Voice of the Faithful Speaks on Cape Cod

By Brad Lynch
Barnstable Patriot [Sandwich MA]
Downloaded October 26, 2003

Spurred by revulsion at priest-child sex scandals and efforts of some in the Catholic hierarchy to cover them up, a 20-month-old (and growing) movement is seeking a role for lay people to help the Catholic church clean up its act and get with the 21st century.

One hundred Cape Cod Catholics, who ventured to the Sandwich High School auditorium on this past rainy Sunday afternoon, got an update on progress and obstacles from the cofounding president of "Voice of the Faithful," James L. Post. a Wellesley Catholic and professor of business at Boston University.

Post, 59, a native of Buffalo, married to Jeannette and with three children and three grandchildren, had little church experience beyond a half Catholic education ­bachelor's through doctorate at St. Bonaventure, Villanova and the State University of New York ­before he and fellow parishioners at St. John the Evangelist began discussions in the parking lot after Sunday mass about their church's needs in its sorrow and shame.

From the meetings came a volunteer organization of laymen and women, Voice Of The Faithful (VOTF), with three goals, 1) to help survivors of sexual abuse in the church, 2) to support priests of integrity and 3) to help shape cultural change in the church which, some VOTF proponents say. has been overdue since Vatican II in the early 1960s.

Purposefully, VOTF does not see a role for itself in addressing questions that involve church dogma; for example it does not take stands on such subjects as marriage for priests or ordination of women. VOTF has been credited with having been one of many groups that agitated for and influenced the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law. The organization has grown rapidly to include 33,000 members in close to 200 parishes across the country. In the U.S., there are 60 million Catholics.

The group seeks what Post believes are real opportunities to be of service to the church, to bring new openness, candor and cooperation between a beleaguered clergy who need help and a devoted laity who seek ways to serve. Key to working together would be to encourage change rather than regard it as a threat.

The offer of help from VOTF has not been universally cheered in the Diocese of Fall River and many other areas, particularly in the Northeast.

One indication at Sunday's meeting was that Cape Cod is a strong area for Catholics concerned over people hurt and needing help after clerical abuse. VOTF members and staff consider themselves basically middle of the road but deeply involved Catholics who are active in their parishes, whose contributions do more than average to build churches and schools. This was the first Diocese-wide meeting of VOTF in Massachusetts and the Cape was chosen to host it. The fact that this area has not been spared from clergy sex crime contributes to making this a major issue here.

The two most powerful churchmen, both newly promoted to their present jobs, have ties to the Cape. They are Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston and Bishop George Coleman of Fall River, himself a long-time parish priest on the Cape. These two bishops take different stands on the subject of Voice of the Faithful. O'Malley has been willing to meet with the group and to consider more lay participation, though for a time the group understands he must be concerned with legal issues. Bishop Coleman firmly closed the door on VOTF, banning local priests from meeting with the group, forbidding coverage of the organization's events in parish newsletters and refusing to allow the group to meet on church property. These are typical of attitudes across the country, where some bishops welcome having more lay help and talent in management and others consider VOTF to be a medley of meddlesome pariahs. On balance, though, from reviews of press accounts and in the comments of Post, VOTF seems to be making more friends than foes.

In a brief statement for the Patriot, Bishop Coleman this week allowed that he needs to further examine the lay group. "The Bishop," he said through press spokesman John Kearns, "still wants time to study Voice Of the Faithful and their parish affiliate voices."


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