Q. Who is Voice of the Faithful?
A. Voice of the Faithful is a lay organization formed in January, 2002, in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. The organization began as a "listening session" of 30 parishioners in the basement at St. John the Evangelist church in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Just a few months later, Voice of the Faithful had more than 25,000 registered supporters across the U.S. and around the world. The organization's exponential growth was fueled by the need for dialogue and change felt among mainstream Catholics and by internet-based communications that propelled conversations beyond the "parish-centric" culture of Catholic life at the time.
VOTF remains committed to working within the Church, with active lay involvement in the governance of temporal affairs — including finances, personnel and administration. We do not seek to change Church dogma. We seek to build up the Church, not tear it down.
VOTF also is committed to providing a safe forum where all Catholics, whatever their views on specific issues, can participate in a conversation about the challenges of our church. Some call this a "centrist view." We call it that, too; we also call it "inclusive" in imitatio christi.
Q. What is Voice of the Faithful's mission?
A. Our mission is "to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church."
Q. What are Voice of the Faithful's goals?
A. Our goals are to support victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse, to support priests of integrity, and to help shape structural change within the Catholic Church.
Q. What does Voice of the Faithful mean by supporting survivors?
A. Following the revelations of clergy sex abuse and coverups by the bishops charged with pastoral care of the faithful, especially our children, all Catholics experienced pain and feelings of betrayal. But none feel this pain more acutely than the survivors of clergy sexual abuse themselves. Voice of the Faithful supports survivors by listening, by raising awareness, and by providing opportunities for survivors to tell their stories and express their feelings publicly as a first step to truth, reconciliation and healing. In addition to listening sessions, self-education and public witness, we provide templates for healing masses and prayer services; we support changes in civil/criminal laws that will protect children; and we monitor programs within the Church that should protect children to ensure they are sustained.
Q. What does Voice of the Faithful mean by supporting priests of integrity?
A. We believe the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests are faithful to their vocation and vows, living lives of genuine holiness and service. But faithful priests suffer personal pain and public humiliation from the heinous acts of their offending brother priests and their own superiors. Voice of the Faithful supports these priests — who in many cases are our pastors, our confidants, our teachers, and our friends — both as individuals and through their own organizations. We pray that our vocal support for priests of integrity — who are frequently oppressed, silenced and intimidated — will help them sustain their work.
Q. Why does Voice of the Faithful feel entitled to claim a place at the table for the laity in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church?
A. The wise and eloquent documents of Vatican II provide a very clear mandate for the laity's right — and, indeed, responsibility — to become active in the guidance of the Church as "the people of God."
In addition, simple morality cries out for the laity to become involved, to right the grievous wrong that has afflicted our Church. The hierarchy that failed to protect our children cannot continue exercising unchecked control over the persons, property, money and fate of our church. VOTF believes that baptized Catholics must, as a matter of conscience, assert our right and responsibility to participate in the decision-making processes of the whole Catholic Church.
Q. What does Voice of the Faithful feel will be the effect of bringing laity into the governance structure of the Church?
A. Catholic laity have intellectual, emotional and spiritual contributions to make and knowledge to impart on myriad real-life issues. These include, but are not limited to, women's rights, family life, finances, business, democratic processes, and the contextual roles of science and history in the healthy life of the Church.
Q. Does Voice of the Faithful have a hidden or open "agenda"?
A. Voice of the Faithful does not have a hidden "liberal" or "conservative" agenda for Church reform. This would be impossible, because our members hold diverse views on issues both within the Church and in the secular world.
We do, however, have an agenda for change. We believe that reform is essential to eradicate secrecy, deceit, arrogance and the abuse of power, and to return to the collaborative and collegial culture fostered in the early Church.
Q. Is Voice of the Faithful schismatic or heretical?
A. No. Voice of the Faithful is firmly committed to bringing about meaningful reform from within the Catholic Church. We have no intention of, or desire to, found a new church.
We are also in no way heretical. We have no interest in challenging Church dogma. We stake our claim to participation in the governance and guidance of the Church based on the clear teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
Q. Does Voice of the Faithful feel that dialogue with the U.S. bishops is worthwhile? Are you seeking such dialogue? Under what terms?
A. Conversation and meaningful dialogue are essential for all the faithful, whether lay, religious, or cleric, and that of course includes bishops.
We also feel that, in the interest of morality and justice, bishops must be held accountable for their past behavior. Bishops who covered up criminal acts must be held accountable. No bishop should be allowed to stay in office if it is shown that he engaged in the intentional misrepresentation of facts regarding sexual abuse.
Q. Does Voice of the Faithful think that trust can be restored between the Catholic laity and its leadership? If yes, how?
A. Trust is . No longer can the bishops demand our trust without earning it. We want to work with the bishops, but to earn back our trust, they must demonstrate that they deserve that trust.
The laity must continually review and monitor the performance of bishops. VOTF has developed a Bishop Monitoring System that rates how effectively each diocese is meeting publicly stated commitments. This system can be adapted for parishes, financial management, pastoral achievements, and engagement with the laity.
Q. How does Voice of the Faithful intend to succeed?
A. Voice of the Faithful will bring together members, affiliates (geographically based groups of members), working groups (goal- and mission-oriented members), and platform committees (project-oriented members) to pursue efforts that promote our mission and goals.
Our national Voice of the Faithful operation will foster growth by providing the resources (learning materials, training programs, communications) needed by our members and affiliates. We will develop and foster a deeper understanding of our faith, of the institutional church, of canon law, and of Vatican II.
We will examine and monitor the adequacy of child-protection procedures, the transparency and accountability of our diocesan and parish administrations, and the avenues through which the laity can have meaningful input into the governance and guidance of our Church.
Q: What is Voice of the Faithful's relationship to the American Catholic Council?
A: From its inception in 2002, VOTF has been consistently guided by its foundational mission to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church. An early vision was to engage diverse Catholic “voices” in serious conversation about reforming those patterns in our Church that enabled the most serious scandal in the history of the American Catholic Church to occur—the systemic sexual abuse of children and the cover-up of abuses by hierarchical leaders. However, efforts to engage Church leaders and a broad spectrum of lay Catholics in conversation have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Over the past year, an opportunity for serious conversation has been taking shape with the planning of the American Catholic Council (ACC)—a series of regional listening/education dialogues leading up to a major convocation in Detroit on June 9-11, 2011 (the weekend of our Church’s celebration of Pentecost). Although some of VOTF’s leaders initiated a call for such a convocation and remain foundational planners, the ACC evolved into a separate entity in September 2008 and began to chart its own course as a 501(c)(3) organization.
VOTF shares a common desire for open, genuine conversation about the many challenges facing our church today as we search for solutions that engage full participation by the laity in its life and governance. VOTF supports the ACC’s desire to work towards concrete ways to improve our beloved Church while conducting itself in a spirit of open and honest dialogue. As the vision and focus of the ACC have taken fuller shape, however, two realities distinguish the interests of VOTF and the ACC. One is the spectrum of Catholic voices in the convocation, the other is the agenda.
The ACC planners made it very clear that all Catholic voices were encouraged to participate and that all individuals and organizations that join the conversation maintain their unique identity and missions without thereby automatically endorsing those of other participating individuals and organizations. Despite repeated outreach by ACC planners, those Catholic voices considered center and right-of-center on the theological spectrum have declined to participate in the planning.
The current shape of the ACC makes it clear that the theme of the convocation (Celebrate Vatican II as Individual, as Community and as Catholicism) fits squarely within VOTF’s mission and goals. The anticipated agenda topics, however, will extend well beyond VOTF’s mission and goals, including topics that are deemed controversial at best by many hierarchical leaders (e.g., married priesthood, ordination of women, moral positions). Some expected speakers have already been shunned in some dioceses, including Sr. Joan Chittiser whom VOTF featured at its own national conference in October. In addition, liturgical celebrations at the convocation are not likely to fit all the norms required by diocesan regulations.
In light of the expected push-back from Catholic voices that oppose the desires and actions of other Catholics to engage in serious conversation about the life and governance of our Church, VOTF has a choice to make regarding its support for the ACC. From its inception, VOTF maintained that Catholic voices of all stripes can stand on respectful common ground in seeking the healing and reform of institutional dysfunction and abuse, especially of children, in our Church. Efforts during the last seven years to find spaces for respectful and common ground have failed more often than succeeded, and voices at opposite ends of the spectrum have found VOTF guilty by association. The ACC offers an opportunity for serious conversation, but it could lead some VOTF members outside their comfort zone.
Therefore, the Board of Trustees and the Officers have decided to inform members on the VOTF website about the plans and developments of the ACC and to encourage members to participate in local or regional assemblies as well as in the 2011 convocation in so far as members are comfortable with the current or eventual shape of the ACC. VOTF’s leaders will participate in the convocation as an exhibitor and attend the conference presentations. They will not, however, endorse any statements or actions of the ACC that exceed or are inconsistent with VOTF’s mission and goals. They will also encourage members who are comfortable with doing so to contribute to the costs of the ACC, but they will not share VOTF’s mailing lists with the ACC. You can find more information about the ACC on its website (http://americancatholiccouncil.org).
Adopted by the Board of Trustees, November 1, 2009.