Do You Think?
month's question was "What do you think bishops might
do to effect positive change in our Church?"
need to leave. Any bishop who had any knowledge of a
problem and dealt with it by reassignment after 1990
should resign, and should not hold a position of administrative
leadership. This behavior is inexcusable. And criminal."
Lee Ann McGinnis, M.D.
believe that Bishops can make a more positive effect
if they ask themselves, 'What would Christ do?' From
some of my observations of some priests and what I've
observed and read about some bishops, they seem to get
side-tracked from their roles. Like some politicians
and bureaucrats who get carried away with money and
power, we the people become overlooked and forgotten.
Bishops should become more accessible to the laity.
I think they should have workshops with priests and
laity in evaluating needs and reevaluating their roles.
Sacrifices should not only be addressed to the laity
but also to the hierarchy for they are to set examples.
When one lives like a king, one doesn't dwell among
the peasants. Christ dwelled among all of us. God bless."
C. Marie Tupper, Boothbay Harbor, ME
think attitudes should change. I have found it impossible
to speak to most priests about anything. As soon as
I introduce a subject, which is controversial in any
way or criticizes in any way, the priests I know will
walk away, change the subject, make a light joke, etc."
of all the problem with the Church is the hierarchy
itself, from the Curia on down. The bishops are a very
real part of the whole problem that we are having right
now. The 'pedophile problem' was created because of
a deep-seated understanding that the Church can do no
wrong, and when it does, can cover it up, keep it secret,
and lie if necessary. At any cost, PROTECT THE IMAGE
OF OUR MOTHER THE CHURCH.
The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) needs to start over.
The Reformation was a response to a break with the role
of a faith community envisioned by Christ. It had become
bogged down in its own PROCESS. And, it still is today.
The bishops need to come together and perform a group
slate-cleaning of their minds. They need to forget everything
they have learned about the RCC and ask themselves this
question over and over again: What would Christ have
us do as the shepherds of His Church?
Christ would have you preach his word, just as he gave
it to you, and not complicate it with your own rules,
laws, and regulations; but rather use Christ's rules,
laws, and regulations. Christ would have you love your
neighbor as yourself. That means you don't treat someone
you have injured as the enemy. Christ would have you
admit it when you make mistakes and atone for them.
Christ would have you stop thinking you have all the
answers and the rest of us have none." Roger D. Thome,
Queen of the Miraculous Medal Church, Jackson, Michigan
of the Catholic Church as the largest boulder in the
universe. Due to its size and mass and weight it has
always been impossible to move. Think of how VOTF can
move that rock. The structure of the rock (analogous
to the hierarchy of the Church leadership) is so dense
and impenetrable that apparently nothing can be done
to have any effect on it. The mass of the rock (think
of we the members of the Church) has always been solid
and static. Lately however, stresses and strains within
the rock have occurred, which have caused cracks to
occur. What was once so impossible to penetrate has
become a bit porous and flawed.
The mass seems to sense that if nothing is done about
the problems in the boulder it will surely disintegrate
and, over time, crumble into meaningless shards and
rubble. So, how do we interact with a hierarchy which
has shown no signs of willingness to even discuss much
less modify itself? We (the mass of that boulder) must
stick together and somehow get the structure to pay
attention to us and to itself.
We can and do have some chance with our parish priests,
some of whom are willing to interact with us. It gets
a lot harder to get to the pastors. The bishops are
pretty much insulated from the laity. We must pray and
continue to work with the hierarchy so that they will
pay attention to our voices. The hierarchy seems immovable
now, but with combined effort and prayer we can and
will make a difference. Eventually, the bishops will
listen. They will have to." Bob Dahlen, Ormond-by-the-Sea,
in mind that serious and patient persuasion would be
required to convince the Bishops to make changes in
the way they exercise their leadership role, I would
like to propose an idea that could make a significant
difference in accountability without prejudice to episcopal
There should exist some degree of 'fraternal accountability'
among the bishops to ensure that norms such as 'The
Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing
with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests
or Deacons' are followed, but there is currently no
real mechanism for that to take place. The bishops should
establish a process of 'Mutual Visitation' among the
dioceses of the US Conference. This Mutual Visitation
would be analogous to accreditation in schools and hospitals:
A group formed from peer communities comes into an organization
and visits and talks with elements of the organization
(in this case, laity, clergy, religious orders, etc).
The visiting group then prepares a report. Since the
diocesan bishop currently has absolute authority within
the diocese, no one comes into a diocese and reports
independently; all reports to Rome go through the diocesan
bishop. This is clearly a situation in which needed
change might be very difficult to achieve. In the case
of Mutual Visitation, an independent visitation group
formed by other bishops would prepare a visitation report
that would be sent to the Holy See. One strength of
this approach is that an accreditation visit triggers
a valuable process of self-examination in the organization
preparing for it. A process of Mutual Visitation could
therefore be an effective mechanism for encouraging
renewal where it is needed. Margaret Roylance, National
Chair VOTF Structural Change Working Group
to the priests and instruct them to speak from the altar
and in parish meetings about the scandal of the abuse
of children. Tell us that this is not what the Church
wants for the present and future environment for adults
and children in the Catholic community.
Bishops must hire CATHOLICS in the schools if we are
to keep our Catholic traditions and move to the future
as Catholic educators. No more than ten percent of the
students ought to be non-Catholic.
Health systems must hire Catholic CEO's and adhere more
strongly to the traditions and faith beliefs of the
Roman Catholic Church. No abortion, no euthanasia, no
surgeries for sex alterations." Unsigned
invite your feedback on the following exchange between
three MA priests and David O'Brien, Loyola Professor
of Roman Catholic Studies College of the Holy Cross,
MA. (Respond to email@example.com.)
The priests' letter appears first, in italics. The O'Brien
response follows, in roman text. What Do You
(The signatories to the priests' letter are Frs. Roger
J. Landry, Paul T. Lamb, and Thomas A. Frechette of
the Fall River, MA diocese)
Pastoral Letter From Your Priest
In recent days, several parishioners have asked us for
clarification about the group called, "Voice of the
Faithful," which is trying to make inroads on Cape Cod
and within our Diocese of Fall River.
When VOTF had its first major convention in Boston on
July 20, 2002, many of us followed it closely to try
to discern its spirit. We were saddened to see the direction
it took. The star speakers that day were well-known
and oft-quoted critics of the Holy Father...
...and who publicly dissent from the teachings of the
There's a truism that you can often learn a lot about
someone from the people with whom he chooses to associate...
The same goes for VOTF, the leaders of which, of course,
invited and paid for these speakers to come to address
those at the convention.
When faithful Catholic clergy and lay people criticized
what was coming out of the convention, spokesmen from
VOTF publicly stated that the group does not take any
formal positions on the controversial issues being advanced
by several of the convention speakers and VOTF members.
But this is not sufficient.
It is impossible for a group that want to be authentically
Catholic not to take a position on issues such as the
ordination of women, sexual morality, abortion, and
the divine foundation of the papacy-all of which the
Church has taken a position on. Not to take a position
on such issues is to take a position; one cannot be
both "agnostic" and "Catholic."
In short, because VOTF has given no indication that
it fully supports all the defined teachings of the Church,
we have grave misgivings about it and cannot recommend
it to you.
As your priests, our foremost duty is to teach and defend
the faith that has been handed down to us by Christ
through the apostles and their successors...
The Church is not a society of independent thinkers
with equally valuable opinions... To be truly Catholic,
you can't pick and choose some truths to follow and
others to ignore. Embracing the Catholic faith means
embracing all of it.
We have particular concern for those Catholics who want
to remain faithful to the Church who now belong to an
organization that calls itself Catholic but refuses
publicly to embrace authentic Catholic teaching. VOTF
says its motto is "Keep the Faith; Change the Church."
But if the leaders of VOTF are unwilling to assent fully
to Catholic teaching, what faith-Catholics could legitimately
ask-are they trying to keep? And if the organization
is not really keeping the Catholic faith, then its proposals
to "change the Church" should be viewed by faithful
Catholics with justifiable suspicion. We encourage faithful
Catholics who belong to VOTF to demand that the leadership
of the organization explicitly avow Church teachings.
If the leaders are not willing to do that, then we urge
faithful Catholics to leave the organization.
The burden of proof is, of course, on VOTF to demonstrate
its complete fidelity to Church teaching, by dissociating
itself completely from groups and individuals that are
obviously in dissent from Church teaching and gladly
and willingly affirming their Catholic faith in all
the defined teachings of the Magisterium.
Until such time as VOTF demonstrates a transparent faithfulness
to the teachings of the Church, no priest who takes
his responsibility before God seriously to promote,
preserve and defend the faith would countenance allowing
the group to use Church property for their meetings.
The people of Troy learned a valuable lesson once and
pastors would be derelict in their duty to do otherwise.
We love you and love Christ too much to do otherwise.
1) The priests agree with VOTF's goal to support the
victim/survivors of abuse, and VOTF's work to prevent
any recurrence of abuse.
2) We all support "priests of integrity" (although you
might find it interesting that no priest from any of
the parishes on Cape Cod present at our last meeting
stated that he has received any sign of support from
VOTF, which makes one wonder whether for VOTF this is
just a paper objective).
3) We agree that there is a need for "cultural change"
in the Church, if we define cultural change to mean
a transparently greater cult (worship) of Christ among
all of us in our daily decisions.
The scandals resulted from the failure of priests to
be faithful to Christ and to their promise of celibacy
and of bishops to protect the flock from wolves in shepherd's
clothing. But this grew within a general culture that
was taking its moral obligations before God less seriously.
Truly positive change will be directed toward a culture
of greater fidelity to Christ in all the persons and
activities of the Church.
4) We agree that there is a need for greater education
of the laity in the teaching and ways of the faith,
which is why, over the course of this year, we will
be doing an extensive adult education series and why
we have already started discussion sessions for parents
of those in our CCD program and school.
5) We also welcome and strongly encourage a greater
lay involvement in the mission of the Church, bringing
Christ's teaching and love as leaven to our world. In
all these areas priests and laity are already working
together and, with God's help, bearing much fruit. If
these were the only objectives of VOTF, the organization
would not be objectionable.
The reason why VOTF is controversial, however, and why
we cannot support it or recommend it to you is because
VOTF has given indications by its deeds that its objectives
transcend these publicly stated ones.
By its failure to subscribe openly to the whole deposit
of faith while at the same time publicly associating
with groups that oppose the faith, VOTF has done nothing
but strengthen suspicions that, while appearing to promote
dialogue and cooperation, it actually promotes an agenda
in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic faith.
There is a better alternative than VOTF that lay Catholics
who want truly to "keep the faith and change the Church"
in ways that are manifestly consistent with our Catholic
faith. We invite them to become more involved in the
mission of the Church here at St. Francis Xavier. We
encourage them to join their priests and fellow lay
people as together we strive to fulfill the mission
which the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul
II have entrusted to us: to live the faith and thereby,
with God's help, strengthen the Church so as to change
(In a related concern, please note that the VOTF Fall
River, MA affiliate has issued a press release regarding
their communication efforts with Bishop Coleman. It
is available by emailing FallRiver@votf.org.)
Dear Father Landry:
I would like to respond briefly to the letter you and
two priest colleagues published (Zenit 03111936) on
the Voice of the Faithful. I would be grateful if you
could share this letter with them.
I had the privilege of addressing a VOTF group on the
Cape last spring. At that time, I wrote Bishop Coleman,
whom I had met at the Stonehill College graduation a
few weeks earlier. I offered to meet with him to discuss
VOTF if he thought that would be helpful. Unfortunately
he did not respond.
I cannot deal here with all the statements made in the
letter, but I would like to make three points.
First, your letter does not honor the sincere effort
which the VOTF and its leaders have made from the beginning
to make clear their commitment to the church and their
determination to work in and with and not apart from
the community of faith and its leaders. Those bishops
who have met with the VOTF have affirmed that point.
Dr. Post and his colleagues have worked hard to avoid
association with "well known and oft quoted critics
of the Holy Father who publicly dissent from the teachings
of the Roman Catholic Church." They have distanced themselves
from the groups associated with Call to Action, which
many regard as dissenters. When critics assaulted them
for the choice of speakers at their national assembly
in Boston in the summer of 2002, they disassociated
the organization from a European reform group whose
representative addressed the gathering. (I spoke at
that meeting and assume you did not include me among
the dissenters). In their most recent statements regarding
their controversial call for "structural change" (not
"cultural change" as your text states) the organization
has made it clear that it has in mind improving parish
and diocesan pastoral councils and finance committees
in order to bring about greater transparency, accountability
and shared responsibility, goals altogether in line
with Vatican II teaching and much of post Vatican II
pastoral practice, as you well know. If you ask why
a group is needed to promote these goals, you need only
assess the state of these structures in most New England
Second, your all or nothing approach to Catholic teaching
allows no distinctions and amounts to a kind of papal
fundamentalism. It does not allow for a hierarchy of
truths, for distinctions between doctrinal and moral
teaching, or between doctrine and discipline. Your position
makes a joke of all calls for dialogue within the church,
or even serious reflection on the genuine tension between
many church teachings and pastoral practice. Readers
of your letter would be astonished to learn that the
Holy Father himself has called for serious dialogue
about the role of the Papal office in the life of the
church, and that one of our most respected retired bishops,
Archbishop John Quinn, has responded with a scholarly
discussion which would seriously modify your position.
Doctrine and moral teaching arise from and always return
to the life of the church as it is lived out by the
communities of faith, as you well know. Your position
regarding teaching would reduce theology to reflection
on doctrinal formulations approved by Vatican authorities
and catechetics to head-nodding recitation of the catechism.
In his ground breaking encyclical Pacem in Terris
Blessed John XXIII drew attention to the gap between
the extraordinary advances in the technical education
of the Catholic people, and their religious education,
which remained, he said, "at an elementary level." Vatican
II's calls for the universal pursuit of holiness, for
shared responsibility for the life and mission of the
church, and for an apostolate aimed at the transformation
of our world, all arose from and depended upon an adult
church of responsible, educated, thoughtful priests,
religious and lay people. Your approach would cancel
out the Holy Fathers appeal for a dialogue of faith
and culture, reserving it for the professionals who
help write Papal and Vatican pronouncements. Recently
a Vatican reporter asked an official why they were writing
an official statement on a controversial question on
which the church is clearly divided: because the American
bishops asked for it, he responded. Now we can see why:
if a group, even bishops, does not have a Vatican imprimatur
on any question, they will never satisfy people like
yourselves. One is reminded of the nineteenth century
English convert who yearned for a daily encyclical to
guide his daily reading of the London Times.
Third, and by far most important, your letter, professing
to speak on behalf of the priests of the diocese of
Fall River, expresses no humility and less responsibility.
Surely the crisis we have lived through is one that
touches all of us who were and are part of the church.
You and I were not on the moon when children were abused,
when priests covered up for their brother priests and
when bishops failed to provide leadership or even in
some cases failed to protect the integrity of the local
church and when we lay people deferred to bishops and
priests and failed to ask tough questions when we served
on parish and diocesan councils and committees. Fall
River, like Worcester, has had some terrible cases,
so bad that all of us react with genuine horror. But
why did we not notice? Why did we not act when the stories
broke over a decade ago, act to make sure that our diocese
and our national church acted appropriately? And where
were our priests between January 2002, when the latest
crisis broke around us here in New England, and this
moment? I have seen many cases in the region of compassion
and a yearning for justice on the part of individual
priests, almost none from presbyteral councils or diocesan
The most important truth about Voice of the Faithful
is that it is composed of a very few lay men and women
who have attempted as best they can to take responsibility
for their church. They are amateurs at our brutal church
politics surely they can be forgiven a few mistakes.
They are remarkable because they are so unique. The
most ardent reformers apart from those you would dismiss
as dissenters take the position best illustrated by
a cover of Commonweal magazine featuring a large ear
under the heading "Are the Bishops Listening?" Like
you, the editors and most commentators seem to believe
that only the bishops can act - the best the rest of
us can do is speak up and wait. I don't have to tell
you that the presbyterate shares fully the responsibilities
of the bishop. How have you exercised those responsibilities
in this crisis? That is not a self righteous question
but one you should ask before accusing VOTF of being
irresponsible. The Voice of the Faithful is composed
of people who took seriously our talk over forty years
that our church is the people of God, that we are the
church, and that we share responsibility for the life
and work of the church. They are striving to help resolve
the crisis because they, unlike most of us for far too
long, believe that they are already responsible for
what has happened: that is why they have to take some
responsibility for responding to victims, supporting
beleaguered priests and seeking reforms that will allow
all of us to better share responsibility in the future.
That, my friends, is why they are important, and why
they deserve at least a few words of respect before
you demand that they accept what we have as the best
we can do.
Peter Steinfels in his recent middle-of-the-road book
says that we have a crisis in front of us as American
Catholics and we would have had a huge crisis even if
there had never been a sex abuse scandal. We will flourish
or we will gradually erode on the basis of the choices
that each of us makes in the next few months and years.
Let's listen to one another, let's try to find the common
ground that can support our common life. Let's pray
for each other that we will find the grace and wisdom
to be the presence of Christ - together - here in our
part of the vineyard.
of the Faithful, VOTF, "Keep the Faith, Change the Church,"
Voice of Compassion, VOTF logo(s), Parish Voice, and
Prayerful Voice are trademarks of Voice of the Faithful,
of the Faithful is a 501(c) 3 tax-exempt organization.