're really involved in their church."


Patricia Casavant said she perceives "an attitude" among some Cape congregations "that there are no problems in this diocese, when really, in fact, it all started with Father Porter in Fall River. In view of recent developments, there are obviously continuing problems."


Voice of the Faithful -Fall River Diocese can be contacted at PO Box 1036, Centerville MA 02632 or by e-mail at FallRiver@votf.org. The group's Web site is www.votf.org



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Bishop stonewall s Voice of the Faithful CURT BROWN, Standard-Times

Voice of the Faithful s letters go unanswered



CURT BROWN/The Standard-Times

Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman stands outside St. Mary's Cathedral in Fall

River prior to last night's candlelight procession and Mass for Peace at St. Anne's Church.



Three months after Bishop George W. Coleman stressed inclusion at his

consecration, the Voice of the Faithful in the Fall River diocese is accusing him of excluding

them from the church's healing.


 In newspaper ads and a letter to the editor in the Sunday Standard-Times, Voice

of the Faithful asks Bishop Coleman for an open dialogue as part of its effort to

assist "in restoring the integrity of our Church damaged by the sexual abuse of our

children and employees of the Church and the mishandling of the issue by our bishops."


 The half-page newspaper ad was signed by 88 members of the Fall River diocese's

Voice of the Faithful. Luise Dittrich, a spokeswoman for Voice of the Faithful, explained yesterday

that a letter on May 22 from Bishop Coleman directed parish priests not to communicate with

their members, discontinue their announcements in parish bulletins and ban them from

holding their meetings on church property.


 She said they want to speak with the bishop about the dysfunction within the

church, the need for reform and the wall of secrecy that exists.

 Voice of the Faithful members are the heart and soul of the church, she said,

and added they are mainstream Catholics who are among the church's most active members.


 "This is a divisive act to start his tenure rather than inclusive,"

she said. "The bishop is not supposed to exclude members of his flock. Inclusion is the name of the game.

It's the only way the church will heal."


 She said the bishop should reach out to everyone. "The truth hurts, but

the truth also heals," she said. "Bishop Coleman would do well to listen to the Voice

of the Faithful."  Bishop Coleman, standing outside St. Mary's Cathedral in Fall River prior to

last night's candlelight procession and Mass for Peace at St. Anne's Church, would not

discuss any of the issues raised by the Voice of the Faithful.


 "I will have no comment about that whatsoever," he said.

 At his consecration as the seventh bishop of the Fall River diocese in July,

Bishop Coleman stressed inclusiveness and paid respects to the contributions immigrants from

many countries have made to the diocese.


 He also commended parish priests and reached out to victims of priestly sexual

abuse and acknowledged the presence of Jewish leaders and municipal officials at the



 Ms. Dittrich said several letters requesting a meeting with Bishop Coleman were

sent between June and September and he has never responded.

 "We received absolutely no reply," she said.

 She said Voice of the Faithful took what they consider to be the unusual step

of taking their case to the local media after the bishop would not meet with them.

 "He didn't acknowledge he received the letters," said Carol Markey of

Mattapoisett, a member of the diocese's Voice of the Faithful. "They didn't know where to

turn, so they wrote this open letter to him."


 Ms. Dittrich said the decision to take out the newspaper ads was difficult, but

necessary. "What a sad commentary to get your bishop's attention -- to go to the

public's media," she said.


 Robert Gormley of Westport, the spokesman for the diocese's chapter of the

Voice of the Faithful, stressed they only want to assist the church with its healing.

 "This is a positive thing. We're not trying to undermine. We want a real

dialogue," he said.


"These are active Catholics who want to have a say in what will happen.

 "We waited patiently before releasing this open letter to see if he would

talk with us openly," he continued. "But we didn't even get an



 He said they are now giving the bishop a month to respond and then they will

decide what else they should do.  Mr. Gormley said there are 200 members of the

Voice of the Faithful in the FallRiver diocese and between 50 and 60 members from SouthCoast.


 Ms. Dittrich said Bishop Coleman is one of "a handful" of maybe eight

bishops in the United States, most of whom are on the East Coast, who refuse to work with the

Voice of the Faithful.


 She said Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of the Boston Archdiocese speaks with the

organization and many bishops in other parts of the country also welcome their




Silenced voices

KATHLEEN DURAND , Herald News Staff Reporter   11/02/2003

Members of Voice of the Faithful in the Fall River Diocese said they are still hoping Bishop George W. Coleman will agree to meet with them for an open dialogue.


On May 22, when he was still bishop-elect, Coleman sent a letter to diocesan priests asking them not to advertise Voice of the Faithful programs, not to appoint contact people to communicate with the group and not to provide the group with meeting space.


Coleman, who became bishop in July, said in the letter that he would take time to study the implications of Voice of the Faithful and its affiliates, given that there are a number of consultative bodies already in the diocese.


"Itıs still his position," said diocesan spokesman John Kearns. "Heıs still thinking about it. He said he needed time and heıs taking time."


Voice of the Faithful is an international organization founded in Boston in 2002 as a response to the widespread scandal of sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese and the way the archdiocese covered it up.


VOTF spread to the Fall River Diocese in the spring and there are now a few hundred members, most of them Cape Cod residents. Marie Collamore, a summer resident of the Cape, is regional coordinator for VOTF in the diocese.


Collamore said the group is still waiting for Coleman to respond to an open letter it sent to him on Oct. 12, asking him to meet with its members. The letter, published as an advertisement in The Herald News and other local newspapers, asked the bishop to respond on or before Nov. 15.


"Weıre struggling because the bishop has banned us from meeting in the parishes and wonıt let us publish our meeting notices in parish bulletins," Collamore said. "Our members built and maintain the church. This just doesnıt make sense. Why are they banning us?"


Collamore said VOTF members were allowed to meet in parish facilities on the Cape until the bishop sent out his letter. Now, she said, they have to pay to rent buildings for their meetings. Collamore, who is a Eucharistic minister, said there are now five VOTF groups in the diocese. Four of them meet on the Cape, in Orleans, Hyannis, Yarmouth and Falmouth, and the fifth has been meeting in Mattapoisett. Fall River area residents have been attending the Mattapoisett meetings.


Collamore said VOTF wants to give victims of sexual abuse by clergy a safe place and offer them help in healing.

"I believe in supporting our bishop," said VOTF member George E. Lee of Somerset. "As he studies and gets to know what Voice of the Faithful is, he may accept us. Itıs easy for us to become discouraged, but I think we are hopeful."


The stated goals of VOTF are the following:

€ To support those who have been abused

€ To support priests of integrity

€ To shape cultural changes in the church so that it will be more reflective of the Gospels and more open and accountable

€ And to educate the laity by providing information about the Second Vatican Council, clarifying misconceptions about VOTFıs mission and building community and fellowship.


Lee, a member of St. Patrickıs Parish in Somerset, said VOTF wants to address more than the issue of abusive priests. He said members want the conditions that allowed the cover-up and the lack of openness by the church hierarchy to be addressed.


"You have to get to the basic administrative practices," he said. "We need more transparency."

Lee said VOTF is not trying to change the teaching of the church, just its administrative practices. "It wonıt be easy at all. We just have to do it. We need to work with the bishop," he said.

Lee said he thinks in time VOTF will be able to work with Coleman. In Brooklyn, N.Y., he said, Bishop Thomas Daley was against VOTF for a long time, and now he lets the group use church property.

"We constantly stress we are not trying to change the doctrines of the church. Thatıs not our agenda," Lee said.


Estelle Roach of Fall River said she and other VOTF members were disappointed when Coleman did not acknowledge several letters they sent to him, starting in June, asking to meet with him.

Roach said if Coleman met with them, sheıs sure he would realize that 75 percent of them are active in the church.


"They are not disgruntled people," she said.

She said they are lectors, Eucharistic ministers and other people who are active in their churches.

"Being new and being cautious," she said, Coleman is taking time to decide if he will meet with VOTF, but VOTF is still hopeful a meeting will take place.


"All we really want is to sit down with him," said Robert Gormley of Westport.

Gormley added that Boston Archbishop Sean P. OıMalley, former bishop of Fall River, allows VOTF to hold meetings in church buildings.


Gormley, spokesman for VOTF in the Fall River Diocese, said 60 percent of its parishes do not have parish councils. If the laity had more input at St. Josephıs Church in Woods Hole, Gormley said heıs sure the pastor, the Rev. Bernard R. Kelly, would not have been allowed to hire murder suspect Paul R. Nolin Jr. as a handyman. Nolin, who served 10 years in jail for raping a 10-year-old boy in 1982, is suspected of murdering Jonathan Wessner, 20, whose body was found on Oct. 4. Kelly was suspended by Coleman, who met with parishioners on Oct. 9. But Gormley said thereıs a big concern that the bishop has not made a public statement about the case.


Gormley said the bishop could calm a lot of the dissatisfaction down if he met with VOTF. "He said in his homily (during his ordination Mass) he wanted to be inclusive. Heıs not being inclusive with us," he said.

He said VOTF members are regular churchgoers, not radicals, and many bishops besides OıMalley allow them to hold meetings in their churches. Gormley said members in the Fall River area would like to start a group here so they wouldnıt have to drive to Mattapoisett for meetings.


In their open letter to Coleman, signed by about 120 people, VOTF members said they wish to assist him in restoring the integrity of a church that has been damaged by the sexual abuse of children by priests and employees of the church and the mishandling of the issue by bishops.


"Speak with us. Work with us," they stated. "Open the parish doors to all of your members. Permit us to communicate with each other in the parish bulletins. Assist laymen and -women to communicate within and across parish borders through Voice of the Faithful. Push aside the destructive secrecy. These issues will not go away if they are ignored. We are saddened and horrified by these recent events and the decisions which enabled them, as you yourself must be. Together, let our diocese be a leader in the restoration of trust in our church."


In 1993, James R. Porter, a former priest in the Fall River Diocese, pleaded guilty to 41 counts of sexual assault on 28 children in the 1960s and 1970s. In September 2002, Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh released the names of 21 priests who were accused of abuse. Among them were the late Rev. Jose Avila, who allegedly abused numerous children from the early 1930s to the 1980s when he was serving in Taunton, Fall River, East Falmouth and New Bedford.


Kathleen Durand may be reached at kdurand@heraldnews.com. 

İThe Herald News 2003




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