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  Voice of the Faithful
Group Seeks Change in Catholic Church
Members Support Sex Abuse Victims, Work for Reforms

By Christopher Hall
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded January 3, 2004

Members of the Louisville chapter of Voice of the Faithful, an organization of Catholics formed in response to the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked Catholic dioceses across the country, are quick to make a couple of things clear.

First, they love their church: It would be a lot easier to simply leave than to work for change within the church. Second, they are deeply saddened by the course the church has taken in dealing with the abuse problem.

More than 250 sexual abuse lawsuits were filed against the Archdiocese of Louisville over the last two years, most of which were recently settled by the church for more than $25million.

Members of the local group said the church kept quiet about the problems that were reported to it for years, and continued to deny the allegations of abuse even after the initial lawsuits were filed until later admitting it under the weight of the numerous accusations.

"I thought they ought to have handled it much differently. Instead of taking the advice of their attorneys and following the legal path, I thought they should have taken a moral path. ... They should have stepped up and done what was right," said Cal Pfeiffer, a member of the group who says he was one of the abused as a child.

"They have always talked around the issue, but never have taken full responsibility and explained, `Why did this happen? How did this happen?' from the church's perspective."

Voice of the Faithful was started in a suburb of Boston in response to allegations of abuse there, and now has more than 30,000 members in chapters in more than 40 states and 21 countries, according to the group's Web site, www.votf.org.

Pfeiffer, who is a member of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, said the three primary goals of the organization are "to support victims of the abuse, to support the priests of integrity, and then to facilitate changes within the church to see that this won't happen again."

The Louisville group has about 70 or 80 members, fewer than 10 percent of whom have said they are direct victims of abuse, according to chairwoman Shannon Whelan, a member of St. Barnabas Catholic Church.

Whelan said the entire group meets once a month, while smaller groups working to address each of the three goals meet more frequently. She said the issues that keep cropping up are a need for greater accountability and transparency from church officials.

Cecilia Price, a spokeswoman for the Louisville archdiocese, said it has a cordial relationship with Voice of the Faithful. She said it supports the group's three primary goals and welcomes the assistance of Voice of the Faithful and other groups like it in achieving them.

Pfeiffer, 55, who said his abuse was of a more minor nature than that of some others, was not part of the lawsuit against the archdiocese or the criminal case against the priest he says abused him.

Pfeiffer said, though, that he was in contact with police, plaintiffs' attorneys and the archdiocese to support the testimony of those who were and to shed light on the issues.

Whelan and both Cal Pfeiffer and his wife, Nicki Pfeiffer, said one of the most troubling aspects of the scandal and the church's legalistic response to it is how it affects people trying to pass their faith in the Catholic Church on to their children. Whelan has two sons, the Pfeiffers three.

Cal Pfeiffer said the church preaches one way of living, and then undercuts itself by acting in another way:

"If we make a mistake, if we hurt someone, we've always been taught to admit your mistakes and make restitution.

"Now, if I steal something, are they telling me, `Well, just go see a lawyer, claim you're innocent and then ride out the legal system?' That's the message I'm getting. Or if I injure someone through neglect or anything else, well then just follow their example of, get an attorney and unless they can prove it, you're not guilty."

Despite the group's claim that the archdiocese has not taken full responsibility for the scandal, Archbishop Thomas Kelly publicly apologized to victims at a June news conference announcing the settlement.

Kelly said, "No child should ever have had to experience what happened to you. I promise that we are doing everything we can to prevent child abuse in the church. I apologize for what we did or what we failed to do that led to your abuse. I hope that today's settlement is seen as a sign of our willingness to support you in your healing."

Vince Grenough, a former priest in the archdiocese and another member of Voice of the Faithful, said he thinks the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has handled the sex abuse scandal "miserably" for the most part, which is what led him to join the group working to prevent a recurrence.

"I didn't get into Voice of the Faithful so much to find a place to vent my anger, as it was a place to start looking for healing for the whole church," he said.

The Louisville chapter of Voice of the Faithful meets the second Thursday of each month at The Barn, a meeting house behind the Passionist Seminary at 1924 Newburg Road. The next meeting is Thursday, with a newcomers meeting at 6:30 p.m. and the regular meeting at 7:15 p.m. For more information, call Whelan at 495-6901.
 
 
 

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