VOTF Southeast Wi Affiliate
By Terry Ryan
Voice of the Faithful
The Southeast Wisconsin affiliate of VOTF met on March 13th at St. Rita's parish to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the founding of Voice of the Faithful in Boston. A prayer service, featuring readings and candlelight and anointing one another with oil, was held prior to the start of the monthly meeting. Reports were given on legislative issues, the plans for mediation in the Archdiocesan of Milwaukee, and a nomination/election process for VOTF leadership.
Terry Ryan, coordinator, asked members to sign a letter of support for the "Boston 58" who are now being attacked for signing a letter several months ago requesting Cardinal Law's resignation. Everyone present signed the letter of support, which was then mailed to the Boston Priests' Forum, c/o Fr. Walter Cuenin.
The tense situation with Iraq was on everyone's minds, so we closed our meeting by joining hands and praying for world peace. Posters with the message, "Pray for Peace", which were donated by the Peace Action Center, were also available as hand-outs.
Fr. Pat Lagges, a canon lawyer from Chicago, will be the keynote speaker on April 22nd when VOTF-SE WI meets at 6:30 pm at St. Alphonsus parish in Greendale. His topic will be "rights and obligation of the clergy & laity according to canon law".
Our VOTF group wishes all other affiliates and chapters and "Parish Voice" groups a happy and blessed Easter season. May our voices rise to bring hope and necessary reform to our Church in this holy season and may we experience peace in our world.
VOTF Nashville, TN invites readers to visit their website at http://www.chuckandtessa.net/voft/votf.htm for mission statements, contact information, and updates for the Nashville chapter.
VOTF Southwest Florida Dick Calderone encourages your visit to the VOTF SW Florida website at www.naples.net/presents/voice/.
Grand Rapids, MI
VOTF of Grand Rapids, Michigan recently hosted an evening with Fr. Richard P. McBrien, author and theologian from the University of Notre Dame. Fr. McBrien's talk, "Challenges Facing the Church Today," was co-hosted by Aquinas College, and was well received by over 200 people. Fr. McBrien spoke highly of Voice of the Faithful, as well as VOTF founder Dr. Jim Muller, an alumnus of ND. He emphasized the opportunity in the current Church crisis, said he believes more of the crisis is before us than behind us, and talked about the mandate of Vatican II. He emphasized lay involvement and recommended VOTF as a wonderful option toward that end.
The Grand Rapids diocese has a new Review Board and their names and credentials were publicized this week, which was one of our goals. As well, we find ourselves gaining new faces at each meeting.
Nashville VOTF participated in Nashville's second annual St. Patrick's Day parade on Sunday, March 16, carrying a banner with the emblem from the VOTF website in white and purple. The banner is kelly green and in white letters it says, "Nashville Voice of the Faithful Keep the Faith."
Nashville VOTF's next step is to increase membership and participation. To that end, we sponsored an informational meeting at St. Ann Parish Life Center (ed. more in the next Vineyard), At Nashville VOTF's request, this meeting was announced in a number of Nashville Diocese parish Sunday bulletins, including the bulletin of the Nashville Diocese Cathedral of the Incarnation.
Nashville VOTF wants to express its gratitude to Nashville's Father Sanches. Fr. Sanches writes a "Dear Parishioner" column for the St. Patrick's Parish Sunday bulletin every week. After the February Nashville VOTF Appreciation Dinner for the Priests, he wrote a Dear Parishioner Letter recruiting members for the Nashville VOTF. It was awesome! He also advised that he would post a sign-up sheet for VOTF and encourage everyone to join
Finally, in furtherance of the Nashville VOTF goals, we are taking steps to incorporate as a Tennessee not-for-profit corporation.
After nine years of tough legal maneuverings, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden has agreed to pay $880,000 to 23 men and women who filed suit over their sexual abuse as children. The diocese has admitted no wrongdoing but has said it now clears the way for Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to meet personally with the victims.
VOTF-Camden Diocese affiliate leader Kevin Gemmell stated, "It has taken much too long for the diocese to offer any pastoral care or retribution to victims but I nonetheless feel it is a sign that groups like VOTF are succeeding with convincing Church leaders to do the right thing."
The Camden Diocese chapter still meets monthly and has reaffirmed its commitment to removing the NJ statute of limitation and charitable immunity laws and continues its efforts to make all diocesan financial and personnel records public. It has also formed strong alliances with the Northern NJ VOTF and the statewide SNAP organization and is involved in planning the fall regional VOTF conference.
VOTF Florida - Coordinator Goz Gosselin writes, "After nearly five months of dialogue with my pastor Fr. Joe Clifford our new affiliate will be meeting in St. Columbkille parish center in Fort Myers. We are presently a total of 43 members, drawing from the many local parishes in and around Fort Myers." (ed. Time well spent, Goz!)
Northern NJ Affiliate
The good news is that our March meeting was an excellent dialogue with two of our brave diocesan priests who came to share their thoughts on the future of ministry. The not-so-good news is that they were both "summoned" to the chancery by the bishop after the meeting and reminded of the Vatican decrees that prohibit the discussion of the subjects of married priests and women's ordination. It's safe to say that our clergy here in the Paterson and Newark dioceses have been given a definite message about VOTF. We are so grateful to our Franciscan priests who have opened their parish doors to us consistently. We continue to pray for more open doors, open minds and open hearts.
Our next meeting is May 13 when we will welcome Kathleen McChesney, head of the US Bishops' new Office of Child and Youth Protection, as our speaker. The subject of bishop accountability is high on everyone's list of priorities, and we're hoping for some good dialogue on the subject.
Our Structural Change Action Group has made great strides. They have collected data on the projected number of clergy in our diocese over the next fifteen years. The facts are grim. By 2015, the Paterson Diocese projects it will have 32 priests to serve its 114 parishes (and these numbers were published before the abuse crisis.) We are working on a way to publicize this dire situation, possibly in the format of a one-day workshop on ministry, with a special emphasis on how we're preparing (if at all) for the shortage.
Stay tuned for news about the first East Coast Regional VOTF Conference! Our tri-state group from NJ, NY and CT have been "chatting" on AOL Sunday nights, looking for a venue and discussing possible speakers. We're aiming for the Fall, so please send prayers this way!
There's so much more to tell, but the most amazing part is that we continue to percolate despite the fact that we are exhausted and often discouraged. Certainly, the Spirit is working miracles, because, by rights, we should have collapsed in a heap by now. It is our connectedness with all of you that gives us strength, and our knowing that together we can be the change we hope to create. Your VOTF/NNJ sisters and brothers send many blessings and thanks.
NEW VOTF NY East Side Affiliate - watch for their report in the next issue!
Ellsworth, ME Affiliate
We are the VOTF Ellsworth, Me affiliate and have been meeting regularly since June of 2002. In January we hosted and facilitated an informational meeting open to all parishioners. The Portland diocesan informational outreach team came and answered specific questions that we had forwarded to them. We also hosted a prayer and healing service to our local parish of St Joseph's Ellsworth, Me. The service was aimed at healing and a renewal of faith, something we felt was important as we embark on a new year.
Recently we have joined VOTF Portland in addressing an issue regarding a retired Josephite priest who is living in Bar Harbor Maine. The priest, Fr. Dayton Salisbury, has a long and repetitive history of sexual abuse, information released by the supervising order, the Josephites. We attempted to work with the parish in which he is a parishioner. Our intention was to ensure that no other children be put at risk, and that he abide by the norms of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. We were met with complete resistance and denial from the pastor. Although we contacted several parish members, no one was willing to come forward in light of the pastor's perspective, that this is a non-issue. Our concerns are based on the fact that although he is a retired priest, he has on several occasions acted in a priestly fashion, and has been portrayed as a priest in good standing to many of his fellow parishioners. Awareness of his sexual abusive history has been heightened due to the efforts of VOTF, and I have been told that the local priests have been made aware that Fr. Salisbury is to have no priestly function. We have contacted the Josephites again regarding this matter and hope now to focus on continued education regarding sexual abuse as well as the support of priests of integrity.
Northwest Nassau, NY Parish Voice
New Hyde Park, NY
A group of parishioners met with their pastor, Msgr. John Martin, to discuss concerns related to the present crises in the Church. The pastor assured the group that a Pastoral Council will be established in the near future. This gathering resulted from a direct approach to the pastor. The experience might serve as a model for other VOTF members vis-a-vis their pastors.
A presentation, "Structural Change in the Church," was given by Father Andrew Connolly, S.J. Fr. Connolly is from Queen of the Most Holy Rosary parish in Roosevelt. He was introduced by Jim Howard, Co-Moderator. "Andy" is a member of the steering committee of Voice of the Ordained, an organization of priests and deacons, married and unmarried, in the Dioceses of Brooklyn, Rockville Centre and New York.
Fr. Connolly addressed the need for structural change and said we must examine the basis for the present structure and the basis for a new structure. We need to bring to our analysis the tools of theology, philosophy, sociology and history. A useful resource is a book titled Imagining the Catholic Church: Structured Communion in the Spirit (excerpts were distributed at the meeting).
His major points were that we need to understand our rights and relationships within the structure of the church, structure of authority and structure of responsibility. Who is accountable for what and to whom? He talked about finances, policies, strategies. We need to make sure we know what we want to change. At present, it's a one-way street, top-down. At the diocesan level unlimited power is in the hands of the local bishop. We need to move to a horizontal structure with wide ranging lay involvement. Openness in the area of finances is a practical place to begin.
An obvious enormous obstacle: Those with the power have to be the ones to make the changes, i.e., the bishops. Vital to change is a massive organization of laity and priests; if the priests don't sign on, Fr. Connolly feels we must move along without them. Focus on the organization and, concretely, what you want to change.
Fr. Connolly offered some practical suggestions: Begin where you are, i.e., in your parish. Then:
Fr. Connolly stated that in this moment of change the overriding attitude should be trusting the Spirit that dwells in each of us. A lively discussion followed. It was noted that Andy opened up new areas for further study and reflection.
Financial Report: Joe Hassan, Treasurer, read the current figures. He noted that since the Affiliate operates on the principle of complete financial openness, he will present a more detailed report in March. Note: Bishop Murphy has announced that the March 6 issue of the Long Island Catholic will carry a report on diocesan finances. Joe mentioned that the diocese taxes each parish 8% of their weekly collection. He also cited some of the charities sponsored by the Voice of Compassion fund, offered as an alternative to the Bishop's Appeal.
Pastoral Councils: Joe Bongiorno reported that St. Joseph's in Garden City, like most parishes in our area, has not had a council meeting in a number of years. On a positive note, St. Aidan's has reinstated its Stewardship Council.
Legislation: Joe has been tracking Bill A1516 in the New York State Assembly, which would require mandatory reporting of clergy sexual abuse with the exception of the confidentiality of the confessional. Assemblyman McEneny, who introduced the bill, would welcome the support of VOTF-LI. This bill closes a loophole in the final version of the US Bishop's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which did not have a mandatory reporting requirement. For a text of the bill visit www.assembly.state.ny.us
Greenwich, CT Affiliate
On March 18 the Greenwich, CT affiliate hosted two speakers from NYC S.N.A.P., David Cerulli and Linda Allegretti. Both speakers' painful stories impressed the group with the ongoing need to support survivors.
On March 22, the Greenwich affiliate followed up by hosting a metro-New York workshop on how to support survivors, together with Survivors First. Members of SNAP and The Linkup contributed to the program, which was put together and presented by Anne Barrett Doyle and Paul Baier. Susan Gallagher and Terry McKiernan also made presentations.
Anne (Survivors First and VOTF) spoke about helping Catholics become activists for survivor causes. Paul (Survivors First) talked about reforming or eliminating the statutes of limitations for child abuse. Susan (UMass, Lowell) outlined alternatives to Diocesan healing offices. Terry (VOTF, Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, and Survivors First) described how to encourage and measure bishop accountability.
VOTF members from northern New Jersey and the Camden Diocese, the New York Archdiocese, and the Brooklyn, Rockville Centre and Bridgeport Dioceses took part in the workshop.
Hartford East, CT Affiliate
The Hartford Area Regional Coordinators (HARC) continue to meet to formulate an archdiocesan organizational structure here in Hartford. Joanne Moran, PV coordinator (St. Tim's in West Hartford) has been instrumental in the logistics of our formalization process thus far. We are meeting to put the finishing touches on our new structure and look forward to working with all the CT affiliates under this umbrella.
We have also met to discuss our plans in anticipation of further conversation with Archbishop Cronin. We held a brainstorming session for agenda items to be considered for our next meeting with the archbishop.
Durham, NH St. Thomas More Parish Voice
At the February 12 monthly meeting, the St. Thomas More PV chapter, representing the seacoast area, moved from the "steering group" forum to an elected 10-member Board of Trustees, after approving Organizational By-laws for our NH STMPV. The following were elected to the Executive Committee: Chair - Lorraine Graham; Vice-chair- John Miskus; Secretary - Peg Boucher; Treasurer - Sylvia Russell; Assoc. Treasurer- Lynn Holmes. By-laws were formulated, and accepted, as a forerunner for application for NH state charitable tax free status, and also, preparation for federal 501(c)3 charitable organization status filing. A previously established checking account is open for those parishioners who wish to fund our parish (solely) without the 7.8% assessment by the bishop/the diocese. Acceptance of our direct PV contribution has been met by resistance from our finance commission, similar to Cardinal Law's refusal o accept the MA VOTF $50,000 contribution. Pursuit by our PV on this issue is continuing. .
NH State Assistant Attorneys General Will Delker and Jim Rosenberg were guest speakers at the March 13 PV meeting. Delker and Rosenberg were lead investigators in the agreement in which the Diocese of Manchester, NH admitted culpability in the sexual abuse scandal, and agreed to open the diocesan files to the NH AG`s office. Questions from those present, many of whom were VOTF members, were reported in the Dover and Portsmouth newspapers. NH Public TV covered the meeting, and the meeting will be shown on Durham Public TV in the near future. The two attorneys stated a firm belief that priestly sexual abuse will no longer be covered up in NH, as access to records and mandatory reports of abuse will be well monitored by the NH AG office. .
An important conference for tri-state (NH, MA, ME) VOTF members will be held shortly. Implementation of VOTF`s #1 goal, supporting survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, will be the subject of workshops from 1 pm to 5 pm. Bishop accountability, documents, diocesan healing offices, awakening the laity, and fundraising will be addressed by leaders of the Survivor Support Working Groups. It should be a substantive meeting for every VOTF member.
PENACOOK, NH, APRIL 6, 2003 - New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful (NH-VOTF) today called on Bishop John B. McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Christian to resign their positions as bishops of the Diocese of Manchester, NH. The two-thirds vote by the group's steering committee included representatives from nine affiliates across the state. NH-VOTF has approximately 600 members in New Hampshire.
The call for resignations follows patient discernment by members of the record of Bishop McCormack in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and the record of Bishop Christian in New Hampshire. "Both observed a general disregard for the testimony of sexual abuse victims and an unwillingness to remove predatory priests from contact with children," said Jeffrey Blanchard, NH-VOTF steering committee chairman.
Springfield, MA Diocese
On March 25th, a small delegation from the Northampton/Springfield Voice of the Faithful Affiliate met with Bishop Thomas L. Dupre to discuss areas of mutual concern. Those present from the affiliate were: Ann Turner, moderator; Mario DePillis, member of the Steering Committee; Joan Smola, member; and Bob O'Brien, member. Four parishes and towns were represented. Also at the meeting were Father George A. Farland, Monsignor Richard S. Sniezk, and Father Daniel P. Liston.
The meeting was quite cordial. Voice of the Faithful representatives assured Bishop Dupre that they are faithful Catholics, who wish to lend their support, skills, and gifts to this diocese to help however they can.
Specifically, VOTF members suggested that they could assist in the formation of Pastoral Parish Councils, in fulfillment of the promises of Vatican II. Bishop Dupre responded that it is diocesan policy to form such councils. If members of a parish are denied the right to form a Pastoral Parish Council, they could then write directly to Bishop Dupre.
After expressing the goals of Voice of the Faithful and some of its accomplishments, VOTF members also articulated that VOTF can help by giving people a place to express their dismay over the crisis in the church, while still remaining within the church. The discussion then addressed the sexual abuse crisis, its impact on the church, and on victims and their families. Bishop Dupre, Father George Farland, and Monsignor Sniezk all confirmed and restated a diocesan policy, which VOTF members had misunderstood: If a victim wants to come and tell his or her story before the Misconduct Commission, they are allowed to bring a friend, family member, or a lawyer who has not instituted suit against the diocese, and can appear before the Misconduct Commission at the same time they are bringing suit. Bishop Dupre also said that he has personally offered to talk with any victim who might wish to do so.
The dialogue then touched briefly on another healing resource, which the church might use - the healing of memories as explained by Father Francis MacNutt. While Bishop Dupre explained that he was uncertain about some of the activities of the National VOTF, he did say that he was reassured as to the fidelity of the local Voice of the Faithful, and that he looked forward to working more with VOTF in the future. The meeting lasted one and one-half hours and was fruitful in fostering greater understanding and respectful dialogue.
Cape Ann, MA
CAPE ANN VOTF PROTESTS CHURCH BAN
On Thursday April 10th the Cape Ann Voice of the Faithful will take to the streets of Gloucester in silent vigil to protest the Archdiocesan ban of their meeting on church property. The candlelight vigil and procession will march from Saint John's Episcopal Church, Cape Ann VOTF's home away from home, to Saint Ann's Catholic Church at 74 Pleasant Street. A short prayer service will be held on the steps of Saint Ann's church.
More than six months have passed since Cape Ann Voice of the Faithful was banned from church property. During that time Cardinal Law resigned and Bishop Richard G. Lennon was appointed as Interim Administrator of the Boston Archdiocese. On March 11, 2003 Bishop Lennon met with Jim Post, the president of VOTF, and indicated his unwillingness to lift the ban. Cape Ann VOTF believes this policy is indefensible and defies logic. Cape Ann VOTF is one of only six chapters in this Archdiocese that are banned. Forty-eight other Boston area chapters, formed before the September 2002 ban, are able to meet on their own church property.
We are shocked and outraged by the continuing and unfolding revelations of abuse and cover-up within the Church. We are further outraged by the institutional Church's unwillingness to accept full responsibility and move forward towards healing and wholeness for all its people. The time for hopeful waiting is long over and the time for faith-filled, prayerful, action has arrived. The future of the church belongs to the people in the pews. We are the Church, and we have many gifts and talents to offer. First we must be able to take our place at the table; sadly we face a closed door instead.
Winchester Area, MA Affiliate
A highlight for our group this month was a talk given by Fr. John E. Sassani, the Director of the Office of Spiritual Development for the Archdiocese of Boston. Fr. Sassani discussed preparations for Lent, particularly in light of the past year's scandals. We are very grateful for his appearing before our group.
On March 10, Marie Doyle of our group led a discussion on Carlo Carretto, the great Italian spiritual writer of the 20th Century and his writing on the Church. Our group found some of Carretto's words (written in 1984) particularly fitting for the present day; "How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous and more beautiful." We are very grateful to Marie for sharing this message with us.
Throughout the month several members of our group have participated in the ongoing Lenten Vigil outside the Chancery in Brighton. This vigil and their commitment, have been a constant reminder to us that even though the scandal is no longer on the front pages of the newspaper, the process of healing has hardly begun.
Also this month we conducted a survey of parishioners of St. Eulalia's in Winchester, Mass. (where we meet) about VOTF. While we came in for our share of criticism (constructive and otherwise), many of the comments helped to reaffirm the commitment we made last May to become a Parish Voice:
"Carry on! We need to push for reform of our Church and its structure."
"It is the best thing to happen in the Church in 100 years."
"I feel it is a gift from God to the Church."
"Change won't happen if we look the other way."
"Persevere and witness."
Waltham, MA St. Mary's Parish Voice
We recently conducted a brainstorming session with members to focus on our 2003 goals. Out of this session came the idea to have a membership drive with phone calls, posters and flyers. We are also planning to have a get-together with our local parish priests to discuss VOTF.
Our pastor, Fr. Wendell Verrill, has agreed to purchase a video system, which will enable us to sponsor monthly family movie nights for our parish.
The parish community will be having a Healing Mass with Fr. Bob Masciocchi. We continue to meet the first Tuesday of the month from 7:30 to 9:00 and our Steering Committee meets on the third Tuesday.
St. Agnes Parish Voice, Reading, MA
St. Agnes is involved in initiating a voice through the process of BishopSearch, where all Catholics have a voice and participate in the selection of their next bishop. We have met as a parish voice and listed the qualities and expectations we would like to see in the man that assumes that position. We hope all Catholics will take part in this process and hope to have a website up and running soon.
Fr Robert Bullock, co-founder of the Boston Priests Forum, came to St. Agnes Parish Voice to speak to us at our last open meeting. He stressed three points: Truth is the light of hope for our Church, great harm was brought to many by clericalism and secrecy within the Church, and the laity need to collaborate with clergy to effect a stronger and healthier Church.
Future plans involve a survivor speakers meeting in April.
In conversation BEFORE Sunday Mass, an ad hoc group from St Pius V in Lynn started a project to manifest support for our priests and other members of the pastoral staff. Parishioners are being asked to express their feelings in written form about Boston Globe and Pilot coverage and articles on the subject of priests. Books will be available for commentary at the entrances to the Church for two weekends. Lay individuals are addressing the congregation at each Mass to explain the effort and the need to communicate. All the commentary will be bound and presented to Father Neil and Father Joe.
North Shore Affiliate, Topsfield, MA
Our North Shore affiliate (a regional VOTF drawing from six to seven communities in this area of MA) held a meeting on Sunday, February 23, at St. Rose of Lima parish in Topsfield. The guest speaker was Roger Haight, S.J. who spoke on "Lay Ministry in the Catholic Church in America." At our gathering of about 60 people, he briefly traced the history of the Church in the US and then elaborated on lay ministry obligations and privileges as given to us by Vatican II. There was clear emphasis on how the laity has changed since the early days of the immigrant experience in America when clergy were the more educated members of the People of God. Because of our democratic experience in this country and the culture of greater equality and openness in our society, laity expect and are entitled to a stronger voice in the operational affairs of the Church. We are therefore somewhat unique as an American Church compared to other cultures and societies in the world where more authoritarian rule and a more restrained press are evident. He predicted that practices will change but ever so slowly; the laity will, of necessity, be stronger simply due to "plummeting" numbers of clergy. His presentation was engaging and was followed by a flurry of spirited questions and answers.
Next month's meeting will feature a list of essential
questions for group discussion based on Father Haight's
talk. In April, our speaker will be Father John McGinty
from St. Pius V parish in Lynn. He may speak on the
Priests' Forum. In May, another group discussion based
on this latter talk will take place. In June, we will
hear from Bernard Swain, a Ph.D. theologian.
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