UNFINISHED BUSINESS: By M Dempsey The Patriot Ledger 21 Oct 03

VOTFs existence is predicated upon a view of ecclesiastical authority and lay-episcopal relations that rubs against the grain of Catholic doctrine and tradition




By M Dempsey

For The Patriot Ledger


Now that the victims of clergy sexual abuse have been offered compensation, and now that the stories of priests abusing children have subsided, many lay Catholics believe their church is back on track.


But that's hardly the case, said Jack Lutts, an active member of the Quincy chapter of Voice of the Faithful, an organization founded last year in response to news reports of the church's cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.


You get the sense just listening that people think, They got their money and it's over,''' Lutts said. It's a kind of closure, but it's a beginning. The next step is to have the bishops and the laity dialogue.''


More than a year after its founding, the Catholic lay group is still struggling with an image problem, said Lutts and other leaders.


Essentially, the issue is:

Does the group intend harm or help?

Reform or renovation?

Is it bucking authority or working in the mainstream?


Voice leaders say they simply seek to involve lay Catholics in decisions that are now entirely out of their hands - clergy appointments, the screening of ordination candidates, how church money is budgeted and spent.


Why are we so demonized?'' said Mary Ellen Kabat, who like Lutts is a member of St. John's parish in Quincy. Didn't this affect other Catholics the way it affects us? Don't other Catholics see the need for reform?''


But many Catholics, including Patty Mullally, a member of St. Ann's parish in Wollaston, see Voice as a fringe group made up of rabble-rousers with no real goal.


Other than griping about the awfulness of what happened, they have no real wants,'' Mullally said. There is no real agenda.''


David D. Zizik, a member of St. Theresa parish in Sherborn, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, said the group [ VOTF ] wants to change church doctrine.


In fact, the group's existence is predicated upon a view of ecclesiastical authority and lay-episcopal relations that rubs against the grain of Catholic doctrine and tradition,'' Zizik said.


Voice of the Faithful spokeswoman Luise Dittrich defended the group, saying, As a grass-roots organization, we have every intention of reaching out to every bishop.''


The latest figures show that the group numbers 30,000 Catholics worldwide in 186 parishes. Massachusetts membership is in the hundreds, say leaders.


Dittrich attributes the visceral reaction of many Catholics to a tradition of obedience in the church.

That tradition, she said, is outdated and unhealthy.


The culture was very much one of deference and blind trust,'' Dittrich said. There are a lot of people who are still there - psychologically and emotionally. It is very scary to challenge any aspect of the church, even if the church is wrong.''


Before resigning from office, Cardinal Bernard Law banned Voice of the Faithful and other divisive organizations.'' He then altered the ban to include only those Voice chapters that sought to organize and hold meetings after the ban had been issued.


The ban is still in effect, making Boston one of eight U.S dioceses that have banned the group, according to Dittrich.


In accordance with the ban, St. Ann's Church in Wollaston will not allow Voice of the Faithful to hold meetings on church property.


The pastor, Monsignor Robert P. Deeley, said that despite his enforcement of the ban, he has not made a judgment on the organization.

I simply am waiting for the diocese to make its decision and give us guidance,'' he said.


At St. John's Church in Quincy, the Rev. Peter Quinn, pastor, has allowed the Quincy chapter to meet at the church because the group was formed before the ban.

I just see two conversations going by each other,'' the Rev. Quinn said. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about Voice of the Faithful. Like any kind of a group, the fringe (members) get accentuated, as opposed to the mainstream members who are very, very faithful, like the ones who are involved in our own parish.''


Kabat, who attends Mass regularly at St. John's, said she is aghast at the reaction of some of her fellow parishioners to her involvement with Voice.

She said parishioners have informed her they were praying for her soul.


We are a fledgling group that is responding to this horrible crisis as any normal person would,'' Kabat said. This is a devastating thing that has happened to our church.''


For now, the group continues to call for reform, most recently asking for a public audit of the church's finances so that the laity can make an assessment of the church's overall financial health. They believe the church would be well served to take advantage of the financial expertise in the lay community in helping get the books back in order.


If you look at our tenets, we are trying to live the Gospel message,'' Dittrich said. We are reaching out to the survivors. That's what Jesus was all about. Trying to reach out to marginalized people and bring them into his world of love.''


Core beliefs

The following is excerpted from a statement on www.votf.org

Voice of the Faithful Inc., is an organization composed of Catholics striving to be faithful to the teachings of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ ...

We believe that sexual abuse by clergy and the response of bishops, protecting abusers and forsaking the abused, have caused great human suffering and damaged the moral authority of our Church.

We believe that the laity has the grace, dignity, intelligence, responsibility and obligation to cooperate in Church governance in a meaningful way according to the norm of law (cf. Canon 129) to correct the profound flaws that have been revealed in the human institutional life of our Church.

We believe that the council documents of Vatican II illuminate the pathway for lay involvement in the Church.

Copyright 2003 The Patriot Ledger

Transmitted Saturday, October 18, 2003


From the Editor of FaithfulVoice.com

Why does Voice of the Faithful support a homosexual priesthood?

96.7% of all abuse was ephebophilia , intergenerational homosexual activity.






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