Voice of the Faithful misleads the laity  By DAVID A. ZIZIK  29 AUG 03

Š. Voice of the Faithful has squandered a unique opportunity to unite all Catholics -- hierarchy, laity, men and women in religious life, and priests -- and has traveled a path that will only further divide the Church.




Group¹s challenge to bishops¹ authority is challenge to doctrine




I have felt unsettled about Voice of the Faithful since I attended its inaugural convention in Boston on July 20, 2002. Like so many, I had hoped the group would be a harbinger of unity and renewed understanding in a church badly shaken by scandal and division.


I was wrong. Instead, Voice of the Faithful has squandered a unique opportunity to unite all Catholics -- hierarchy, laity, men and women in religious life, and priests -- and has traveled a path that will only further divide the church.


In its Web site, the group expresses a desire ³to shape structural change within the church.² It believes it can accomplish this by establishing chapters in every  Catholic  parish in the world. These chapters would be called ³Voice affiliates.² Never mind the obvious logistical problems inherent in such a venture. More important, the group has failed to articulate how these ³affiliates² relate to the church¹s constituent bodies and to those who are responsible for their day-to-day operation and governance.


For example, how would a Voice affiliate relate to the local ³affiliates² that already exist within the church (for example, parishes)? How would an affiliate¹s members relate to existing lay and clerical leadership (parish priests, pastoral associates, liturgical ministers, youth ministers, finance councils, parish pastoral councils, directors of religious education, and so on)? And, why does the group not desire to work through existing parish leadership groups to accomplish its purposes?


More fundamentally, what is the primary purpose of a ³Voice affiliate?² Is it to strengthen and foster the mission and goals of the church? Not according to Voice of the Faithful¹s Web site, which states that Catholics should form parish affiliates ³so that they can begin fulfilling the Voice mission and goals at the local level with family and friends.²


Why has the group failed to provide the details of how its ³affiliates² work within the structure and governing authority of the church? The short answer is: Because they don¹t.


Voice of the Faithful¹s Web site says: ³VOTF does not seek any change in church doctrine.² This is clearly not so. The group has taken an unrepentantly adversarial posture toward bishops in particular and ecclesial authority in general. It neither recognizes nor respects the authority of bishops to govern dioceses.


Voice of the Faithful certainly does want to change church doctrine. In fact, the group¹s existence is predicated upon a view of ecclesial authority and lay-episcopal relations that rubs against the grain of Catholic doctrine and tradition. To suggest that the group is not after fundamental doctrinal changes reflects a misunderstanding of the meaning of ³doctrine,² a desire to spread falsehoods about the content of the Catholic faith, or both.


Evidence that Voice of the Faithful does not recognize the pastoral authority of the bishops abounds. It can be found in the group¹s refusal to acknowledge the bishops¹ authority on matters such as diocesan stewardship, fundraising and church administration.


A more recent example of the group¹s anti-bishop stance is found in its refusal to support interim Bishop Richard Lennon¹s 2003 Lenten Prayer Initiative in the Boston archdiocese.


Voice of the Faithful rejected Lennon¹s plea for unity through prayer during Lent because its leadership decided that prayer is ³necessary but not sufficient² to deal with the problems the church faces. The group¹s alternative? A so-called ³Silent Watch,² in which Voice of the Faithful called for its supporters to protest at the archdiocesan chancery between noon and 3 p.m. each day during Lent.


Voice of the Faithful did not attempt to explain what harm might result if it supported a prayer initiative organized by the bishop during Lent. But the reason is fairly obvious: Any public show of support for programs initiated by bishops would undercut the group¹s agenda, which is the pursuit of ecclesial power and financial independence unfettered by episcopal authority or oversight.


Voice of the Faithful supporters often cite Chapter IV of Lumen Gentium (³The Laity²) in support of its demands for increased lay authority in matters of church governance. At the same time, they are either unaware of -- or perhaps choose to ignore -- Chapter III on the authority of the bishops, especially the following passage: ³The Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and him who sent Christ.²


To restore credibility with ³mainstream Catholics,² and to demonstrate genuine support for the church, Voice of the Faithful should understand that a great majority of Catholics do not support it, and that the support it has is declining. Voice of the Faithful claims 25,000 ³registered supporters² and at least 150 ³affiliates² worldwide, yet there are 2.1 million Catholics and 362 parishes in the Boston archdiocese alone. Its claim that it speaks for ³mainstream Catholics² is unrealistic, if not delusional. Continuing to make such a claim raises serious questions about its institutional credibility.


Second, Voice of the Faithful leadership should acknowledge the pastoral authority of Catholic bishops to govern their respective dioceses. The group¹s refusal to respect the bishops¹ governing authority compromises any hope that the group can contribute to church ³reform² in a manner that is authentically Catholic, and virtually assures that it will accomplish little of any lasting value.


Third, Voice of the Faithful should abandon its negative, anti-bishop agenda, and instead work with the bishops to encourage and foster lay evangelization and faith formation, increased participation in the sacramental life of the church, parish development, and the pursuit of social justice and responsible stewardship. The Catholic church is the sacred, universal manifestation of the One Body of Christ, not a collection of interest groups and political action committees whose first priority is the pursuit of their own agendas.


Unless Voice of the Faithful leadership changes its approach and has a change of heart, the organization will surely become irrelevant to any sort of authentically Catholic reform. And that will, indeed, be sad.


David W. Zizik is a Boston lawyer and a member of St. Theresa Parish in Sherborn, Mass.

From National Catholic Reporter, August 29, 2003



Date           Thu, 4 Sep 2003 16:42:42 EDT

To                 Commentz@FaithfulVoice.com

Subject    David Zizik's article


David Zizik itemized a few of the areas that VOTF want to change regarding Catholic Church doctrine but he failed to address a major current area, namely, the refusal of VOTF to support the Bishops' Letter asking that Catholics contact their Mass. State  representatives and ask them to support the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment (H.3190) which comes up for a vote in the Mass. Legislature on Nov. 12,2003. I did ask what the position of VOTF is and received a reply from Luise Dittrich .as the representative for the "VOTF Communications team" ,stating that "VOTF takes no position on sex and gender issues regarding the Church" and "Voice of the Faithful will not be petitioning state legislators on this issue." 


 It would seem from this response refusing to say "YES!" to the Mass. Bishops' Letter that VOTF also  brings into question the claim that VOTF leaders make that they are most interested in making sure that children are safe from danger since their refusal to help implys that they  do not agree with the Pope that same-sex relationships are dangerous relationships in which to put children.  


Also when VOTF had Fr. Edward Vacek, S.J. speak at St. Eulalia's parish, Winchester, recently, Fr. Vacek claimed that the Catholic Church has changed its teachings on sexual morality. Apparently Fr. Vacek , too, doesn't agree with the Vatican statement regarding same-sex marriage since Fr. Vacek agrees with Fr. Walter Cuenin and Fr. Richard Lewandowski, both of whom went before the Mass. State Legislator to protest the ban on gay marriage on April 10,2002.


No doubt he also agrees with Fr. James Keenan,S.J., his cohort at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, who on April 28,2003  appeared before the Mass. State legislature and claimed that the Catholic Church endorses same-sex marriage under its social teachings.


Fr. Cuenin, Fr. Lewandowski, Fr. Vacek and Fr. James Keenan certainly have done grave damage to the positon of the Catholic Bishops of Mass. as expressed in their letter that was  supposed to be read in all Catholic churches this past summer.


This statement that the Catholic Church  supports gay marriage,according to Fr. Keenan, is totally false.  Yet no one from either VOTF or their close supporters, the Priests' Forum, have said that this support for gay marriage is wrong.


I'm surprised that David Zizik has not addressed the position of VOTF on this vital and timely matter. Certainly I am not the only person who has questioned the position of VOTF on the Marriage Amendment.


Certainly  many of the speakers that VOTF has at their meetings lately speak out against the teachings of the Church that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and they are against the ban on gay marriage.


Why did David Zizik fail to address  the VOTF position on this very major pending legislation?   

Alice Slattery





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