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

parish letter.


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 organization.


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

our world.


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


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E-mail: rogerlandry@post.harvard.edu





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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