Laity to Church: Reform Crucial
Cape Audience Applauds Voice of the Faithful President As He Criticizes the Bishop for Not Allowing Meetings on Parish Property

By Sean Gonsalves
Cape Cod Times [Sandwich MA]
Downloaded October 20, 2003

SANDWICH - Voice of the Faithful co-founder and president Jim Post came to the Cape yesterday to lay out his vision for the emerging movement of Catholic laity fed up with what they characterize as a culture of secrecy and unaccountability among church leaders when it comes to clergy sex abuse.

Speaking at the Sandwich High School auditorium, Post also had strong words for the Fall River Diocese bishop, the Rev. George Coleman, for his diocesewide policy of not allowing Voice of the Faithful meetings or events to be held on parish property.

Quoting from a statement in a September 2002 report issued by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, Post suggested that Coleman pay more careful attention to the views of his fellow clergy who wrote that there was a need for bishops to "recognize and promote the dignity, as well as the responsibilities, of the laity in the church."

"We need to confidently assign duties to them in the service of the church, allow them freedom and room for action ... so they may undertake tasks on their own initiative," Post read from the report. He told the 175 in attendance that he was "going to put this into a letter and send it along to Bishop Coleman because he may not have heard this before."

"He needs to know that it is unacceptable to refuse to talk with the people in the diocese. The bishop has an obligation to provide a spiritual and pastoral presence in the diocese ... I would say it is immoral to tell people that they cannot meet in their own churches to talk about issues," Post said to the resounding applause of his audience. About two-thirds of those in attendance were members of Voice of the Faithful, also referred to as VOTF.

"A bishop fails to be a spiritual model when he fails to recognize the fundamental morality of letting people meet in their churches," Post added.

Post, who is also a Boston University business professor, said that every time VOTF members are forced to rent space outside the church, money is being spent by parishioners that could be put to better use within the church.

Before Post offered his critique of Coleman's leadership, he began his 25-minute talk by evoking the spirit of Mother Teresa.

"Today is a day of celebration in our church with Mother Teresa being beatified in Rome. And that's a good starting point for us here today, because what she stands for is a commitment to justice," he said, emphasizing the late Mother Teresa's legacy of working with those shunned by the larger society.

Campaign direction

Post gave a thumbnail sketch of the status of the VOTF-led campaign 20 months after it began, and talked about the direction in which he sees the movement heading.

In his travels, speaking around the country, Post said he has learned that many of those who have joined one of VOTF's 188 affiliate groups did so because of a "fundamental disconnect" between the values of the church and the revelations of a clergy sex abuse cover-up.

He said that sense of disconnection has been most intensely felt by "ordinary, middle-of-the-road Catholics" who are not "ideologically conservative or liberal."

With an estimated 1,000 priests who have been removed because of allegations of sexual abuse, and with more than 5,000 sex abuse survivors, the church will still be dealing with the fallout from clergy sex abuse for the next 60 to 70 years, Post said.

And it is dealing with these lingering effects that poses a tough challenge: "How will we make them a part of the living church?" he asked.

Post said the challenge the church now faces is "a marathon; not a sprint. We need marathon runners ... to keep the pressure on so that real change comes to the church."

Some seek more activism

Though Post didn't mince words in chastising the church hierarchy for "foot dragging" and "stonewalling," some in attendance thought VOTF should be more aggressive and activist-oriented in pursuit of its aims.

"There ought to be more focus on the issue of celibacy. It's the root cause of this problem. ... Don't be so passive. If we don't attack celibacy, our grandchildren are going to be in trouble," said Peter McGoldrick of South Orleans, referring to the dwindling numbers of students entering seminaries to become priests.

But at least one audience member took issue with McGoldrick's assessment. "A married pedophile priest is still a pedophile," he said.

Anne Hart of Falmouth, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, said after the meeting that she was pleased with Post's remarks and his "centrist" approach.

"I think it's important that he keeps a centrist position. It takes a lot of fear away for people who think we are a splinter group. We are a centrist organization," she said.

At the conclusion of Post's talk, Cape Cod VOTF members were introduced to their new regional coordinator, Marie Collamore.

"The Holy Spirit is moving this diocese forward," she said.

Pointing to the ongoing murder investigation of a 20-year-old Falmouth man whose suspected killer, Paul Nolin, allegedly had a close relationship with the Rev. Bernard Kelly, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Woods Hole, Collamore said more and more local Catholics are seeing the need to support VOTF efforts.

Collamore said many were angered by Bishop Coleman's refusal to thoroughly explain why he put Kelly on indefinite administrative leave after being contacted by detectives who wanted to question the longtime Cape priest in connection with the murder investigation.

Coleman visited the Woods Hole church last week and spoke to parishioners there in a meeting that was closed to anyone who did not attend the church regularly.

Many parishioners left the meeting angry that Coleman didn't divulge what he knew about the investigation as it related to Kelly.

"They're afraid of us. What we are doing here today is the worst nightmare of the bishops. I like that idea. I really do," Collamore said at yesterday's meeting, announcing the establishment of a new VOTF chapter in Mattapoisett.


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