Catholic Group Talks Strategy
Parishioners at Odds over How to Approach Church with Concerns

By Andrew Tilghman
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
July 12, 2003

A rift inside a newly created group of Catholic parishioners has members at odds over how to approach Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard.

An approach involving direct and pointed questions about the extent of sexual abuse in the diocese is supported by some in the Capital Region's first chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based nationwide network formed in the wake of the 19-month-old sexual abuse scandal.

"How many investigations?" "With how many priests?" and "How many allegations?" were some suggested questions for the diocese from Cathy Bern of Albany, one of the local organizers, at a meeting at St. Mary's Catholic Church of Crescent on Thursday night.

"To not share this information, in a certain way, continues the secrecy that got us into this situation," said Bern, a legislative analyst for Democrats in the state Senate.

Others, however, were uncomfortable with such a confrontational tone.

"If we just say 'who, what, when, where,' it's too easy for a lawyer to push that aside and say that's confidential," one man, who asked that his name not be printed, said at the meeting.

The differing opinions about a stance and direction for the fledgling group were on display as members discussed composing their first group letter to Hubbard. After a nearly hourlong discussion, they were unable to reach an agreement and tabled the letter until the next monthly gathering. A time and location has not been set.

Hubbard has expressed support for the Voice of the Faithful affiliate. He also indicated his willingness to meet with the group, according to a letter he sent to the founders that was read aloud at the meeting.

In some dioceses across the country, Voice of the Faithful groups have pushed for greater involvement in church affairs and have clashed with church leaders. In Boston and in Brooklyn, for example, the groups were barred from meeting on church property.

The local group, which held its first meeting May 8, focuses on three primary goals: supporting priests of integrity, supporting victims of sexual abuse and planning to shape structural change within the church, organizers said.

At Thursday's meeting, two people identified themselves as victims of clergy abuse and one woman said her son was molested by a priest and is now in prison.

Discussion of the group's mission was underpinned with opinions about church doctrine.

"The church is not a democracy," said Dick Costa, a 74-year-old Schenectady man. "If a person deviates from one point -- one point is all it takes -- he's a heretic. To tell the Pope what to do, to tell the bishops and cardinals what to do, it destroys the church."


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