Bishop Accountability
  Voice of the Faithful: The Road Ahead

By James E. Post, President
Delivered to the first international convention of Voice of the Faithful
Boston, Massachusetts
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 that
accepts no label save one: Catholic. We are people united in our commitment to redressing one of the great social injustices of our times - the commission and cover-up of acts of clergy sexual abuse. This commitment gave birth to our common endeavor. This commitment is the goal we must never compromise.

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”.

Of course, people use labels as a shorthand way of describing what they like, or don’t. But labels divide people. Voice of the Faithful is about bringing people together.

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.

Our Agenda

Voice of the Faithful does have an agenda and it is an agenda of change.
Seven months ago, many of us stood at a moral crossroads. We had to decide whether we would be silent Catholics, accepting what church leaders had done. But one by one, we stood, and in solitary voice said: “This is wrong. This must stop.”

For dozens, then hundreds, and now thousands of us there really was no choice.
The moral crisis in our church shaped our decision. We had to walk that new road into the unknown. And we discovered an amazing truth: We are the “pilgrim church” we read about in our religious education books! Like the Jews of the exodus; Paul of the journeys; and Jesus, who walked everywhere, we were walking! Today, we are walking toward a truth, born in anguish and pain, that has become a bright light in our lives. It is meaningful; it is compelling. It is a grace.

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 up to
affirm those vows. In response to this scandal of sexual abuse, we are saying, as our Jewish sisters and brothers have said since the Holocaust, "Never Again!"

Today, we assert our right -and our responsibility-- as baptized Catholics to
participate in the decision-making processes of each parish, each diocese, and the whole Catholic Church.

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:
* We will not negotiate our right to exist.
* We will not negotiate our right to be heard.
* We will not negotiate our right to free speech as American Catholics.

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.
* Trust begins with dialogue and communication.
* Trust is built on the foundation of new practices.
* Trust is built through accountability.
* Trust is earned through performance.

We want to trust our bishops again. But our operating motto must be "Trust … but verify."
The performance of bishops and dioceses must be reviewed by survivors and by the laity. The commitments made in Dallas invite us to create "scorecards" that rate how well each diocese is doing in meeting those publicly stated commitments. Voice of the Faithful members –locally and nationally-- will assess the bishops’ implementation of the Charter and report in November 2002. And Voice of the Faithful will continue to work with SNAP and Linkup on survivor needs and issues. Scorecards can be created for parishes, and extended other areas of diocesan performance, including financial management, pastoral achievements, and engagement with the laity.

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.

How Voice Will Succeed

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.
People within parishes;
People in different parishes;
People in different states and countries;
Priests and priests’ groups;
Theologians and academics.

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.
* We are building a national Voice of the Faithful office to coordinate and support these efforts.
* And, as many have requested, we are creating a Speaker's Bureau of members ready to share their experience with neighbors. In the great apostolic tradition of our church, we are sending out our emissaries. Tomorrow, in fact, one of our members will head off to Japan with our blessing to start a Voice of the Faithful initiative in that country.

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 canon law.
We must read and discuss Vatican II. We must understand our history in order to chart our future. We have to understand the administrative structures of the church in order to change them. The many knowledgeable people who have joined with us today testify to the extraordinary resources available to us in this effort.

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.
James E. Post is President of Voice of the Faithful. A life-long Catholic, educated in Franciscan and Augustinian traditions, he holds advanced degrees in law and management. He is a professor of management at Boston University and has written widely on the role of institutional responsibility. He and his wife, Jeannette, have three children and three grandchildren.

The materials on are offered solely for educational purposes. Should any reader wish to quote or reproduce for sale any documents to which other persons or institutions hold the rights, the original publisher should be contacted and permission requested. If any original publisher objects to our maintaining a cache of their documents for safekeeping, we will gladly take down our cache of those documents and offer links to the original publisher's posted versions instead.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.