Coleman Takes Time with Group

By Gregg M. Miliote
Herald News [Fall River MA]
February 7, 2004

FALL RIVER -- A two-hour meeting Thursday night between the Roman Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful and the bishop yielded few concrete results, the group's leadership said Friday morning.

"Although the meeting was frank, there is a considerable distance between the two on this issue and no near-term resolution seems likely," said Voice of the Faithful member Chris Boyd, who attended the meeting. "We are disappointed that after several months, Bishop (George W.) Coleman still feels that he does not have enough information to determine that Voice of the Faithful is made up of faithful Catholics seeking to find meaningful lay involvement in the Church.

"Voice of the Faithful will, however, continue to make efforts to find ways to work together."

Four members of the national group that formed as a result of the widening clergy sexual abuse scandal met with Coleman to outline the group's goals and objectives.

Voice of the Faithful leadership initially requested the meeting last year in an effort to show the bishop the members are not dissidents and should be allowed to hold meetings in diocesan churches.

Prior to his ordination last July, Coleman sent notice to all parishes under his control not to allow the lay group access to church facilities for its meetings or allow members to post announcements in parish bulletins.

Carol Markey, a Mattapoisett resident who attended Thursday's meeting, said the access to the church issue was the main point of discussion.

"We were hoping the bishop would allow us back into the church, but that didn't happen," Markey said. "I think it will probably be a long time before he lets us in, if we are ever let back in."

Although a future meeting with Voice of the Faithful members was tentatively scheduled for next month, diocesan director of Voice of the Faithful, Marie Collamore, said the bishop continues to "scrutinize" her organization and is apparently frustrated with the group's use of the media to communicate their desires.

"VOTF members expressed regret over the lack of access to parish facilities and parish bulletins giving rise to the need to communicate with other Catholics through the press," Collamore said. "We ask Bishop Coleman to trust us, and to let us use our parishes, parish bulletins and encourage our pastors to speak with us."

The lay group, which has a few hundred members in the Fall River Diocese, states its goals are to support the victims of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and attempt to shape structural change in the church hierarchy.

Of the more than 200 dioceses across the country, Fall River is one of only eight that continues to ban Voice of the Faithful members from church property.

The bishop, through the diocese office of communications, issued a brief statement regarding the meeting in which he says more discussion is needed before any decisions are made.

"Lasting almost two hours, the meeting provided an opportunity for a frank and constructive dialogue," the statement read. "At its conclusion it became apparent that more time was needed for the members of Voice of the Faithful to clearly and completely explain their objectives and related issues."

Although very little headway was made Thursday night, Markey said she still remains optimistic about the future.

"I don't think the meeting was completely negative," Markey said. "The bishop seems to want to know more about us and the scheduling of another meeting is a definite positive."


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