Conservative Group Fights Future Church

By James F. McCarty
Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH]
April 26, 2004

Bishop Anthony Pilla is not alone in wanting to rid the Diocese of Cleveland of the liberal reform group known as Future Church.

A loose-knit group of conservative Catholics calling itself Save Our Church has dedicated itself to preserving the traditional moral and theological teachings of the church - and to thwart Future Church wherever possible.

David Webster, a former Baptist minister who is now Save Our Church's executive director, estimates that his group has 40 or 50 members, compared to the 800 Future Church claims as members.

Webster, 59, of Lagrange, describes himself as a "reformed anti-Catholic." He communicates with his members via the Internet and occasionally holds meetings at their homes to pray for insight and knowledge, and to "get our hearts and minds straight."

Most of all, they pray for the souls of Future Church members, whom Webster accuses of advocating witchcraft and abortion, of disavowing the existence of the Holy Trinity and of scheming to destroy the church in its present form - accusations that Future Church's executive director, Sister Christine Schenk, denies as ludicrous.

Occasionally, the groups confront each other at Future Church events - a strategy Webster calls "prayerful protests."

The tactic involves Save Our Church members kneeling in the back of the audience and praying the rosary. Sometimes the protesters wear sashes and carry signs.

But their mutual opposition to Future Church does not mean Save Our Church and Pilla are allies.

Criticizing the bishop as a "Force of Darkness," Webster has called on Pilla to retire, and has vowed to engage in "earnest and sustained prayer and fasting" until he complies.

Webster has posted writings on his Web site accusing Pilla of mistreating sex-abuse victims and their families, of promoting homosexuality and dissident clergy, and of giving "foul-mouthed heretics" free rein in the diocese.

"This man is a liar," Webster said in a recent interview. "Hiding things and being dishonest are the worst of things, and typical of this diocese."

Diocesan spokesman Bob Tayek declined to describe the bishop's view of Save Our Church.

Schenk said she has opened her arms to Save Our Church members but has been rejected.

"It seems to me that it's a very ultra-conservative Catholic group that's having a temper tantrum because things are not going their way," Schenk said. "It's very hard to take them seriously."

The two groups' latest run-in was last month, when Save Our Church organized a peaceful protest at the site of a Future Church event scheduled at St. Edward High School. But a persistent "underground warfare" phone campaign by Webster's followers persuaded the school to rescind an offer for retired Bishop Albert Ottenweller to speak at the Lakewood campus.

The event was moved to the St. Joseph's Center on Rocky River Drive, where 230 people attended.

Still, Webster considered it a victory.

"We got one canceled," Webster said. "It was wonderful. They crawled back into their hole over there" at the St. Joseph center.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: 216-999-4153


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