What Faith Are They Trying to Keep?
Critique of "Voice of the Faithful"
Priests in theDiocese of Fall River recently sent out a pastoral letter to parishioners,
to clarify the nature of Voice of the Faithful
HYANNIS, Massachusetts, NOV. 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Several priests in the
Diocese of Fall River recently sent out a pastoral letter to parishioners,
to clarify the nature of Voice of the Faithful, a group that gained
attention in the wake of the clergy sex-abuse scandals. Here we reprint the
* * *
A Pastoral Letter From Your Priests
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In recent days, several parishioners have asked us for clarification about
the group called "Voice of the Faithful," which is trying to make inroads on
Cape Cod and within our Diocese of Fall River. Because we think that many
parishioners beyond those who have approached us might have similar
questions, we thought it would be appropriate to respond by means of a
Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) was founded in the basement of a Wellesley
church in January 2002 by those who wanted to express their concerns about
the clergy sex-abuse scandals. Over the course of subsequent months, many
good Catholic lay people, who were horrified (as were we!) by the scandals,
joined the group as a means of expressing their justifiable outrage and firm
commitment that this dark page in our Church's history must never be
When VOTF had its first major convention in Boston on July 20, 2002, many of
us followed it closely to try discern its spirit. We were saddened to see
the direction it took. The star speakers that day were well-known and
oft-quoted critics of the Holy Father who publicly dissent from the
teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. There's a truism that you can often
learn a lot about someone from the people with whom he chooses to associate.
The same goes for VOTF, the leaders of which, of course, invited and paid
for these speakers to come to address those at the convention.
When faithful Catholic clergy and lay people criticized what was coming out
of the convention, spokesmen from VOTF publicly stated that the group does
not take any formal positions on the controversial issues being advanced by
several of the convention speakers and VOTF members. But this is not
sufficient. It is impossible for a group that wants to be authentically
Catholic not to take a position on issues such as the ordination of women,
sexual morality, abortion, and the divine foundation of the papacy -- all of
which the Church has taken a position on. Not to take a position on such
issues is to take a position; one cannot be both "agnostic" and "Catholic."
In short, because VOTF has given no indication that it fully supports all
the defined teachings of the Church, we have grave misgivings about it and
cannot recommend it to you.
As your priests, our foremost duty is to teach and defend the faith that has
been handed down to us by Christ through the apostles and their successors.
This is the Church's treasure and is the source of our unity as disciples of
the Lord. The Church is not a society of independent thinkers with
equally-valuable opinions, but the community of believers founded by Christ
that remains faithful to His voice and follows His teaching as it has been
handed on to us faithfully by the Church he founded. To be truly Catholic,
you can't pick and choose some truths to follow and others to ignore.
Embracing the Catholic faith means embracing all of it.
We have particular concern for those Catholics who want to remain faithful
to the Church who now belong to an organization that calls itself Catholic
but refuses publicly to embrace authentic Catholic teaching. VOTF says its
motto is "Keep the Faith; Change the Church." But if the leaders of VOTF are
unwilling to assent fully to Catholic teaching, what faith -- Catholics
could legitimately ask -- are they trying to keep? And if organization is
not really keeping the Catholic faith, then its proposals to "change the
Church" should be viewed by faithful Catholics with justifiable suspicion.
We encourage faithful Catholics who belong to VOTF to demand that the
leadership of the organization explicitly avow Church teachings. If the
leaders are not willing to do that, then we urge faithful Catholics to leave
The burden of proof is, of course, on VOTF to demonstrate its complete
fidelity to Church teaching, by dissociating itself completely from groups
and individuals that are obviously in dissent from Church teaching and
gladly and willingly affirming their Catholic faith in all the defined
teachings of the magisterium. No organization could never honestly claim to
be the voice of faithful Catholic lay people without doing so -- as several
parishioners, angry that the group claims to speak for them, have pointed
out to us.
Until such time that VOTF demonstrates a transparent faithfulness to the
teachings of the Church, no priest who takes his responsibility before God
seriously to promote, preserve and defend the faith would countenance
allowing the group to use Church property for their meetings. The people of
ancient Troy learned a valuable lesson once and pastors would be derelict in
their duty to do otherwise. We love you and love Christ too much to do
If you find some of the statements of Voice of the Faithful to be
attractive, we want you to know that we do, too. For instance, we agree with
several of the organization's stated objectives:
1) We all support those who have been abused and want to prevent any
recurrence of abuse.
2) We all support "priests of integrity" (although you might find it
interesting that no priest from any of the parishes on Cape Cod present at
our last meeting stated that he has received any sign of support from VOTF,
which makes one wonder whether for VOTF this is just a paper objective).
3) We agree that there is a need for "cultural change" in the Church, if we
define cultural change to mean a transparently greater cult (worship) of
Christ among all of us in our daily decisions. The scandals resulted from
the failure of priests to be faithful to Christ and to their promise of
celibacy and of bishops to protect the flock from wolves in shepherd's
clothing. But this grew within a general culture that was taking its moral
obligations before God less seriously. Truly positive change will be
directed toward a culture of greater fidelity to Christ in all the persons
and activities of the Church.
4) We agree that there is a need for greater education of the laity in the
teaching and ways of the faith, which is why, over the course of this year,
we will be doing an extensive adult education series and why we have already
started discussion sessions for parents of those in our CCD program and
5) We also welcome and strongly encourage a greater lay involvement in the
mission of the Church, bringing Christ's teaching and love as leaven into
In all of these areas priests and laity are already working together and,
with God's help, bearing much fruit. If these were the only objectives of
VOTF, the organization would not be objectionable.
The reason why VOTF is controversial, however, and why we cannot support it
or recommend it to you is because VOTF has given indications by its deeds
that its objectives transcend these publicly stated ones. By its failure to
subscribe openly to the whole deposit of faith while at the same time
publicly associating with groups that oppose the faith, VOTF has done
nothing but strengthen suspicions that, while appearing to promote dialogue
and cooperation, it actually promotes an agenda in conflict with the
teachings of the Catholic faith.
There is a better alternative than VOTF for lay Catholics who want truly to
"keep the faith and change the Church" in ways that are manifestly
consistent with our Catholic faith. We invite them to become more involved
in the mission of the Church here at St. Francis Xavier. We encourage them
to join their priests and fellow lay people as together we strive to fulfill
the mission which the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II have
entrusted to us: to live the faith and thereby, with God's help, strengthen
the Church so as to change the world.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Thomas A. Frechette
Fr. Paul T. Lamb
Fr. Roger J. Landry
* * *
The following is the account of the meeting of VOTF with Bishop Sean O’Malley in Boston
First archdiocese, VOTF meeting under O'Malley goes well
by Eric Convey
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Leaders of the lay Catholic group Voice of the Faithful and the Archdiocese of Boston expressed fresh optimism about their sometimes strained relationship after an hour long meeting yesterday.
``The tone of the meeting was positive, the discussion was positive,'' said VOTF Executive Director Steve Krueger. ``It felt like a real dialogue. It was warm and it was positive.''
The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the meeting ``was courteous and deferential on both sides.''
The session was the seventh between the group and archdiocesan officials, but the first since Sean P. O'Malley was installed as archbishop in July.
Since its inception, VOTF's mission worried some church leaders.
Initially, some were concerned about the group's call for structural change.
The relationship became even more strained when VOTF set up an alternative fund for donors unwilling to give to the archdiocese, prompting Bernard Cardinal Law to issue an edict last year prohibiting new chapters from meeting on church property.
Krueger said after yesterday's meeting that all disputes were discussed.
The VOTF leaders made it clear they did not want to restructure the church, but merely wanted to expand the role of such existing groups as parish councils, he said.
O'Malley agreed to let church leaders work with Voice of the Faithful on child-protection initiatives and invited the group to meet with archdiocesan Chancellor David Smith to talk about fund raising.
On the question of new chapters meeting on church property, O'Malley made no decision, Krueger said. ``He said he has to get to know us a little better . . . we want to give that a chance.''
O'Malley also said he wanted to find out why nine other bishops ban Voice of the Faithful from church buildings and to find out what the priests of the archdiocese think, participants in the meeting said.
Voice of the Faithful lists 190 chapters and says that about 30,000 people have signed up for e-mail updates. Specific membership numbers are unavailable.
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