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By James E. Muller, M.D., Chair
Delivered to the First International Convention of Voice of the Faithful
Boston, Massachusetts, USA, July 20, 2002

It is an honor and a joy to address this holy gathering of Catholics - this magnificent "Response of the Faithful."

As I suspect is true for many of you, there was a time just months ago when I could take no joy in contemplation of our Church - when I could barely attend Mass, when I wanted to smash the glass award I had been given for "celebrating Catholic Values" - values debased by the scandal. The revelations of massive sexual abuse by clergy and the pervasive cover-ups awakened me to the terrible flaws in our Church. I reached the painful conclusion that I must either attempt to correct these deep structural defects or leave the Catholic Church.

It would not be easy to leave a Church that had provided spiritual guidance from early childhood. I vividly recall serving the 5 a.m. Mass that my Uncle Paul, an Irish-Catholic priest, said at the Carmelite monastery in Indianapolis. While we appeared to be alone in the chapel, the presence of the sisters was manifest by a magnificent Gregorian chant flowing from behind black screens on either side of the altar. The heavenly combined voices of these faithful provided my earliest, and most vivid appreciation of the presence of divinity in this world.

My aunt, Sister Mary Lea, from the German Catholic side of my family, set an example as an early leader in higher education for women at Mount Saint Joseph College in Cincinnati. At age 98, she is following Voice of the Faithful on the Internet and, via email, wishes us well today.

Four years of Latin in high school led me to Russian at Notre Dame and medicine at Johns Hopkins. From this base, the Catholic social activism advocated by Vatican II contributed to a struggle with Russian doctors against nuclear arms - a struggle for life - in which we built, without the Internet, a world-wide organization of over 150,000 doctors. The effort was nurtured by the writings of Thomas Merton, by Pace in Terra, and by the examples of Father Hesburgh and Cardinal Bernardin. Father John Philbin and Cardinal Umberto Medeiros helped us obtain a letter from Pope John Paul II, who supported our work with communist physicians for the preservation of life on the planet. The world is safer because of these noble actions of the Catholic hierarchy.

For the host of reasons I have just described, the option of leaving the church without a fight did not seem viable. In February, I discussed the other option of changing the church, with my wonderful wife Kathleen, a devoted Catholic, and a veteran of many worthy causes. While we both knew the chaos it would cause for our individual lives, she sent me forth to give it a try.

My initial plan was to become educated on the crisis by reading and talking with other Catholic laity. After the January Sunday Mass that followed the weekend's horrible revelations, I asked Fr. Thomas Powers, our deeply spiritual pastor at St. John's in Wellesley, if we could convene a group of laity to discuss the scandal. Fr. Tom agreed to my proposal, and in addition, suggested that the laity be permitted to speak freely about the crisis, in church, with a microphone, with lay leadership, after each Mass on two consecutive Sundays. Over 600 participated, and the silence in the pews was broken.

A world of deeply spiritual and talented people suddenly appeared. I would learn that Peggie Thorp, whom I had never met, was working on a book about why she remains Catholic, that Jim Post was a leader of the world monitoring group to ensure that Nestle's corporate practices did not harm children in the developing world, and that Paul Baier was an inspirational leader and a master in the use of the Internet.

We began with weekly, then biweekly, then triweekly meetings in the St. John's basement, and reached a level of nearly continuous email chatter. Our meetings were joined by many from other parishes. One night in March, I was unable to park within 4 blocks, as more than 500 overflowed our small meeting rooms. A holiness, a spirit, guided the meetings. We knew by April that we had the germ seed for a world movement. This group founded Voice of the Faithful.

Our weekly discussions produced the clarification of the problem, and its solution, that I had hoped for. I tried to summarize the findings in some simplified slides that have been useful to many.

Analysis of Causation
The causation of the terrible problems of clergy sexual abuse and the institutional cover-up can be viewed as is the analysis of causation of death that is written on a death certificate. The certificate starts with the visible problem, a death, and then identifies the proximate causes such as a heart attack, and the underlying cause such as atherosclerosis.

The death in this case is the tragedy of the dual problems of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up. With regard to proximate causes, the faithful of liberal and conservative persuasions will differ, but many will share an appreciation of the underlying cause as the existence of centralized power that is neither checked, nor balanced. Voice of the Faithful is concerned with the underlying cause of the problem.

Hierarchical Church in Crisis
Role of Laity: a narrow hierarchical church is in extreme crisis. A church buttressed by the faithful will be stronger.

Tower of Pisa
There is some hard evidence that narrow ecclesial structures have a tendency to go astray. Contributions of Laity - Vatican II Created Articulation Points

The pilgrim Church improves through history. Copernicus and Galileo contributed to the Church by identifying the proper position of the Earth in the solar system. In this time of crisis, the Church needs contributions from the laity with its understanding of sexuality, representative democracy, and the equality of women.

The Current Church
As indicated by the worldwide institutional cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, the power structure of the current church is flawed. While both the faithful and the hierarchy base their faith on the revelations of Jesus Christ, doctrine, and tradition, the executive, legislative, and judicial power of the Church is not checked or balanced, and is concentrated in the hands of the hierarchy. Although the faithful provide the financial support essential for the church, they have little influence on church decisions: "Donation without representation" is the modus operandi. In addition, many of the most active Faithful are divided into liberal and conservative camps, a division which prevents attention to the larger problem of lack of a voice for laity of either persuasion. Under these conditions, the laity cannot strengthen the Church by participating in its power structure.

The Changed Church
The goal of VOTF is to "Keep the Faith - Change the Church." A "changed Church" would have a broader base of power with checks and balances, and would be much stronger. If conservative, moderate, and liberal faithful were able to agree on a constitution for democratic representation of the views of the faithful, strong supports could be added to the Church. Laity speaking for a democratic institution could participate with the clergy in the balanced exercise of executive, legislative, and judicial power.

The Mainstream Nature of Voice

The Voice of the Faithful is designed to speak for the majority of Catholics. A critical element in creating a valuable organization will be to convince Catholics of conservative, moderate, and liberal views that the organization is of value. Since VOTF itself is a change and a decentralization of power, its appeal may be more readily apparent to those on the left. It must configure itself in such a manner that it is also seen as valued by those on the right. This will be possible if it remains focused on the single goal of finding a voice for the laity, and leaves the discussion of divisive issues for the period when a representative democracy of the laity is functioning.

Structures of Hierarchy and VOTF
Curia. Here is a new structure emerging, a historic change for the Catholic Church. In the VOTF structure - parish, diocesan, etc. - the arrows point up and elected officers have term limits. The structures work together; there is dialogue at each level, a great synergy. The hierarchy preserves dogma, the laity provides input from history, resulting in a stronger pilgrim Church.

Better Than Either Alone
The hierarchy alone has prior errors — the Crusades, the arrest of Galileo, the Inquisition, the failure to assist Jews. But even so, there has been progress: not long ago, I could have been burned at stake for disagreeing with a Cardinal.

The laity alone would be closer to Protestant church, without the valuable contributions of hierarchy, including preserved teachings across two millennia, social good, etc.

Why might hierarchy share power with laity, as called for by Vatican II? Groups rarely relinquish power; it must be taken. The laity outnumber clergy by 1,000 to 1, and are 99.9% of the members of the Church. The laity initially controls 100% of the cash, and now envisions a structure that can give it selective control over donations.

Great Progress Has Been Made

Voice has 19,000 members [now 25,000] in 22 nations, a worldwide message, an office, Stephen Krueger as executive director, a democratic council at the hybrid level, and 60+ Parish Voice affiliates.

Dialog with bishops is already occurring in multiple dioceses. In Boston, I can report the following. In a phone call yesterday, Bishop Edyvean told me that Cardinal Law and the bishops of the Archdiocese of Boston are unanimous in their support of the ongoing conversations between Bishop Edyvean and the leadership of Voice of the Faithful.

Must Build VOTF
Donate to build VOTF - this emerging structure must be funded with at least $500,000 in the next six months to seize the moment. Envelopes are available in the program.

Reasons for VOTF's Growth
Like the emergence of the perfect storm, there are at least 12 reasons for the spectacular growth of VOTF:

  • Church in crisis prior to January 2002
  • Greater role of laity in Church liturgy
  • Massive extent of Boston sex abuse
  • Simple message of Voice
  • Mainstream focus of Voice
  • Academic power in Boston
  • Documents of Vatican II
  • Support from 60 theologians
  • Support from priests of integrity
  • Internet: the noosphere of Teilhard de Chardin
  • Deep love of Church
  • Work of the Holy Spirit

What Must Be Done by VOTF?

  • We must enable a worldwide church of one billion members to return to its teachings of the first century of our era, 1,900 years ago, when the divine message of Jesus Christ was fresh, clear, ethical, and uncorrupted - when the laity had a voice in selection of bishops. In modern terms, this represents a need for 1.9 trillion person-years of change.

  • We must build a Church that Jesus would survey with a smile, which would be relevant to our children, which could work more effectively with other faiths, and which could bring its positive message to a world longing for a stronger sense of community and spiritual values.

  • For the massive task ahead, we will be aided by a legal system that defends the powerless, a free press, the Internet, email, word processors, representative democracy that makes possible powerful collective action, and the ability to exert collective control over our individual financial donations that sustain the Church. We have an excellent structure and superb leadership by Jim Post.

  • The love and energy you have showered on Voice, most visible in your participation here today, leave no doubt that the faithful want to change the church.

The Changed Church
At present we have a surprisingly clear idea of what is needed — a partnership of hierarchy and empowered laity — but it is just a plan, just a blueprint. We must commit to sustained work to turn it into reality.

Mallorca Cathedral
This magnificent 750-year-old Catalan Gothic cathedral, which Kathleen and I visited just two weeks ago in Mallorca, is real. This Cathedral resulted from a collaboration between the hierarchy, which planned the project, and thousands of laity who provided the funding and lifted the stones, over the course of hundreds of years. May the appreciation of divinity that this structure invites inspire us in our task ahead - of keeping the faith and building a new, stronger, deeply moral, modern, ancient and holy Catholic Church, buttressed by our efforts and our prayers.





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Voice of the Faithful is recognized as one of the most promising lay organizations to evolve in the Catholic Church. Your support is absolutely necessary for us to continue. The online donation form and the mail in donation form are both quick and easy ways for you to participate, and we are most grateful. (VOTF is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. )

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.


Our Goals

1. To support survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

2. To support priests of integrity

3.To shape structural change within the Catholic Church.

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Jesus, Lord and Brother, help us with our faithfulness. Please hear our voice, and let our voice be heard. Amen. More



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