Voice of the Faithful Chapters Face Ouster

By Joanna Massey [Boston]
July 11, 2004

Members of one of the most active chapters of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay group formed out of the clergy abuse scandal, expect to be displaced after the end of next month, when the St. Albert the Great parish in Weymouth is slated to close.

George Kyller, president of the Weymouth cluster affiliate of Voice of the Faithful, said pastors at the town's four remaining Catholic parishes have turned down the group's request to meet at their churches after St. Albert closes.

Despite a declaration by former Boston Archbishop Bernard F. Law that Voice of the Faithful chapters formed prior to October 2002 could continue to meet on church property, none of the other Weymouth parishes have agreed to become the lay group's new home, Kyller said.

"They're scared; they don't want to tangle with the big guys," he said. "The attempt is to make sure we go away, but we're not going to go away."

The situation is similar at other Voice of the Faithful parishes scheduled to close by the end of the year through a reconfiguration of the Boston Archdiocese, including St. Susannah in Dedham.

Suzanne Morse, a spokeswoman for the Newton-based Voice of the Faithful, said that of the 22 parishes in the archdiocese with chapters, nine were among the 65 parishes recommended to close. Some members have accused the archdiocese of targeting parishes affiliated with Voice of the Faithful, a charge archdiocese officials have said is not true. The organization now has chapters throughout the world, according to its website,

"There's a lot of confusion over what's going to happen to our affiliates in closing parishes," Morse said. "It's a big concern."

In a letter dated Oct. 12, 2002, Law banned new Voice of the Faithful chapters from meeting on church property. The group, formed to support sex abuse victims and increase the role of the laity in the Catholic Church, also has been banned in several other dioceses across the country.

But in the letter, Law said the ban did not apply to existing Voice of the Faithful chapters meeting on church property.

The Weymouth group, which met for the first time on July 10, 2002, fulfills that requirement, said Sharon Harrington, a Voice of the Faithful member. Since it meets at St. Albert, which is owned by the archdiocese, the chapter is legally allowed to meet at the town's other parishes also owned by the archdiocese, the Scituate-based attorney contends.

"Once you've fulfilled the ban on one of them, you've fulfilled it on all of them," she said. "If the pastors and parish councils are truly obedient to the hierarchy, then they're going to let us meet on their property."

But at least one Catholic leader in town reportedly said he believes parishes that remain open are not allowed to accept Voice of the Faithful groups.

According to Harrington, the Rev. Eugene Sullivan, the pastor at St. Francis Xavier on Pleasant Street, told the group that because it did not meet at his church before the 2002 ban, they do not meet its requirements. Sullivan was on vacation and could not be reached for comment last week.

The pastor at Sacred Heart parish on Washington Street, the Rev. Daniel Riley, had expressed interest in welcoming Voice of the Faithful and asked Kyller, the group's president, to speak with church leaders two weeks ago about the group's mission. But he recently said it will not be able to meet there, Kyller said.

Riley also was on vacation and unable to be reached for comment.

Both pastors, as well as leaders at the town's other Catholic parishes, Immaculate Conception on Broad Street and St. Jerome on Bridge Street, have been invited to attend a Voice of the Faithful meeting scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at St. Albert, 1140 Washington St.

While several Protestant churches in Weymouth have offered Voice of the Faithful meeting space, group members say they will fight to remain on archdiocese turf. They say they believe some church leaders and parishioners have flawed perceptions of the group's goals and are afraid to support an organization eyed suspiciously by the archdiocese.

"It's sad that the hierarchy mistrusts us so much when we are their friends," said Harrington. "If St. Albert closes, [Bishop Sean] O'Malley has said the welcoming parish will take our church activities; Voice of the Faithful is one of those. If nobody intends on giving us a place, they're really not following what we were told was going to be the procedure."


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