|Voice of the Faithful:
The Road Ahead
By James E. Post, President
Delivered to the first international convention of Voice of the Faithful
July 20, 2002
Welcome to the first international convention of Voice of the Faithful. It is an honor to speak as President of Voice of the Faithful. There isn’t much time for sleep in this position. There are a lot of issues –and a lot of e-mail-- that keep me awake at night. But those late night e-mails send a clear and unambiguous message: This is an exciting time to be a Catholic. The excitement comes from you. From Boston’s Back Bay, where we meet today, to the Puget Sound; from Maine to Arizona; from Germany, Denmark, and the UK in Europe, to Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore in Asia-Pacific; from these places and more, we have 19,000 members excited to be Voice of the Faithful.
Voice of the Faithful is one of the most remarkable organizations I have known. It is less an organization than a movement, driven by a spirit that grows stronger and more compelling each time people meet in its name.
There is a spirit in this auditorium today. It is moving across the land … and across the oceans. It is the spirit of hope. It is the spirit of renewal. Some would say it is the Holy Spirit. Who am I to disagree?
The intensity of the clergy sexual abuse scandal has built an awareness of Voice of the Faithful. But people still ask, “What are you really about?” Or, repeating our motto, “Keep the Faith, Change the Church”, they ask, “What does that mean?” Those are important questions that need to be answered.
Who Are We?
I believe that Voice of the Faithful is part of a great, diverse family
Catholic means universal, all-inclusive. We are still far from achieving
that goal. But in a few short months, Voice of the Faithful has brought
together survivors, their parents, and their siblings; parents and grandparents
concerned that today’s children may be victimized by predators;
women religious, whose voice has too often not been heard; priests who
suffer in pain with each disclosure, yet take heart from the moral awakening
that is taking place; men and women who have been away from the church
but are returning to see if things have changed; and people who celebrate
the spirit of Vatican II, as well as some who would like to celebrate
the Latin Mass. These people defy easy labels. As each Parish Voice chapter
forms, we see the common denominator -- people who are inspired to stand
up and say, “I am a Catholic and I care about my church”.
Voice of the Faithful stands for building up the church, not tearing it down. We know what –and whom-- has been tearing down the church. Those people have done very well without our help! Our job is to rebuild what others have damaged.
Sadly, some church leaders now claim that the sexual abuse scandal is just an anti-Catholic media campaign. I submit these leaders are blind to the facts. They need to speak with survivors. They need to speak with the faithful. They need to walk with their people. And, they need to stop trying to rewrite history.
Voice of the Faithful does have an agenda and it is an agenda of change.
For dozens, then hundreds, and now thousands of us there really was
Our first commitment is to survivors. To those who are here today, I say that we have vowed not to forget the terrible injustice that has been visited on you. We have vowed to right the wrongs you have suffered. And we have vowed to fix the human institution that permitted these evil acts to occur and to be hidden from sight.
The Catholic laity -women and men, young people and elders-- are standing
Today, we assert our right -and our responsibility-- as baptized Catholics
The hierarchy that failed to protect our children can not be trusted to exercise sole control over the property, money, and the fate of our church. This is painfully evident in Boston where the Archbishop's breach of trust has done irreparable harm to the church. Today we see how the failure of the annual Cardinal's Appeal has produced deep cutbacks in funding for schools, social services, and Catholic ministries. People are hurting. We need a healing process. We need responsible leadership.
How can we overcome the “dilemma of conscience” that many of us feel? Our anger is justified, but we also recognize our responsibility to neighbors in need. The answer, I submit, is to create new ways of doing what needs to be done.
Voice of the Faithful is developing new tools for a new era of Catholicism. In Boston, we have sponsored the creation of a tax-deductible fund called "Voice of Compassion" to be administered by the National Catholic Community Foundation. This fund will enable donors to support Catholic ministries and programs but not risk having donations misappropriated for secret settlements, legal fees, and public relations.
This new giving model has a critical feature: It is funded by the laity, managed by the laity, and accountable to the laity. This model can be adapted for use in any American diocese and for parishes as well. We have a workshop session on this topic this afternoon and additional information is also available.
Dialogue with the Bishops
Another part of our agenda involves communication and dialogue. I believe
we have a responsibility to engage in dialogue with many people and groups,
including the bishops of our dioceses. We want our bishops to talk with
us. But let me be clear about the terms of this dialogue:
And, we will not give the bishops a free pass on telling the truth.
Today, this Voice of the Faithful convention will petition the Pope to hold accountable any bishop who enabled a predator to continue his abuse. Hundreds of us will sign the petition because we believe that bishops are accountable for past behavior. It is necessary, but not sufficient, that future practices change. No bishop should be allowed to stay in office if it is shown that he engaged in intentional misrepresentation of facts regarding sexual abuse.
On a positive note, I believe that many American bishops do recognize
the burden of proof they face. Some genuinely want to work with the laity.
They understand that trust must be earned, and that their deeds must demonstrate
that they deserve to be trusted by the Catholic laity.
We want to trust our bishops again. But our operating motto must be "Trust
… but verify."
Legal loopholes must be closed. We expect the bishops to engage in vigorous
enforcement of their publicly stated commitments, including appropriate
cooperation with civil authorities to create a system that really does
protect the public. No more foot dragging; no more loopholes.
Are such changes 'realistic'? We Catholics are a hope-filled people. Jesus taught us never to give up on another person. We will not give up on the bishops. We invite them to walk with us. We invite them to talk with us. We invite them to be one with us. We must live together -- our faith requires it.
Meanwhile, we must keep pushing the rock up the hill. It is a steep hill. It is a long hill. And, it is a heavy rock!
To move forward we must build an effective Voice of the Faithful chapter in every parish in every diocese of this nation and the world. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We must develop the muscles to run the long race.
We know how to do this. We have already created vibrant models of local
action through Parish Voices. We are succeeding. Communication that never
happened before is now possible among many people and groups.
A banner brought here today by a group from Cedar Knolls, New Jersey summarizes the excitement of Parish Voice: “To every time there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Thank you, Cedar Knolls! This is indeed the season for Parish Voices and Voice of the Faithful.
* Our members are developing training programs to share lessons learned.
To undertake these projects we need your support. Everything we see around us in Hynes Auditorium today has been accomplished by volunteers. Voice of the Faithful is not running out of volunteers, but we are working them very hard!
Voice must move from being a "virtual organization" to a more effective organization. We need your gifts of time, talent, and financial support. We hope you will fill -or fill out- the envelope in your packet. Your generosity will be greatly appreciated and will be rewarded by the continued good work of this organization.
Another requirement is self-education. We must have a deeper understanding
of our faith and the way the institutional church operates. We must study
We are organizing study groups in local Voice chapters, as well as nationally, to examine the adequacy of enforcement procedures, to study issues such as the meaning of "structural change", and to design various forms of laity involvement. Throughout history, the Catholic laity helped their church in times of crisis. The thoughtful, well-informed laity of the 21st century will help to save our church in this crisis as well.
This is a very exciting time to be a Catholic. We have a lot of work
to do. But there is only one road for us to follow. Let us embrace the
survivors of abuse and personally commit to righting wrongs and ensuring
that justice is done. Let us walk with one another and join hands in fellowship.
Let us reject all labels, save the one that matters most – i.e.,
“Catholic”. Let us resolve to make a difference. If we do
these things, our actions will answer the question, Who are we? And if
we “walk this talk”, we will truly be the "Voice of the
Faithful”. Thank you.
Original material copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.