Parkway Voice of the Faithful Comes to a Cross Roads
By Ray Hainer
October 27, 2004
With its second birthday just around the corner, the Parkway chapter of the Catholic lay organization Voice of the Faithful convened Monday to discuss the direction the affiliate should follow in the coming year.
The topic of Monday's meeting at St. John Chrysostom in West Roxbury was "Where do we go from here?"
To answer that question, about 30 members of the affiliate gathered for a brainstorming session in which they exchanged ideas for future projects and considered strategies for engaging the affiliate in both the church and community.
In the midst of the clergy sex abuse scandal, 30 Catholics in Wellesley formed Voice of the Faithful in January 2002. The organization's Parkway affiliate was founded a year later, in January 2003, and now comprises around 175 members from the four Catholic parishes in the Parkway.
The Parkway Voice of the Faithful has arrived at something of a crossroads, according to Rickie Harvey, one of the affiliate's founders and planning board members.
In addition to holding monthly meetings, the affiliate comprises four committees (known as working groups in Voice of the Faithful parlance) designed to educate members about the church, support survivors of clergy sex abuse and non-abusive priests, and teach affiliate members how to recognize signs of sex abuse in children.
Not so active
However, with the exception of the education committee, the Parkway working groups "haven't been really active" in the past year, Harvey said. The affiliate's planning board felt a new approach, one that relied less on the committees and more on monthly meetings, was needed.
And so affiliate members sat down for Monday's brainstorming session to define their priorities for the coming year. Increased involvement in the official structure of the church at both the parish and cluster levels was at the top of the list.
The Voice of the Faithful's primary mission is to change the structure of the Catholic Church to secure a greater role for the laity in decision-making processes.
There was a consensus at the meeting Monday that achieving that goal would require affiliate members to participate actively in their parishes, in parish councils, finance committees and in informal parish activities such as holiday fairs.
Even though roughly half of those in attendance were already actively involved in their parishes in some capacity, some members expressed concern that many in the church and laity alike view Voice of the Faithful as a radical group divorced from the mainstream church.
"This issue of parish involvement is a very serious one, because we are not separate," said Alice Hennessey of West Roxbury. "If we think of ourselves as separate, that's serious. We are part of a parish and we've got to get involved in various ways."
Participation in individual parishes was seen as crucial, but members also indicated that the affiliate could serve to unite the parishes in the Parkway cluster, which includes Sacred Heart in Roslindale and St. Theresa's, St. John Chrysostom and Holy Name in West Roxbury.
"The cluster is a very important idea," said West Roxbury resident Nancy Sheehan. "We have four parishes in the cluster, and each one does its own thing. We should be reaching out and doing more things together."
Members from each of the Parkway parishes agreed to consult with their pastors, and to inquire about the possibility of opening cluster meetings, which are now private, to parishioners.
Although many of the Parkway affiliate's undertakings are driven by the Voice of the Faithful's three-point mission statement-"to support those who have been abused, to support priests of integrity, and to shape structural change within the Church"- one of the affiliate's main thrusts has been to educate its members in the workings of the church.
To that end, the affiliate typically invites guest speakers to its monthly meetings to illuminate various aspects of the church. Recent speakers have included authors, and a representative from St. Albert the Great, the Weymouth church where parishioners have held a high-profile "sit-in" since the parish was officially closed by the Boston Archdiocese Aug. 29.
On Monday, the moderator of the meeting, Mary Celeste Brown, asked for suggestions for future speakers from members. The proposals ranged from a local nun and college professor who is an expert on governance at the parish level to Archbishop Sean O'Malley. ("Why not?" Sheehan said of the latter. "Aim high.")
West Roxbury resident Paul Kilgarriff suggested inviting someone well-versed in the internal organization of the archdiocese. "We're talking about changing the structure of the church, but the only time we find out about various commissions and committees in the archdiocese is when we read about it in the newspaper," Kilgarriff said. "It might be nice to have somebody come in and talk about the various offices of the chancery, and how the Archdiocese functions."
The idea of the affiliate sponsoring a guest speaker series as an educational event for the public, rather than simply inviting speakers to their monthly meeting, was also raised.
With an eye toward the Voice of the Faithful's first stated goal, to support clergy abuse victims, Roslindale resident Peggy Sullivan proposed a letter-writing and telephone campaign to state legislators concerning the statute of limitations for crimes involving child sex abuse. The statute of limitations currently stands at 15 years, but legislation to extend the statue to 30 years was filed last year, and could be considered again in the upcoming legislative session.
Sullivan urged her co-members to get involved.
"Unless they [legislators] think people are interested, they won't put any work into it," Sullivan said.
Various community service projects were also discussed. Brown, noting that some parishioners in her parish had been incarcerated recently, floated the idea for a prison visitation program, and also suggested a program to identify and support victims of clergy abuse who live in the Parkway cluster.
And finally members considered some recreational activities, such as a half-day retreat for spiritual renewal and a book club.
Since its inception in 2002, the Voice of the Faithful has swelled from its original 30 members to more than 30,000, and boasts more than 200 affiliates throughout the world. If the enthusiasm and commitment evident among the members at Monday's meeting is anything to go by, the Parkway affiliate seems certain to flourish along with the organization as a whole.
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