Church Reformers Give Support

By Kim Ring
Republican [Monson MA]
March 29, 2004

MONSON - Joan M. Smola grew up here and attended Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Church.

She remembers from those years that her family asked their priest if they could attend a wedding at the Unitarian Universalist Parish down the street. He reluctantly agreed and warned them not to participate in any of the prayers.

But times have changed and yesterday Smola was standing at the front of that same church, talking about clergy sex abuse and her role as moderator for the Voice of the Faithful. So far, the group has not been welcome to make such presentations in the Catholic church, she said.

The Voice of the Faithful is a Boston-based worldwide reform organization that formed in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal. The group is dedicated to having a voice in the governance of the church and supporting sexual abuse victims.

Smola, of South Hadley, told about 20 members of the Unitarian Universalist Church that she could not leave her faith over the recent scandals and instead sought a way to endure.

"My spirituality is not rooted in a human being or an institution," she said. "My spirituality is rooted in God."

She said members of Voice of the Faithful are calling for reform in the church, but aren't seeking "to change any major doctrine."

She said the group wants to see more of the Springfield Diocese's churches form "pastoral councils," which would help advise pastors. She said council members have sometimes been chosen by the pastor, but she believes they should be elected by and represent the people of the parish.

The group also wants to see more "compassion and justice" for victims of clergy abuse and is working to support priests who are hurting due to the acts of their fellow pastors.

Smola said her faith is strong, though she wept after learning of recent abuse allegations against now-retired Springfield Catholic Bishop Thomas L. Dupre.

"I cried all morning," she said.

But for her, examining the "source of (her) spirituality" has been positive.

"Those of us who have our faith rooted in God will see it through this crisis," she said.