January 29, 2008
Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.A.D.C.
9700 Woodland Glen Court
Vienna, VA 22182
I am writing on behalf of VOTF's Board of Trustees, most of whom you personally know. You also know that we all hold you in high regard and are forever grateful for your leadership on sexual abuse, your support for survivors, and your help to VOTF as we have struggled to respond to the ongoing crisis in our church.
The trustees, all volunteers, met last weekend and of course we discussed your recent critical statements about VOTF. We agree that VOTF can do better, but we do disagree on some important points.
Voice of the Faithful has been a movement of women and men who believe that the Catholic Church is more than a mere human institution. Our church has certainly never been perfect and it has always needed reform. We Vatican II Catholics have learned that anew as we witnessed the continuing failures of the institutional church.
It has been our conviction that we should do our best to reform the church by affirming our shared responsibility for its life and work here and now, most especially in response to the corruption revealed in the sex abuse crisis. We continue to believe that we should work to strengthen the voice of the laity in the governance and guidance of the church and claim the laity's rightful place in decisions being made every day. Our members and our leaders do not believe that the church will be best served by giving up on Vatican II reforms. Your suggestion that such efforts are a distraction from the pressing work of reform is a judgment with which we respectfully, but profoundly, disagree.
We fear that your call to abandon efforts to influence church decision-making amounts to a surrender of the church, its parishes, and its ministries to the evils of clericalism and hierarchical power. We have had similar disagreements with friends in other Catholic reform organizations, and within our own membership. We, respectfully, yet profoundly, reject the proposal to turn away from the existing structure, or to confine our work to the one goal of advocacy for survivors of abuse, important as that advocacy has been, and will continue to be, to VOTF's mission. From the start, we have argued that we serve the interests of survivors by keeping the faith and trying as best we can to change the church.
Survivor support was the foundational motivation of VOTF, but it was always connected with support for priests of integrity and working for structural reform. The three goals existed together from the outset of VOTF. They are three children of the same Catholic parents. Call us foolish, if you will, but we will not choose among them!
We believe that the Catholic Church, its institutions, and ministries, built over generations by our American Catholic forebears, are worth fighting for, even if its ordained leaders resist our efforts. The desire to achieve justice for survivors of sexual abuse also opened our eyes to the underlying evils of clericalism. The root problem is the clerical nature of the institution, and restriction of power to the ordained. This condition was not always true, nor is it likely to last into eternity. We can shape a different future, but only if we make the effort to do so with intelligence, imagination and perseverance. Good people differ over how best to carry out our call to change the church, and we need to remain in conversation as we work as best we can to build a movement for genuine reform.
Call us naive, Tom. We have been called worse. Call us misguided, if you will, but we must endure on the course that seems right to us. The laity's time will come one day, and ours will be a better church when that day arrives. Until then, our resolute choice is to continue the journey on the path we have chosen since our founding and is guided by our mission statement: 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.
We hope and pray that even if we can only agree to disagree over our reform efforts, you will continue to regard us as friends, seek with us opportunities for dialogue and collaboration, and keep us in your prayers. We intend to do the same for you.
Per our earlier conversation, I look forward to an opportunity shortly to meet with you to discuss your views in more detail and share ours with you. Given that many VOTF members have read and commented on your recent statements about VOTF and its future, we also intend to circulate this response within our membership.
Bill Casey, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Mary Pat Fox
Tom Doyle's Essay