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In the Vineyard
"Jesus came to His own people, and they did not accept him." (John 8:21-30)
If there are any lingering doubts that VOTF is, and has been, changing our beloved Church and the way it has operated to date, surely events of the past ten days have laid those doubts to rest. The dialogues that have taken place between leadership and bishops as well as VOTF affiliates and their bishops are unprecedented in content and direction. These meetings signal not only a fresh understanding of Gospel values and the role of the laity in the protection and invigoration of those values but a promise of continued witness to the crimes committed and a growing expectation for a full "telling" by those clerics who engaged in what appears to be a widespread, decades-long cover-up. While the work is endless for VOTF, the energy in the organization is inspiring.
As a people of Promise, it would be counterproductive not to hold dear the promise among us, struggling as it is. Please support that promise by your membership https://app.agnisoftware.org/jsp/member/register.jsp, your voices! and a donation to VOTF https://app.agnisoftware.org/jsp/donation/donations.html
Peggie L. Thorp, ed.
Find of the Month
"How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous and more beautiful."
VOTF and Bishops
One indicator of VOTF's progress in establishing an identity and presence in the life of the Catholic Church is the willingness of bishops to speak with us. Since January, local VOTF members have met with bishops in at least 20 dioceses from Boston, Massachusetts to Puget Sound, Washington.
Adding to these diocesan efforts, there is a growing national dialogue beginning to develop between VOTF leaders and a number of nationally prominent bishops.
On Friday, March 28th, VOTF secretary Cathy Fallon and I attended a speech by Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh at a conference of "Governance, Accountability, and the Future of the Church." The gathering was sponsored by St. Thomas More Chapel at Yale University. Afterward, I spoke with Bishop Wuerhl who expressed an interest in knowing how "'Voice' is doing?".
On Friday, April 4, 2003, I spoke with Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, head of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. This meeting took place in Dayton, Ohio, the morning after Dayton VOTF held a very successful inaugural ("launch") meeting. In my time with Archbishop Pilarczyk, he encouraged VOTF to develop various "dialogue models" that would enable bishops, survivors, priests, and laity to converse in less conflicted circumstances.
Local and national dialogue between bishops and the laity is fundamental in a Church that is both local and universal. After all, our concerns for survivors, priests, and laity are shared concerns and shared responsibilities. By articulating these concerns regularly in a mutually respectful environment, our Church - laity and clergy - invigorates the gospel values we cherish.
From VOTF Board of Trustees president Dr. Jim Muller
Over twenty leaders of the hierarchy, including Cardinal George of Chicago, leader of one of the largest archdioceses in the nation, have taken the time to meet with leaders of VOTF to learn about the nature of the organization and to give their thoughts on how it can develop in a positive manner. These leaders sanctify the process by engaging loyal faithful who are on a spiritual quest to help a Church in crisis. They are true leaders of the Church, following the role of Christ, and deserve the support of all Catholics. They stand in sharp contrast to eight diocesan leaders who have chosen to ban VOTF from meeting on church property. They did so without meeting with VOTF leaders to gain a complete understanding of what they are banning nor have they made the effort to try to counsel supposedly misguided faithful and correct the errors they believe VOTF is making. Their acts reflect the same abuse of power that led to the cover-up of crimes of sexual abuse.
It is my belief that most leaders in the hierarchy seek to work cooperatively with the faithful laity who make up VOTF. Hence we expect the number of positive dialogues to increase steadily. I urge VOTF leaders to acquaint themselves with the positive discussions that have taken place, and request a series of meetings with their respective bishops. A process of discernment, in communion with inclusive members of the hierarchy, will lead to a better VOTF and a stronger church. In this light, I submit a brief summary of my meeting with Cardinal George of Chicago.
March 31, 2003
On October 18, 2002, Dr. Jim Post, president of VOTF sent a letter to all US Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals requesting their thoughts on VOTF. Cardinal George replied with a two-page letter discussing his concerns. Since I would be in Chicago in March for an American College of Cardiology meeting, I met with Chicago VOTF leaders. Steve Shimek, leader of Chicago VOTF, arranged for me to have a private meeting with the Cardinal.
Meeting in the Cardinal's office, our scheduled one-hour meeting lasted for two hours, covered many issues and permitted a unique opportunity to articulate a clearer understanding of VOTF and our roots, our collective love for the Church and our commitment to the baptismal call for full participation in the life of our Church. Cardinal George discussed candidly his own concerns as well as prospects for continued dialogue.
We ended our substantive and cordial conversation with a brief prayer.
My overall impression of the meeting is that it was very valuable, and I hope might become a model replicated throughout the country. The wise and holy leadership shown by Cardinal George on the issues is in sharp contrast to the behavior of a handful of bishops committed to banning VOTF.
SAYING AU REVOIR
Executive Director Steve Krueger had the bittersweet task of announcing the departure of our first Press Secretary Mike Emerton. Below is an excerpt from Steve's letter that says best who it is we are losing.
For those of us fortunate enough to have worked with Mike Emerton, VOTF Press Secretary, it was with joy we share the news that Mike and his wife Janice recently had their first baby, a son Aidan Michael. It is also with gratitude for the Emertons' good fortune we announce that Mike has been offered a professional opportunity outside of VOTF that will provide his growing family with the security they need and deserve. It is with sadness that we must announce Mike will be accepting that opportunity and leaving his position here at VOTF effective April 11th.
I cannot understate the gift Mike has been to VOTF - his position as press secretary and as a colleague to all who know him. Professionally, Mike possesses the rare combination of rising to the occasion in moments of crisis and pressure situations as well as possessing a marketing orientation towards our constituencies. Whether it was in Dallas, TX for the Bishops' Conference last June, the Boston, MA Convention in July or facing the spate of VOTF bannings starting in August, 2002 or the Washington, DC Bishops' gathering in November or Cardinal Law's resignation in December, Mike was always prepared and prepared us. He did it for us here in the Newton office - with keen instinct, competence, commitment, and care - and he did it for a number of affiliates who knew they could call on him to help them with their media inquiries and relations, often related to bannings or meetings with their bishops.
However you measure our success, Mike has been a significant part of it. To the extent we have become the voice of the laity, Mike has played a defining role in transforming the press from referring to us as "dissident group" last summer, to a group of "mainstream Catholics" in recent months.
I know many join me in thanking Mike for his outstanding contribution to further the mission of Voice of the Faithful and wishing him all the best.
Survivor Support News
Providence, Rhode Island
At 9:30 on Sunday morning, about 45 members of Survivors First and Voice of the Faithful assembled in Cathedral Square in Providence to request that the Attorney General of Rhode Island vigorously pursue a course of action to ensure that the rights of those abused by clergy of the Roman Catholic Church be protected and that the perpetrators of crimes against these victims be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
We stood beneath a Cross of Shame depicting the names of accused priests, alleged enabling bishops and elected officials who failed to execute existing laws and demand accountability from officials of the Catholic Church. We carried posters showing photographs of survivors (or in some cases silhouettes, to maintain the victim's privacy) and outlines of the history of abuse in the diocese of Providence, naming the abusers and demonstrating the failure of the church and the justice system to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. Personnel records of accused and convicted priests have not been released, notwithstanding court orders to do so, even after nine years of courtroom battles.
The group then marched while carrying the Cross of Shame, banners and photographs to the area opposite the office of the state Attorney General and then back to Cathedral Square.
This represents the first major multi-organizational demonstration by these agencies in Rhode Island. It will not be the last. Demonstrations will continue here, as they have in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, until justice is served to those whose lives have been so severely damaged (and in some cases, lost) as a result of this terrible tragedy, and until sufficient safeguards are put in place and meticulously maintained to ensure that a scandal of this magnitude can never again be perpetrated, supported, defended and hidden in a Church that rests on the faith and trust of its constituents. Records pertaining to allegations of such crimes must be made available to law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies and victims attorneys/advocates with complete transparency and accountability.
What made this event unique was the presence of a Franciscan priest, Fr. Mike Joyce, OFM, who joined the march while it was in progress and demonstrated true empathy with the survivors and compassion for their pain and that of their families, sorrow for the actions of those of his fellow priests who were involved as abusers, and dismay that the church and civil authorities have done so little to help the victims but continue to add to their suffering. If our bishops could only demonstrate the same Christian love, truth and sense of justice that Mike Joyce exhibited, healing could become a reality, and not just an empty word.
Lenten Vigil, Dracut,
Another frigid winter eve had laid claim to the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. The weather forecast called for temperatures dipping below freezing and a light snowfall ending in late afternoon. Of course, this being New England, all weather forecasts are subject to instant change and change it did - as over a dozen people set out to convey a message of ongoing pain and suffering to Bishop Lennon.
Thursday, March 13th at Saint Francis in Dracut, Massachusetts was a dark, blustery and snowy evening. It was Bishop Lennon's first scheduled stop on his Lenten tour to promote unity and healing in the dioceses. .
In stark contrast to the comfortable temperatures in the pews and the "we are working to administer healing and reconciliation for survivors" message echoing throughout the church, over a dozen survivors and laity stood outside in the snow to communicate a very different message.
Traversing the snow-covered roads, representatives from the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, Linkup, STTOP, Survivors First and Voice of the Faithful came bearing signs asking Bishop Lennon to "Loose the bonds of injustice" and whether or not he "could stay silent if they were your children?" I was moved as they cheerfully greeted the service attendees while rocking side-to-side in a futile attempt to stay warm.
Each person also came bearing a stuffed teddy bear or lamb with the name of a clergy sexual abuse victim written on a yellow tag and tied around the animal's neck. The stuffed icons were stacked in the newly fallen snow and seemed to be supporting each other in the cold shadow of Saint Francis Church. I had an eerie feeling gazing at the pile of stuffed animals when I realized these stuffed toys accurately reflect the daily lives of victims.
Inside the church, I could hear the Bishop's prayers for victims. Outside the church, victims reminded Bishop Lennon that "his call for prayers as part of the solution to the church crisis rings hollow," and "that those prayers are meaningless unless they're accompanied by truth, accountability and justice."
At the conclusion of the service, churchgoers on their way home filed past vigil members who called out "please drive safely" and "it's good to see you." Barbara Thorp, the Archdiocese of Boston's selected leader of their newly created Office of Healing and Assistance Ministry, greeted vigil members with a warm smile and firm handshake. As she introduced herself she informed them that they remain in her prayers.
"What a great example of pastoral care," I thought, as I watched her move from one person to another in lieu of rushing to the shelter of her car. And "What happened to Bishop Lennon?" I wondered. Well, he left the church via the backdoor and drove away through the rear parking lot. I grimaced at his message of unity.
Before I departed, I took a moment to acknowledge the bronze statue of Saint Francis placed in front of the church. He stood watch over the vigil members with his back turned towards the church. He had gathered as much snow on his shoulders as the vigil participants had on theirs.
Staring at the statute, I recalled that from the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Well Saint Francis, I guess we all got the cold shoulder from our Bishop this evening.
I shook my head, cleaned the snow from my car's windshield and headed home.
Excerpts from remarks made by VOTF speakers who gathered for the vigil outside St. Francis Church, Dracut, MA
From survivor John Vellante
We're here tonight to remind Bishop Lennon that his call for prayer as part of the solution to the church crisis rings hollow, that those prayers are meaningless, unless they're accompanied by truth, accountability, and justice.
And we're here tonight to remind Bishop Lennon that his call for repentance must begin with all those Cardinals and Bishops who covered up this horrific abuse.
And we're here tonight to ask Bishop Lennon ``What Would Jesus Do?''
The answers, quite simply, are NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, AND NO.
From Westford-Chelmsford, MA Area Parish Voice Leader Mike Gustin
On Ash Wednesday,
Bishop Lennon said that Lent should be a time of Prayer, Conversion, and
Reconciliation. We agree with him.
From Stacey Quealey, VOTF Merrimack Valley Regional Coordinator
We gather here tonight, some of us as practicing Catholics, some of us as survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and some as survivors of clergy abuse who still hold dear the faith of their childhood. Wherever each of us may be in our faith or life journey, we agree on one thing: prayer alone will not solve the travesty of rampant sexual abuse of children that was allowed to be covered up for so long. Active justice is essential, and certainly not optional.
For Catholics, this Lenten Season is one of atonement, a time for taking responsibility for past misdeeds and a time for repentance. With that in mind:
St Teresa of Avila describes well what our obligations are:
"Christ has no body now but yours, no feet, no hands on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassionate on the world; yours are the hands with which He blesses people now."
MA Survivor Support Initiative
Survivor support advocates encouraged MA residents to support House Bill 1895, which would eliminate all time limits on criminal prosecutions for rape and sex crimes. The MA Legislature hearing was held on April 10. Anne Barrett Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org distributed the names of and contact information for faxing or writing letters to the two Chairmen of the Judiciary Committee as well as website information for those who might not know their representative and/or senator. That website is www.state.ma.us/legis/. Click on "Legislators" by city or town to identify your representatives. One can also visit www.WhereDoIVoteMA.com. Type in your street address and click on your state representative/senator's name to get to their individual web pages.
VOTF Priests' Support Working Group
The Support Priests Working Group made a presentation at the March Representative Council Meeting. Highlights of our work include a report on SOUNDING BOARDS. Sounding Boards are small informal gatherings of an equal number of clergy and laity, initially formed to determine how we can be most effective in our support of priests in their ministry. It is increasingly apparent that our support must be mutual, and that providing opportunities to relate to each other in new ways will encourage collaboration and help to rebuild trust in the church. We need our priests as much as they need us--to stand up for each other and to speak the truth with compassion.
A summary of the past two Sounding Boards will be posted on the VOTF website along with a suggested agenda.
The Winchester, MA Area VOTF has produced an extensive survey of priests, which is an excellent tool not only for discussion purposes but for use in other dioceses. http://www.votfwinchester.org/supportingpriests.html
Prayerful Voice Activities
Our first public event, the Liturgy of Hope, was celebrated on February 26th at Bellarmine Chapel. Approximately 50 people gathered. We asked for forgiveness for our own part in not knowing what was happening and not speaking up. We gave thanks for the many priests of integrity, especially the four priests who participated in or attended the service. We heard a moving and revealing story from a member of the group who is, in his own words, a former victim of abuse, but now a survivor because "as a survivor, I can choose to do something." In prayerful silence we wrote petitions and if we desired that they be read aloud during the service, placed them in a basket so designated. Finally, we recited the Creed together in unity of faith.
A particularly powerful moment for many of those in attendance was hearing passages from Vatican II documents and Canon law that extol the preeminence of the laity and their rights and responsibilities in participating in matters of church governance. It was refreshing and empowering to hear these words from an article of Canon Law: "In accord with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they possess, the Christian Faithful have the right, and even at times a duty, to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the church..."
This liturgy coincided with the one-year anniversary of Voice of the Faithful's beginning in Boston. Part of Cincinnati VOTF's intention for this Liturgy was to mark the beginning of hope and healing for Catholics in the Cincinnati area. Our desire is that, from this point forward, we move ahead with the kind of adult, honest communication and collaboration that is needed to transform this dark night of the Church's history into a new day - a day of God's people fully alive and active in their vocation as the Christian Faithful.
REPORT FROM ARGENTINA
The conference was organized by a group of lay people and sponsored by the dean of the School of Philosophy of the Catholic University of Córdoba. Attendance was by invitation. One-hundred thirty people came, an extraordinary number, because it was summer in Argentina and the university offered only a few summer courses, and many local people were out of town. The auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Córdoba as well as many priests attended.
Rizzuto placed the crisis in the context of a church that has not implemented the vision of Vatican II for the people of God and the laity. She presented in chronological order the development of the abuse and described the behavior of the American bishops as well as the formation of mutual support organizations by and for the abused. She described the creation of VOTF and the need for the participation of the laity at all levels of the institutional church. Finally, she analyzed the causes of the crisis and concluded with a quotation from Vatican II enjoining the laity to become active in the Church and in the world.
The lecture was very well received. It will be posted at the website of the Catholic University of Córdoba for easy access in the future. The lecture was given in Spanish and will be posted in Spanish.
Voices, Voices Everywhere!
The Southeast Wisconsin affiliate of VOTF met on March 13th at St. Rita's parish to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the founding of Voice of the Faithful in Boston. A prayer service, featuring readings and candlelight and anointing one another with oil, was held prior to the start of the monthly meeting. Reports were given on legislative issues, the plans for mediation in the Archdiocesan of Milwaukee, and a nomination/election process for VOTF leadership.
Terry Ryan, coordinator, asked members to sign a letter of support for the "Boston 58" who are now being attacked for signing a letter several months ago requesting Cardinal Law's resignation. Everyone present signed the letter of support, which was then mailed to the Boston Priests' Forum, c/o Fr. Walter Cuenin.
The tense situation with Iraq was on everyone's minds, so we closed our meeting by joining hands and praying for world peace. Posters with the message, "Pray for Peace", which were donated by the Peace Action Center, were also available as hand-outs.
Fr. Pat Lagges, a canon lawyer from Chicago, will be the keynote speaker on April 22nd when VOTF-SE WI meets at 6:30 pm at St. Alphonsus parish in Greendale. His topic will be "rights and obligation of the clergy & laity according to canon law".
Our VOTF group wishes all other affiliates and chapters and "Parish Voice" groups a happy and blessed Easter season. May our voices rise to bring hope and necessary reform to our Church in this holy season and may we experience peace in our world.
VOTF Nashville, TN invites readers to visit their website at http://www.chuckandtessa.net/voft/votf.htm for mission statements, contact information, and updates for the Nashville chapter.
VOTF Southwest Florida Dick Calderone encourages your visit to the VOTF SW Florida website at www.naples.net/presents/voice/.
VOTF Grand Rapids,
VOTF of Grand Rapids, Michigan recently hosted an evening with Fr. Richard P. McBrien, author and theologian from the University of Notre Dame. Fr. McBrien's talk, "Challenges Facing the Church Today," was co-hosted by Aquinas College, and was well received by over 200 people. Fr. McBrien spoke highly of Voice of the Faithful, as well as VOTF founder Dr. Jim Muller, an alumnus of ND. He emphasized the opportunity in the current Church crisis, said he believes more of the crisis is before us than behind us, and talked about the mandate of Vatican II. He emphasized lay involvement and recommended VOTF as a wonderful option toward that end.
The Grand Rapids diocese has a new Review Board and their names and credentials were publicized this week, which was one of our goals. As well, we find ourselves gaining new faces at each meeting.
Nashville VOTF participated in Nashville's second annual St. Patrick's Day parade on Sunday, March 16, carrying a banner with the emblem from the VOTF website in white and purple. The banner is kelly green and in white letters it says, "Nashville Voice of the Faithful Keep the Faith."
Nashville VOTF's next step is to increase membership and participation. To that end, we sponsored an informational meeting at St. Ann Parish Life Center (ed. more in the next Vineyard), At Nashville VOTF's request, this meeting was announced in a number of Nashville Diocese parish Sunday bulletins, including the bulletin of the Nashville Diocese Cathedral of the Incarnation.
Nashville VOTF wants to express its gratitude to Nashville's Father Sanches. Fr. Sanches writes a "Dear Parishioner" column for the St. Patrick's Parish Sunday bulletin every week. After the February Nashville VOTF Appreciation Dinner for the Priests, he wrote a Dear Parishioner Letter recruiting members for the Nashville VOTF. It was awesome! He also advised that he would post a sign-up sheet for VOTF and encourage everyone to join
Finally, in furtherance of the Nashville VOTF goals, we are taking steps to incorporate as a Tennessee not-for-profit corporation.
VOTF Camden, NJ
After nine years of tough legal maneuverings, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden has agreed to pay $880,000 to 23 men and women who filed suit over their sexual abuse as children. The diocese has admitted no wrongdoing but has said it now clears the way for Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to meet personally with the victims.
VOTF-Camden Diocese affiliate leader Kevin Gemmell stated, "It has taken much too long for the diocese to offer any pastoral care or retribution to victims but I nonetheless feel it is a sign that groups like VOTF are succeeding with convincing Church leaders to do the right thing."
The Camden Diocese chapter still meets monthly and has reaffirmed its commitment to removing the NJ statute of limitation and charitable immunity laws and continues its efforts to make all diocesan financial and personnel records public. It has also formed strong alliances with the Northern NJ VOTF and the statewide SNAP organization and is involved in planning the fall regional VOTF conference.
VOTF Florida - Coordinator Goz Gosselin writes, "After nearly five months of dialogue with my pastor Fr. Joe Clifford our new affiliate will be meeting in St. Columbkille parish center in Fort Myers. We are presently a total of 43 members, drawing from the many local parishes in and around Fort Myers." (ed. Time well spent, Goz!)
VOTF Northern NJ
The good news is that our March meeting was an excellent dialogue with two of our brave diocesan priests who came to share their thoughts on the future of ministry. The not-so-good news is that they were both "summoned" to the chancery by the bishop after the meeting and reminded of the Vatican decrees that prohibit the discussion of the subjects of married priests and women's ordination. It's safe to say that our clergy here in the Paterson and Newark dioceses have been given a definite message about VOTF. We are so grateful to our Franciscan priests who have opened their parish doors to us consistently. We continue to pray for more open doors, open minds and open hearts.
Our next meeting is May 13 when we will welcome Kathleen McChesney, head of the US Bishops' new Office of Child and Youth Protection, as our speaker. The subject of bishop accountability is high on everyone's list of priorities, and we're hoping for some good dialogue on the subject.
Our Structural Change Action Group has made great strides. They have collected data on the projected number of clergy in our diocese over the next fifteen years. The facts are grim. By 2015, the Paterson Diocese projects it will have 32 priests to serve its 114 parishes (and these numbers were published before the abuse crisis.) We are working on a way to publicize this dire situation, possibly in the format of a one-day workshop on ministry, with a special emphasis on how we're preparing (if at all) for the shortage.
Stay tuned for news about the first East Coast Regional VOTF Conference! Our tri-state group from NJ, NY and CT have been "chatting" on AOL Sunday nights, looking for a venue and discussing possible speakers. We're aiming for the Fall, so please send prayers this way!
There's so much more to tell, but the most amazing part is that we continue to percolate despite the fact that we are exhausted and often discouraged. Certainly, the Spirit is working miracles, because, by rights, we should have collapsed in a heap by now. It is our connectedness with all of you that gives us strength, and our knowing that together we can be the change we hope to create. Your VOTF/NNJ sisters and brothers send many blessings and thanks.
NEW VOTF NY East Side Affiliate - watch for their report in the next issue!
We are the VOTF Ellsworth, Me affiliate and have been meeting regularly since June of 2002. In January we hosted and facilitated an informational meeting open to all parishioners. The Portland diocesan informational outreach team came and answered specific questions that we had forwarded to them. We also hosted a prayer and healing service to our local parish of St Joseph's Ellsworth, Me. The service was aimed at healing and a renewal of faith, something we felt was important as we embark on a new year.
Recently we have joined VOTF Portland in addressing an issue regarding a retired Josephite priest who is living in Bar Harbor Maine. The priest, Fr. Dayton Salisbury, has a long and repetitive history of sexual abuse, information released by the supervising order, the Josephites. We attempted to work with the parish in which he is a parishioner. Our intention was to ensure that no other children be put at risk, and that he abide by the norms of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. We were met with complete resistance and denial from the pastor. Although we contacted several parish members, no one was willing to come forward in light of the pastor's perspective, that this is a non-issue. Our concerns are based on the fact that although he is a retired priest, he has on several occasions acted in a priestly fashion, and has been portrayed as a priest in good standing to many of his fellow parishioners. Awareness of his sexual abusive history has been heightened due to the efforts of VOTF, and I have been told that the local priests have been made aware that Fr. Salisbury is to have no priestly function. We have contacted the Josephites again regarding this matter and hope now to focus on continued education regarding sexual abuse as well as the support of priests of integrity.
Nassau, NY Parish Voice
VOTF New Hyde Park,
A group of parishioners met with their pastor, Msgr. John Martin, to discuss concerns related to the present crises in the Church. The pastor assured the group that a Pastoral Council will be established in the near future. This gathering resulted from a direct approach to the pastor. The experience might serve as a model for other VOTF members vis-à-vis their pastors.
A presentation, "Structural Change in the Church," was given by Father Andrew Connolly, S.J. Fr. Connolly is from Queen of the Most Holy Rosary parish in Roosevelt. He was introduced by Jim Howard, Co-Moderator. "Andy" is a member of the steering committee of Voice of the Ordained, an organization of priests and deacons, married and unmarried, in the Dioceses of Brooklyn, Rockville Centre and New York.
Fr. Connolly addressed the need for structural change and said we must examine the basis for the present structure and the basis for a new structure. We need to bring to our analysis the tools of theology, philosophy, sociology and history. A useful resource is a book titled Imagining the Catholic Church: Structured Communion in the Spirit (excerpts were distributed at the meeting).
His major points were that we need to understand our rights and relationships within the structure of the church, structure of authority and structure of responsibility. Who is accountable for what and to whom? He talked about finances, policies, strategies. We need to make sure we know what we want to change. At present, it's a one-way street, top-down. At the diocesan level unlimited power is in the hands of the local bishop. We need to move to a horizontal structure with wide ranging lay involvement. Openness in the area of finances is a practical place to begin.
An obvious enormous obstacle: Those with the power have to be the ones to make the changes, i.e., the bishops. Vital to change is a massive organization of laity and priests; if the priests don't sign on, Fr. Connolly feels we must move along without them. Focus on the organization and, concretely, what you want to change.
Fr. Connolly offered some practical suggestions: Begin where you are, i.e., in your parish. Then:
Fr. Connolly stated that in this moment of change the overriding attitude should be trusting the Spirit that dwells in each of us. A lively discussion followed. It was noted that Andy opened up new areas for further study and reflection.
Financial Report: Joe Hassan, Treasurer, read the current figures. He noted that since the Affiliate operates on the principle of complete financial openness, he will present a more detailed report in March. Note: Bishop Murphy has announced that the March 6 issue of the Long Island Catholic will carry a report on diocesan finances. Joe mentioned that the diocese taxes each parish 8% of their weekly collection. He also cited some of the charities sponsored by the Voice of Compassion fund, offered as an alternative to the Bishop's Appeal.
Pastoral Councils: Joe Bongiorno reported that St. Joseph's in Garden City, like most parishes in our area, has not had a council meeting in a number of years. On a positive note, St. Aidan's has reinstated its Stewardship Council.
Legislation: Joe has been tracking Bill A1516 in the New York State Assembly, which would require mandatory reporting of clergy sexual abuse with the exception of the confidentiality of the confessional. Assemblyman McEneny, who introduced the bill, would welcome the support of VOTF-LI. This bill closes a loophole in the final version of the US Bishop's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which did not have a mandatory reporting requirement. For a text of the bill visit www.assembly.state.ny.us
On March 18 the Greenwich, CT affiliate hosted two speakers from NYC S.N.A.P., David Cerulli and Linda Allegretti. Both speakers' painful stories impressed the group with the ongoing need to support survivors.
On March 22, the Greenwich affiliate followed up by hosting a metro-New York workshop on how to support survivors, together with Survivors First. Members of SNAP and The Linkup contributed to the program, which was put together and presented by Anne Barrett Doyle and Paul Baier. Susan Gallagher and Terry McKiernan also made presentations.
Anne (Survivors First and VOTF) spoke about helping Catholics become activists for survivor causes. Paul (Survivors First) talked about reforming or eliminating the statutes of limitations for child abuse. Susan (UMass, Lowell) outlined alternatives to Diocesan healing offices. Terry (VOTF, Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, and Survivors First) described how to encourage and measure bishop accountability.
VOTF members from northern New Jersey and the Camden Diocese, the New York Archdiocese, and the Brooklyn, Rockville Centre and Bridgeport Dioceses took part in the workshop.
VOTF Hartford East,
The Hartford Area Regional Coordinators (HARC) continue to meet to formulate an archdiocesan organizational structure here in Hartford. Joanne Moran, PV coordinator (St. Tim's in West Hartford) has been instrumental in the logistics of our formalization process thus far. We are meeting to put the finishing touches on our new structure and look forward to working with all the CT affiliates under this umbrella.
We have also met to discuss our plans in anticipation of further conversation with Archbishop Cronin. We held a brainstorming session for agenda items to be considered for our next meeting with the archbishop.
VOTF Durham, NH
St. Thomas More Parish Voice
At the February 12 monthly meeting, the St. Thomas More PV chapter, representing the seacoast area, moved from the "steering group" forum to an elected 10-member Board of Trustees, after approving Organizational By-laws for our NH STMPV. The following were elected to the Executive Committee: Chair - Lorraine Graham; Vice-chair- John Miskus; Secretary - Peg Boucher; Treasurer - Sylvia Russell; Assoc. Treasurer- Lynn Holmes. By-laws were formulated, and accepted, as a forerunner for application for NH state charitable tax free status, and also, preparation for federal 501(c)3 charitable organization status filing. A previously established checking account is open for those parishioners who wish to fund our parish (solely) without the 7.8% assessment by the bishop/the diocese. Acceptance of our direct PV contribution has been met by resistance from our finance commission, similar to Cardinal Law's refusal o accept the MA VOTF $50,000 contribution. Pursuit by our PV on this issue is continuing. .
NH State Assistant Attorneys General Will Delker and Jim Rosenberg were guest speakers at the March 13 PV meeting. Delker and Rosenberg were lead investigators in the agreement in which the Diocese of Manchester, NH admitted culpability in the sexual abuse scandal, and agreed to open the diocesan files to the NH AG`s office. Questions from those present, many of whom were VOTF members, were reported in the Dover and Portsmouth newspapers. NH Public TV covered the meeting, and the meeting will be shown on Durham Public TV in the near future. The two attorneys stated a firm belief that priestly sexual abuse will no longer be covered up in NH, as access to records and mandatory reports of abuse will be well monitored by the NH AG office. .
An important conference for tri-state (NH, MA, ME) VOTF members will be held shortly. Implementation of VOTF`s #1 goal, supporting survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, will be the subject of workshops from 1 pm to 5 pm. Bishop accountability, documents, diocesan healing offices, awakening the laity, and fundraising will be addressed by leaders of the Survivor Support Working Groups. It should be a substantive meeting for every VOTF member.
VOTF New Hampshire
PENACOOK, NH, APRIL 6, 2003 - New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful (NH-VOTF) today called on Bishop John B. McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Christian to resign their positions as bishops of the Diocese of Manchester, NH. The two-thirds vote by the group's steering committee included representatives from nine affiliates across the state. NH-VOTF has approximately 600 members in New Hampshire.
The call for resignations follows patient discernment by members of the record of Bishop McCormack in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and the record of Bishop Christian in New Hampshire. "Both observed a general disregard for the testimony of sexual abuse victims and an unwillingness to remove predatory priests from contact with children," said Jeffrey Blanchard, NH-VOTF steering committee chairman.
On March 25th, a small delegation from the Northampton/Springfield Voice of the Faithful Affiliate met with Bishop Thomas L. Dupre to discuss areas of mutual concern. Those present from the affiliate were: Ann Turner, moderator; Mario DePillis, member of the Steering Committee; Joan Smola, member; and Bob O'Brien, member. Four parishes and towns were represented. Also at the meeting were Father George A. Farland, Monsignor Richard S. Sniezk, and Father Daniel P. Liston.
The meeting was quite cordial. Voice of the Faithful representatives assured Bishop Dupre that they are faithful Catholics, who wish to lend their support, skills, and gifts to this diocese to help however they can.
Specifically, VOTF members suggested that they could assist in the formation of Pastoral Parish Councils, in fulfillment of the promises of Vatican II. Bishop Dupre responded that it is diocesan policy to form such councils. If members of a parish are denied the right to form a Pastoral Parish Council, they could then write directly to Bishop Dupre.
After expressing the goals of Voice of the Faithful and some of its accomplishments, VOTF members also articulated that VOTF can help by giving people a place to express their dismay over the crisis in the church, while still remaining within the church. The discussion then addressed the sexual abuse crisis, its impact on the church, and on victims and their families. Bishop Dupre, Father George Farland, and Monsignor Sniezk all confirmed and restated a diocesan policy, which VOTF members had misunderstood: If a victim wants to come and tell his or her story before the Misconduct Commission, they are allowed to bring a friend, family member, or a lawyer who has not instituted suit against the diocese, and can appear before the Misconduct Commission at the same time they are bringing suit. Bishop Dupre also said that he has personally offered to talk with any victim who might wish to do so.
The dialogue then touched briefly on another healing resource, which the church might use - the healing of memories as explained by Father Francis MacNutt. While Bishop Dupre explained that he was uncertain about some of the activities of the National VOTF, he did say that he was reassured as to the fidelity of the local Voice of the Faithful, and that he looked forward to working more with VOTF in the future. The meeting lasted one and one-half hours and was fruitful in fostering greater understanding and respectful dialogue.
VOTF Cape Ann,
CAPE ANN VOTF
CAPE ANN VOTF PROTESTS CHURCH BAN
On Thursday April 10th the Cape Ann Voice of the Faithful will take to the streets of Gloucester in silent vigil to protest the Archdiocesan ban of their meeting on church property. The candlelight vigil and procession will march from Saint John's Episcopal Church, Cape Ann VOTF's home away from home, to Saint Ann's Catholic Church at 74 Pleasant Street. A short prayer service will be held on the steps of Saint Ann's church.
More than six months have passed since Cape Ann Voice of the Faithful was banned from church property. During that time Cardinal Law resigned and Bishop Richard G. Lennon was appointed as Interim Administrator of the Boston Archdiocese. On March 11, 2003 Bishop Lennon met with Jim Post, the president of VOTF, and indicated his unwillingness to lift the ban. Cape Ann VOTF believes this policy is indefensible and defies logic. Cape Ann VOTF is one of only six chapters in this Archdiocese that are banned. Forty-eight other Boston area chapters, formed before the September 2002 ban, are able to meet on their own church property.
We are shocked and outraged by the continuing and unfolding revelations of abuse and cover-up within the Church. We are further outraged by the institutional Church's unwillingness to accept full responsibility and move forward towards healing and wholeness for all its people. The time for hopeful waiting is long over and the time for faith-filled, prayerful, action has arrived. The future of the church belongs to the people in the pews. We are the Church, and we have many gifts and talents to offer. First we must be able to take our place at the table; sadly we face a closed door instead.
Area, MA Affiliate
A highlight for our group this month was a talk given by Fr. John E. Sassani, the Director of the Office of Spiritual Development for the Archdiocese of Boston. Fr. Sassani discussed preparations for Lent, particularly in light of the past year's scandals. We are very grateful for his appearing before our group.
On March 10, Marie Doyle of our group led a discussion on Carlo Carretto, the great Italian spiritual writer of the 20th Century and his writing on the Church. Our group found some of Carretto's words (written in 1984) particularly fitting for the present day; "How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous and more beautiful." We are very grateful to Marie for sharing this message with us.
Throughout the month several members of our group have participated in the ongoing Lenten Vigil outside the Chancery in Brighton. This vigil and their commitment, have been a constant reminder to us that even though the scandal is no longer on the front pages of the newspaper, the process of healing has hardly begun.
Also this month we conducted a survey of parishioners of St. Eulalia's in Winchester, Mass. (where we meet) about VOTF. While we came in for our share of criticism (constructive and otherwise), many of the comments helped to reaffirm the commitment we made last May to become a Parish Voice:
"Carry on! We need to push for reform of our Church and its structure."
"It is the best thing to happen in the Church in 100 years."
"I feel it is a gift from God to the Church."
"Change won't happen if we look the other way."
"Persevere and witness."
VOTF Waltham, MA
St. Mary's Parish Voice
We recently conducted a brainstorming session with members to focus on our 2003 goals. Out of this session came the idea to have a membership drive with phone calls, posters and flyers. We are also planning to have a get-together with our local parish priests to discuss VOTF.
Our pastor, Fr. Wendell Verrill, has agreed to purchase a video system, which will enable us to sponsor monthly family movie nights for our parish.
The parish community will be having a Healing Mass with Fr. Bob Masciocchi. We continue to meet the first Tuesday of the month from 7:30 to 9:00 and our Steering Committee meets on the third Tuesday.
VOTF St. Agnes
Parish Voice, Reading, MA
St. Agnes is involved in initiating a voice through the process of BishopSearch, where all Catholics have a voice and participate in the selection of their next bishop. We have met as a parish voice and listed the qualities and expectations we would like to see in the man that assumes that position. We hope all Catholics will take part in this process and hope to have a website up and running soon.
Fr Robert Bullock, co-founder of the Boston Priests Forum, came to St. Agnes Parish Voice to speak to us at our last open meeting. He stressed three points: Truth is the light of hope for our Church, great harm was brought to many by clericalism and secrecy within the Church, and the laity need to collaborate with clergy to effect a stronger and healthier Church.
Future plans involve a survivor speakers meeting in April.
VOTF Lynn, MA
In conversation BEFORE Sunday Mass, an ad hoc group from St Pius V in Lynn started a project to manifest support for our priests and other members of the pastoral staff. Parishioners are being asked to express their feelings in written form about Boston Globe and Pilot coverage and articles on the subject of priests. Books will be available for commentary at the entrances to the Church for two weekends. Lay individuals are addressing the congregation at each Mass to explain the effort and the need to communicate. All the commentary will be bound and presented to Father Neil and Father Joe.
VOTF North Shore
Affiliate, Topsfield, MA
Our North Shore affiliate (a regional VOTF drawing from six to seven communities in this area of MA) held a meeting on Sunday, February 23, at St. Rose of Lima parish in Topsfield. The guest speaker was Roger Haight, S.J. who spoke on "Lay Ministry in the Catholic Church in America." At our gathering of about 60 people, he briefly traced the history of the Church in the US and then elaborated on lay ministry obligations and privileges as given to us by Vatican II. There was clear emphasis on how the laity has changed since the early days of the immigrant experience in America when clergy were the more educated members of the People of God. Because of our democratic experience in this country and the culture of greater equality and openness in our society, laity expect and are entitled to a stronger voice in the operational affairs of the Church. We are therefore somewhat unique as an American Church compared to other cultures and societies in the world where more authoritarian rule and a more restrained press are evident. He predicted that practices will change but ever so slowly; the laity will, of necessity, be stronger simply due to "plummeting" numbers of clergy. His presentation was engaging and was followed by a flurry of spirited questions and answers.
Next month's meeting will feature a list of essential questions for group discussion based on Father Haight's talk. In April, our speaker will be Father John McGinty from St. Pius V parish in Lynn. He may speak on the Priests' Forum. In May, another group discussion based on this latter talk will take place. In June, we will hear from Bernard Swain, a Ph.D. theologian.
By the way…
Following the refusal by the Boston Archdiocese to accept funds raised by VOTF's Voice of Compassion Fund for charities hurt by a decline in donations to the Church, a well-known regional newspaper columnist wrote that VOTF should declare victory "and leave" since the Church had shown its true colors and couldn't be worthy of continued efforts at dialogue (www.bostonglobe.com and click on Eileen McNamara). We reprint a response to that column by MA Survivor Support Group activist Steve Sheehan. Steve speaks for thousands of Catholics, regardless of diocese. He is a parishioner at St. Ignatius of Loyola, Chestnut Hill, MA.
I respectfully disagree with Ms. McNamara that we should declare victory and quietly leave; that change cannot occur.
I am one who refuses to walk (or run) away from a good fight. As I said before, when Cardinal Law finally resigned, and I quoted Sir Winston Churchill, "This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning!"
I would love to hear that there are many more out there whose sense of outrage is so strong that capitulation is a word reserved for the hierarchy. To quit now, when we have achieved so much, would be disastrous. The hierarchy has been waiting us out to see if we would eventually just go away. Why should we consider surrendering when we have so many victories behind us: resignations, release of documents, fear of meeting with us, fear of loss of control, etc.
They try to marginalize us. They try to wait us out. They hope we will trip over our own coattails and make their life easier. They are scared to death of coming out into the open, to meet us on a level playing field, and to tell the truth and hear the truth. The thought that the truth will be known paralyzes them.
They hide behind their walls and cathedrals. They hide behind tradition and custom. They hide behind their attorneys and insurers. They hide behind their cloaks of secrecy, power and self-importance.
Now is not the time to walk away. Now is the time to march forward and challenge them continually until they cave in and recognize the role and baptismal mission of the laity in the Catholic Church.
Now is the time to stop asking for their cooperation and to demand that they fulfill their roles and allow the laity to fill ours, remove all bans, accept all donations and, most of all, come forth into the light and do the right thing by the survivors, the faithful laity, and our excellent clerical base which serves Christ and the Church.
If I am wrong, will someone please tell me?
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