Viewpoint & Opinion
We Break the Same Bread -- Let’s Talk

By Peggie L. Thorp
National Catholic Reporter
Dawnliaded September 19, 2003

David Zizik’s many inaccuracies with regard to Voice of the Faithful (NCR, Aug. 29) underscore, perhaps unwittingly, the most glaring deficit in the current church crisis: the absence of genuine dialogue. His essay exemplifies the divide-and-conquer approach so favored by those bishops who still refuse to speak with Voice of the Faithful. Zizik is one of us -- Catholics reeling from horrific disclosures about the church that for 2,000 years has harbored the faith we love. Since Zizik’s concern for the future of our church is shared by every member of Voice of the Faithful, his efforts to discredit our organization beg the question: Why?

Voice of the Faithful stepped up to the plate when church leadership didn’t know what had hit them. We offered a venue for all Catholics to speak, to pray and to act with that leadership. Our Web site documents our every turn, and our members continue to pursue with dedication, joy and creativity the three goals of our organization -- to support survivors, support the priesthood and support reforms that will ensure a healthier future in church administration. This is what we want to talk about -- with our bishops and clergy, with each other and certainly with David Zizik and others who might be just as misled as he.

Zizik questions how Voice of the Faithful affiliates would work with “constituent church bodies.” Put simply, Voice of the Faithful is one of these constituents -- a new one. Let’s not forget the failure of so many pre-crisis “constituent church bodies,” including parish councils, to prevent the horror that was unfolding for over a generation. If that alone doesn’t signal a crying need for help, what does?

This is a time to strengthen and revitalize those voices -- plus one. Until now, there has not been a Voice of the Faithful -- a group of committed Catholics ready to take their places at the table. Catholics have never before asked to exercise our right and responsibility for active involvement in the “governance and guidance” of our church. A new day spawned by tragedy is the quintessential Christian experience -- we can and do renew ourselves in the Risen Christ.

Zizik wonders why Voice of the Faithful doesn’t state its commitment to the mission and goals of the church but instead endorses on our Web site “the Voice mission and goals.” I would remind Zizik that the mission and goals of the church were not in jeopardy -- we were in jeopardy. Is it not yet clear that church leadership has been unable to care adequately for our greatest trust? Is it not yet clear that acquiescence in the “Father knows best” mode did not keep our children safe? It is particularly curious that Zizik does not mention the foundational basis for Voice of the Faithful -- the sexual abuse by clergy of our children and its decades-long cover-up.

Zizik is concerned over our “adversarial posture toward bishops in particular and ecclesial authority in general.” He must be referencing some other organization. We have spent the bulk of our communication efforts over the past year and a half knocking on bishops’ doors, extending the glad hand of welcome and inviting their good hearts to join ours, despite our shattered trust.

Catholics must be mindful of our obligation to speak when something is wrong -- regardless the offender. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that correction is an act of charity and that charity must extend to all persons, whether or not they are superiors. He is concerned that the act be an act of love, however, and quotes the Letter to Timothy, “Do not upbraid an older man, but appeal to him as a father.”

There isn’t space here to correct Zizik’s confusion between doctrine and tradition (Voice of the Faithful “rubs against the grain of Catholic doctrine and tradition”). Suffice to say that doctrine is what tradition struggles to protect and that Voice of the Faithful has never engaged in any debate over church doctrine. The organization’s Statement of Beliefs ( is our signature on church doctrine.

Tradition, however, lives with the living Christ and includes refinements, advancements (consider Galileo), new understandings and enlightened moments -- many of these at the hands of clergy but many by the sensus fidelium among laity. Look at the history of church support, tacit and otherwise, for slavery, murderous popes, wayward cardinals and bishops and, now, the sexual abuse of our children. We can thank God for the courage it took to stand up and insist on being heard, and we can pray that more will do the same. This act of speaking out is precisely where Christianity started. Someone stood up for justice, and he is still being heard 2,000 years later.

Like Zizik, we, too, have seen the “one body of Christ.” Zizik knows, but chooses to overlook, the fact that Voice of the Faithful members are religion teachers, eucharistic ministers, parish and finance council members and lectors that he deems to be worthy parish constituents. Our members sang at Archbishop Sean O’Malley’s installation in Boston, prayed for Cardinal Bernard Law, walked with the survivors, supported our priests, and held the first healing Masses for survivors. All of us together -- Zizik, bishops, Voice of the Faithful and all Catholics -- share one “agenda.” We are here to further the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. We don’t have to agree -- we have to believe. The rest is in other hands.

Perhaps it is fortunate that we come to this page -- Zizik and Voice of the Faithful. Perhaps Voice of the Faithful hasn’t articulated well enough our profound hope to bridge the many gaps among us. Even before this crisis, there was little, if any, effort by church leadership to bring together in love and prayer the mix of labels -- conservatives, liberals, pros, cons, traditionalists, progressives.

I believe we can model for the church a church that works together. Let’s remember the adage: If the people will lead, the leaders will follow. To the David Ziziks among us, Voice of the Faithful says: We break the same bread. Let’s talk. To church leadership I say: Now is the time.


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