Voice of the Faithful

By Francis X. Fay Jr.
The Hour [New York]
October 27, 2003

NEW YORK-- The Voice of the Faithful movement was likened to the religious orders which sprang up in earlier crises within the Roman Catholic Church during a conference Saturday at Fordham University.

"You've been called to raise your voice," said Eugene Kennedy, retired psychology professor from Loyola University of Chicago. "You will be recognized one day as the modern counterpart of the ancient religious orders that came into being centuries ago at times of great crisis in the Church.

"You share the calling of the mystic knights to search for and restore the grail that is the sacramental life of the church by restoring its integrity, wholeness, healthiness and holiness," continued the author of "Healing the Unhealed Wound -- The Church and Human Sexuality." Once a priest himself, the professor held the 1,500 in the Fordham gymnasium spellbound with his explanation of how the priestly sexual abuse scandal evolved, placing the blame on the shoulders of the heirarchical church leadership that has taken the church away from the laity and concealed and controlled behind a curtain in the manner of the Wizard of Oz.

"It a crisis of misunderstanding the sacramental character of sexual human beings," Kennedy said. "An uneasiness with the senses, the sensual and the sexual. A profound misunderstanding of human love and relationship by leaders who have lost their sacramental sense that the universe is a paper lantern lighted by the divine that it is whole, that is luminous and so are we.

"The leaders who view creation so skeptically, look down at us and down on us from the hierarchical tower they constructed on faulted blueprints of the universe and the human person he went on, "They see the universe and the person as divided into good (the spirit) and that which is bad (nature). The elements of creation are split and pitted against each other in this array of hierarchical reality -- heaven above earth, supernature of above nature, soul above body and spirit above flesh. Those who present this view express their own estrangement from God, creation and the mystery of incarnation.

"Churchmen continue to deal with good people by demeaning and debasing them, treating them like children, subjecting them to the corrupting dynamic common to the both the sacramental and sex abuse scandals." Kennedy said. "This is a systemic difficulty. Abusing the body of Christ sacramentally and the bodies of children sexually are the responses of persons with power. The responses they make to people who trust them and have no power. The hierarchical poison is tasted every day by persons who seek very ordinary, but very important things -- the date and time of a wedding, a dispensation of some sort. Perhaps, permission to hold a meeting on church property. "Scholars taste it when officials strive to control what they think, write or say. Ministers gag on it when ordered to guard against homosexuals, the scapegoats of our age branded by hierarchs with the mark of Cain. People are told to submit to their own demeaning and thereby to gratify something unhealthy in the officials as they put you down to raise themselves up. All of this of course for the good of the church." Kennedy received a sustained standing ovation from his listeners, many of whom hustled off to buy tapes of his talk made available within minutes of its conclusion.

While the talk by the Chicago professor highlighted the long 10-hour program, the rest of the conference was richly sprinkled with brilliant scholars and insightful speakers who brightly illuminated arcane aspects of religious philosophy and practice.

Norwalkers played significant roles at the conference both on-stage and off, none moreso than Joseph O'Callaghan, retired Fordham history professor who has led the VOTF in the Diocese of Bridgeport since its inception more than a year ago. He also led off the conference with an introductory monologue that established the high the tone for the day.

"We come to listen, to dialogue, to praise God together," he concluded. "We hope to leave here inspired to carry on the always ongoing work of reforming the church." O'Callaghan also read a letter VOTF is sending to the U.S. Conference of Catholic that will meet next month in the nation's capital.

"We are challenged to reflect on the current crisis and to take the opportunity to offer our hands and hearts to work with you and with our priests for the renewal of our church," it began. "We call upon the Holy Spirit to guide your deliberations and we pledge our willing collaboration in strengthening our church, Christ's Body on earth.

"We ask that you place on your agenda: 'How can an effective lay voice be incorporated into the parish and diocesan pastoral councils and a national council?' "We believe that dialogue among all the constituent members of our church is essential to the well being of the whole. The development of an appropriate means for the presentation of the ideas and opinions of the laity on the parochial, diocesan and national levels is, we believe of the greatest importance."

Robert Mulligan and James Alvord, both of Norwalk, also had pivotal roles at the conference that was titled: "Being Catholic in the 21st Century." Mulligan was one of three co-chairman of the event, while Alvord handled all the arrangements. "We're all elated by the turnout and by the real spirit that was displayed," said O'Callaghan. "I think they are determined to continue working on changing the church.

James Butler of Greenwich, a member of the diocesan group, presented a posthumous award to Msgr. Philip J. Murrain, founder and executive director of the National Pastoral Life Center in New York City and co-founder of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative with the late Cardinal Joseph Berardin of Chicago. The award was in honor of all good priests whom VOTF is pledged to support. It was accepted by Sr. Catherine Patten, RSHM, his successor, who referred to him as a man of inclusive love, commitment and fidelity.


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