Bishop Accountability
  At a Crossroads

The Pilot (Boston archdiocesan newspaper)
July 26, 2002

The July 20th Voice of The Faithful (VOTF) Conference confirmed our worst fears. Overriding an initial “mainstream” position on Church issues, keynote speakers derided the hierarchical structure of the Church, calling it a “medieval monarchical model;” asserted the need to “democratize” the Church; to ordain women to the priesthood; and to withhold contributions to the Church. Also, in clear reference to Cardinal Law, they called for the resignation of bishops who mishandled sexual abuse cases in the past.

While the leaders of VOTF have struggled to maintain a moderate image, the assembly’s boos and cheers left no doubt as to the intention of the convention participants. Each time Cardinal Law was mentioned, the crowd booed, while the above-mentioned agenda items received sustained ovations.

More moderate statements also heard on the floor such as, “VOTF stands for building up the Church, not tearing down.” and “Labels divide people; VOTF is about bringing people together,” have been contradicted by some of the group’s actions. Inviting a leader of an international dissident group, We Are Church, a group whose American branch includes such “mainstream” organizations as Dignity USA and Catholics for a Free Choice (See Analysis on page 4) was unfortunate, to say the least. Setting up a parallel fund to circumvent the Cardinal’s Appeal and willing to use it as leverage to advance their agenda is divisive.

On the other hand, let’s make a point clear. VOTF did not invent the sexual abuse scandal. Without that underlying cause, VOTF would have not been formed. It has been the anger provoked by mistakes made by some Church leaders that prompted a group of well-intentioned Catholic laity to organize. That anger was proportionate to the magnitude of a situation that touched those we love most — our children.

To support those who have been abused, to support priests of integrity, and even to shape some changes within Church can, in themselves, be virtuous goals, as long as they are pursued in communion with the Church, and not with confrontation and division. It would be another lost opportunity to have the energy unleashed by that righteous anger to be harnessed and misdirected toward agendas aimed at altering the nature of the Church.

Many at that conference seem to have expressed their decision not to listen to their archbishop any longer. We urge them at least to listen to the Holy Father when he made reference to the action of groups seeking reform. Our section The Chair of Peter (See page 13) has been expanded to accommodate a papal address we propose for the reflection of all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston.

We hope that some of what we saw July 20 was the result of the understandable inexperience of those in leadership of VOTF. We hope that the good VOTF has to offer to the Church, as their successful outreach to some victims shows, will outweigh those tactical mistakes. We hope that they will reverse their stances against their archbishop. It is our hope that the ongoing conversations with the archdiocese will provide an opportunity also for them to listen, not only to speak.

Otherwise VOTF will become yet another splinter group that will add to the already long list of the American branch of We Are Church.

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