What I Told Voice of the Faithful
Crisis Magazine - e-Letter
February 26, 2003
You might remember me mentioning a while back that I'd been asked to meet with Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). The Patterson, NJ, chapter was gracious enough to invite me to Holy Angels Church in Little Falls this past weekend to talk about my impressions of their organization and my ideas for dealing with the scandal.
It may surprise you, but the meeting went well.
First and foremost, the group was very polite and respectful. While they had been warned ahead of time about my criticisms of VOTF, most were still open to what I had to say. A lot of the questions they asked me revolved around the issue of power: the power of the bishops, how much power the laity should have, etc.
One issue that particularly concerned them was that more and more bishops were banning VOTF chapters from meeting in their dioceses. While I could understand their concern, I pointed out that VOTF has yet to explain what it means by pushing for "structural change" in the church. Until that point is clarified, the bishops -- who are part of that structure -- are right to consider the parade of dissident speakers at VOTF meetings as indicative of where at least some of the VOTF leadership wants to go.
Notice that I said "some" of the leadership. After answering several questions, it became clearer to me that there was a big difference between the average Joe attending VOTF meetings (like this one) and the people running the meetings. By and large, members are regular Catholics who are frustrated with the scandal and feel that they have nowhere else to turn. A lot of us feel that way.
But their good intentions won't count for much in the face of a leadership that has other ideas about the direction of the organization. Just to give you an example, it spoke volumes to me when it was announced at the meeting that Bishop Gumbleton was high on this VOTF chapter's list of prospective speakers. The audience seemed to take this news in stride, clearly unaware of the bishops "credentials." (Bishop Gumbleton is highly involved in Call to Action and other dissident groups, and would, no doubt, bring that ideology to the VOTF table.)
Now people have made the argument time and again that speakers associated with VOTF don't necessarily represent the views of the organization (or else I would have NEVER been invited). This may be true in some cases, but when the vast majority of its honored guests are vocal dissidents, you can't help but wonder where their loyalties lie.
Unfortunately, not everybody recognizes these infamous Catholics. That's why those well-intentioned VOTF members didn't bat an eye when Gumbleton's name was brought up, and they'll likely be led into providing platforms for other speakers with similar agendas.
For members of VOTF, I would say this: Be informed. When speakers are announced, research their history. See what groups they've participated in, what ideas they've supported publicly. Do the homework. Know the issues and the Church's teaching on those issues. You may find that some in your leadership have taken advantage of your good will. Most Catholics are too busy making a living and raising families to know the ins and outs of dissident activity in the Church.
Many of these VOTF members are fence-sitters: They could be persuaded to either side with effective arguments. Unfortunately, with a steady diet of dissidents and no counteracting voice of truth, they run a great risk of falling on the wrong side of the fence. The future of VOTF lies with those leaders who are willing to resist the dissenting solutions that will only diminish the witness of the Church.
In the end, I was grateful to be invited, and I'd go back again if they asked me. I've received a number of intriguing e-mails since my lecture, and I promise to return them.
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