Catholic lay group assesses strengths, flaws

The  WOW generation

99.9 % W hite

99.9 %  O ld

99.9 % W ell to do

By James Vaznis, Globe Staff  |  October 24, 2005



The  WOW generation

99.9 % W hite

99.9 %  O ld

99.9 % W ell to do


For more on the Glory Days of Voice of the Faithful


NEWTON -- Voice of the Faithful, a national lay Catholic reform group launched at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal, has a membership that is deeply devoted to Catholicism but will need to recruit more active members if it wants to remain vibrant, according to academics who gathered for a symposium on the organization's future yesterday at Boston College.


The academics based their observations on a survey the Voice of the Faithful conducted earlier this year.


The organization will use the survey, which included responses from 1,300 members nationwide, to help it develop a new action plan to broaden lay people's role in Church decisions.


Among some of the key findings praised by the group and academics yesterday:


93 percent are ''cradle Catholics," meaning worshipers raised in the Church.


2 out of 3 attend Mass at least once a week, opposed to 34 percent nationally.


8 out of 10 pray at least once a day.


Half are members of parish councils; 45 percent are on liturgy committees.


87 percent have college degrees, with six out of 10 members holding a graduate or professional degree.


The survey also revealed potential challenges the organization might confront as it seeks to expand its membership.


The organization says it has 28,000 members and local chapters in about one-third of the 195 dioceses across the country.


John McCarthy, a professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, characterized the organization's membership base as weak, even though members are deeply Catholic.


He said that many members join the organization through its website and that 44 percent of survey respondents did not belong to a local affiliate of the group.


McCarthy believes the best method to build an organization is through local chapters, where he believes members tend to be more active.


He also noted that only 25 percent of members donated money to the organization.


''This is reflective of what I call a weak membership," McCarthy said.


Officials for the Voice of the Faithful disagreed with McCarthy's characterizations. They said they believe members who register online and do not belong to a local chapter can be just as active as members who belong to local chapters.


''He saw affiliate membership as the strongest form of membership, but I'm not sure I agree with that," said Jim Post, president of the Voice of the Faithful. ''We have members who are not in affiliates who are very important to our development."


The Voice of the Faithful experienced explosive growth soon after it started in the basement of a Wellesley church three years ago, as the clergy sex abuse scandal was making international headlines.


With other dioceses across the country confronting similar scandals, local chapters of the Voice of the Faithful emerged nationwide, with most on the East Coast and in the Midwest.


But as the scandal began to fade somewhat from the public spotlight, the organization's momentum stalled.


''Like any grass-roots organization, it's difficult to keep momentum going. That has been a problem," said John Moynihan, a spokesman for the group.


But he said momentum has started to pick up since the organization held a national meeting in Indianapolis in July.


At that meeting, 600 affiliate leaders from 33 states started to plot a new plan of action.


Some of those leaders met this weekend to develop the plan, which will be released sometime next year.


Historically, the group has remained focused on three goals: supporting victims, supporting what the group calls ''priests of integrity," and pushing for structural change in the church.


It has avoided hot-button issues that divide the Church, such as celibacy and the ordination of women as priests.


Overall, Moynihan said he believed the survey showed the health of the organization is strong.


''This kind of validates who we are and what we're doing," Moynihan said.


''It shows we are the best of the best." 

  Copyright  2005 The New York Times Company