From: "Deal Hudson" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 21 Nov 20:54 (EGT)
Subject: The Archbishop and the Dissenters
The Archbishop And The Dissenters CRISIS Magazine –21 Nov 03
Father Coyne said his comments were completely misrepresented.
Yesterday I promised you I'd look into the Boston Globe article that
claimed Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston was considering lifting
the ban on Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) chapters in his archdiocese.
The Globe piece entitled "O'Malley to reconsider policies against
lay group," quoted VOTF President Jim Post and archdiocesan spokesman
Rev. Christopher J. Coyne at length. In the article, both observed
that the VOTF meeting with the archbishop "was considerably more
cordial" than past meetings with other leaders, and both men were
hopeful that relations between the group and the archdiocese would
improve in the future.
Frankly, I was surprised by the tone of the article -- it made it
sound like support for VOTF from the archdiocese was practically a
Then this morning I saw an Associated Press (AP) article --
"O'Malley has 'positive' meetings with Voice of the Faithful" -- that
was even more enthusiastic about the meeting. In it, O'Malley is
described as being on the brink of accepting funds from VOTF's
fundraising arm, Voice of Compassion, and open to a discussion about
removing the ban altogether.
If that was unexpected, the closing lines of the piece nearly
knocked me out of my chair. It reads, "Coyne said the church does not
consider Voice of the Faithful members dissidents."
This I could hardly believe. How could Coyne claim to be speaking
for the entire Church? Surely, that's a bit beyond his jurisdiction.
By giving such a sweeping statement to AP, it sounds like the Church
has now awarded an imprimatur to the group.
As far as VOTF members not being dissidents, it's true that some are
indeed faithful Catholics who simply want to address the sex scandal
and make sure it never happens again. We all want that, and I don't
blame them for looking for ways to address the problem.
But the VOTF leadership appears to be out of step with some of their
members. If you recall last year's special CRISIS E-Report, "When
Wolves Dress Like Sheep," you know all about that.
And yet Coyne's comment makes it sound like the Church itself has
approved the group. They're portrayed as a harmless organization that
was unfairly silenced by evil bishops who felt threatened by
discussions with the laity.
In both articles, VOTF comes out smelling like a rose.
I knew there had to be more to the story. For one, I noticed that
O'Malley is never actually quoted in either piece. All of his
comments are paraphrased by Coyne or Post.
I decided to speak with Father Coyne this afternoon to get his side
of things. I'm glad I did -- Coyne said his comments were completely
"I was asked a question to characterize the meeting of Voice of the
Faithful with the archbishop," Coyne told me, "and I responded by
saying that they [the members of VOTF] told the archbishop that they
were not dissidents. In making the statement, I did not in any way
express the position of the Church or the archdiocese in Boston
regarding Voice of the Faithful" (where the bans against them are
Now that's a big difference. According to Coyne, he wasn't giving
his own opinion, let alone the Church's position. He was merely
telling the reporter what VOTF told the archbishop. But that brings
up another point: Why would he simply repeat back to newspaper
reporters what VOTF had told him about their organization? Coyne made
a classic media gaffe in allowing VOTF to define itself through his
own mouth. Because Coyne said it in a major media organ, his
credibility will now be used to give VOTF legitimacy.
What if, for example, Sen. Ted Kennedy met with Archbishop O'Malley
and told the archbishop that he was pro-life? If O'Malley or Coyne
repeated that, without comment, to the media, it would look like they
themselves accepted the truth of the statement.
It's the same case here. If Fr. Coyne had investigated VOTF himself,
he would have found plenty to question -- their inviting known
dissidents to speak at conventions, for one, or the fact that Jim
Post has recently gone on record saying that the laity should have a
role in electing bishops (The Arizona Republic, September 17, 2003).
But Coyne inadvertently let VOTF's spin go unchallenged, and now it
appears that he -- and the Church -- have signed off on them.
Coyne told me that he was going to talk to the AP reporter about the
sentence claiming that the Church supports VOTF, and I'm grateful
that he took the time to speak with me and clarify his position. I
told him to try and have the statement corrected nationally, through
AP itself if possible. It's the only way to make sure the article
won't be used by VOTF to claim fidelity to the Church.
And what about Archbishop O'Malley? Does he support VOTF?
Highly-placed sources close to this issue (who can't be named at this
time) have told me that it's highly unlikely O'Malley will be lifting
the ban -- at this point he's merely listening to their concerns.
He's going to look more closely at the group before he makes a
decision, but from what I've been told, I'm betting those bans will
stay firmly in place.
It's vital for Church leaders to understand that most Catholics (and
non-Catholics) get their information about the Church through the
mainstream media. People are bombarded with information from
television, radio, the newspapers, Internet, etc. If our priests and
bishops don't learn how to use those tools effectively to their own
purpose, they'll be used against them.
In the current issue of CRISIS, Fr. Raymond de Souza has an
excellent article on that very subject. We've made the piece
available on our website, so if you haven't read it yet, you need to.
You'll find it here:
That's it for this week. I hope you have a great weekend, and I'll
write you again in a few days.