Faith & Values: Voices of the faithful

By Warren Wolfe
Star Tribune [Minnesota]
Downloaded July 26, 2003

Roman Catholics from a number of Twin Cities parishes will gather Thursday at an Eden Prairie church to decide whether to form the nation's 182nd local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a grassroots group born in the outrage over the scandal of priest sex abuse.

In the 18 months since it was formed in the parish hall of a Boston suburb, the group has attracted more than 30,000 members in 41 states. But it has had a testy relationship with many church leaders.

Bishops have barred the group from meeting on church property in seven dioceses in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Connecticut and Maine.

"We want to be clear about the centrist goals and mission of Voice of the Faithful," said Sue Weyrauch, one of three conveners from Pax Christi, the Eden Prairie church where the meeting will be held.

"This group is about supporting survivors of sexual abuse, supporting priests of integrity and helping shape change in the church's structure," she said.

"It is not about ordaining women or married priests or changing church doctrine," fears that have been voiced by some bishops.

Members of Pax Christi Church began talking about forming a chapter a year ago, when several attended a national gathering of Voice of the Faithful in Boston.

"There still is so much pain in the Catholic Church -- pain among parishioners, priests, victims of priests, and among the bishops as well," said the Rev. Tim Power, co-pastor at Pax Christi and another convener of the meeting Thursday. "The whole idea of Voice of the Faithful seems very healthy to me."

Some parishioners from Pax Christi and other Twin Cities Catholic churches joined the organization as individuals, but the only Minnesota chapter was started last year in Winona by Jim and Barbara Allaire at St. Mary's Church.

Channeling anger

"We've been successful in the sense that we were able to channel our early anger and feelings of betrayal over the sex-abuse issue into concrete actions," Jim Allaire said.

The Winona group has about 35 members and has met with abuse victims and with Bishop Bernard Harrington of the Diocese of Winona.

"I'd say we continue to have some disappointment over the reticence of the diocese to be more open, more communicative," Allaire said.

"I know our diocese has made progress in implementing the new sex-abuse policy [approved by U.S. bishops last year]. Our review board is in place, but we're still in the dark about what if anything the diocese has done to reach out to survivors and what past sex-abuse cases have cost the diocese."

In the Twin Cities, Archbishop Harry Flynn said in an interview last month that he knows little about Voice of the Faithful and has no opinion about the value of a chapter starting in his diocese, "although anytime Catholics commit themselves to the work of the church, it's a good thing."

Power said he has notified about 50 area congregations as well as Flynn's office about the gathering Thursday. Flynn is on vacation in his native New York state this month.

"We really would like to forge a relationship with Archbishop Flynn, because I think we represent some pretty mainstream Catholics, committed Catholics, who want to do our part in bringing healing and renewal to the diocese," said Jan Kranz, another Pax Christi member. "In some ways, it's good that [Flynn] doesn't know so much about us. Maybe we can start off fresh.

"The sex-abuse crisis is what got many of us off our duffs, but this is about much more than that," she said. "It's really about lay Catholics moving through the sense of crisis and discerning what our responsibility should be to working with our priests and bishops for the furtherance of God's kingdom in our own communities. We're here to put our hands and minds to work."

Warren Wolfe is at


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.