Catholic Group Asks More Say for Laity
Voice of Faithful Chapter Seeks to Rebuild after Sex Abuse Scandal

By Marketta Gregory
Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester NY]
Downloaded February 27, 2004

(February 27, 2004) - James Williams believes Rochester has a terrific Roman Catholic bishop.

But the former priest also believes that without structural change in the church, "the next bishop could be as bad as this one is good."

"The laypeople should have more say in governance," he said.

His thoughts are echoed by a newly formed local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a worldwide organization formed in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal.

The local group is among many across the country awaiting the release today of a national study showing the scope and effect of the scandals that surfaced a couple of years ago when documents about a former priest in the Boston Archdiocese were released.

Voice of the Faithful " which supports survivors of clergy sexual abuse, priests of integrity and structural change within the church " started in Massachusetts and has spread to 40 states.

Williams" wife, Elizabeth "Bizza" Williams, said fewer people would have been victimized by sexual abuse had the people in the pews been given more say-so, more watchdog power. So all three goals are tied together for those who have joined the local group, which has a mailing list of 300.

And so is the goal of staying in the church. "We won't rebel and cause a schism," said Bizza Williams, chairwoman of the local group's steering committee.

"We all adore our bishop," added Georgia Crissy, a member of the committee. "We walk a fine line."

Doug Mandelaro, a spokesman for Bishop Matthew Clark, said the Voice of the Faithful's "stated mission is to support and strengthen the Catholic Church and to engage people in thoughtful dialogue while being faithful to its teachings."

"Bishop Clark supports such dialogue as long as faithfulness and constructiveness prevail ... From what I understand, the organization is working to raise consciousness about the issue of sexual abuse so that the church can both learn from the mistakes of the past and create a safe and holy environment for all now and into the future. That is Bishop Clark's goal, too."

Though the local chapter is still in the organizational stages, three groups have been formed.

The group focusing on survivors has met with Diocese of Rochester representatives who handle reports of clergy abuse. The group working to help clergy has sent out a survey to priests, said Debbie Bridge, a victim of abuse at another diocese.

The third group is talking about parish councils, which are similar to school boards, and hoping to establish more uniformity. Not all parishes have them and members are selected in a variety of ways.

Bridge would like to see council members elected by the parish and have more decision-making power. "Now they're more consultative," she said.


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