VOICE OF THE FAITHFUL: THE ROAD AHEAD
By James E. Post, President
Delivered to the First International Convention of Voice of the
Boston, Massachusetts, USA, July 20, 2002
Welcome to the first international convention of Voice of the Faithful.
It is my honor to speak to you as president of Voice of the Faithful.
There isn't much time for sleep in this position. There are a lot
of issues - and a lot of email - to keep me awake at night. But
those late night emails send a clear and unambiguous message: This
is an exciting time to be a Catholic. The excitement comes from
you. From Boston's Back Bay, where we meet today, to the Puget Sound;
from Maine to Arizona; from Germany, Denmark, and the UK in Europe,
to Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore in Asia-Pacific; from these
places and more, we have 19,000 members excited to be Voice of the
Voice of the Faithful is one of the most remarkable organizations
I have known. It is less an organization than a movement,
driven by a spirit that grows stronger and more compelling each
time people meet in its name.
There is a spirit in this auditorium today. It is the spirit of
hope. It is the spirit of renewal. Some would say it is the Holy
Spirit. Who are we to disagree?
The intensity of interest surrounding the clergy sexual abuse issue
has generated broad recognition of Voice of the Faithful. But people
still ask, "What are you really about?" Or, repeating our motto,
"Keep the Faith, Change the Church," they ask, "What does that mean?"
Those are important questions that need to be answered.
Who Are We?
I believe that Voice of the Faithful is part of a great, diverse
family that accepts no label save one: Catholic. We are people
united in our commitment to redressing one of the great social injustices
of our times - the commission and cover-up of acts of clergy sexual
abuse. This commitment gave birth to our common endeavor. This commitment
is the goal we must never compromise.
Catholic means universal, all-inclusive. We are still far
from achieving that goal. But in a few short months, Voice of the
Faithful has brought together survivors, their parents, and their
siblings; parents and grandparents concerned that today's children
may be victimized by predators; women religious, whose voice has
too often not been heard; priests who suffer in pain with each disclosure,
yet take heart from the moral awakening that is taking place; men
and women who have been away from the church but are returning to
see if things have changed; and people who celebrate the spirit
of Vatican II, as well as some who would like to celebrate the Latin
Mass. These people defy easy labels. As each Parish Voice chapter
forms, however, we see the common denominator - people who are inspired
to stand up and say, "I am a Catholic and I care about my church".
Of course, people use labels as a shorthand way of describing what
they like, or don't. But labels divide people. Voice of the Faithful
is about bringing people together.
Voice of the Faithful is committed to building up the church, not
tearing it down. We know what - and who - has been tearing down
the church. Those people have done very well without our help! Our
job is to now rebuild what others have damaged.
Sadly, some church leaders claim that the sexual abuse scandal
is just an anti-Catholic media campaign. I submit these leaders
are blind to the facts. They need to speak with survivors. They
need to speak with the faithful. They need to walk with their people.
And they need to stop trying to rewrite history.
Voice of the Faithful does have an agenda and it is an agenda of
change. Seven months ago, many of us stood at a moral crossroads.
We had to decide whether we would be silent Catholics, accepting
what church leaders had done. But one by one, we stood, and in solitary
voice said: "This is wrong. This must stop."
For dozens, then hundreds, and now thousands of us there really
was no choice. The moral crisis in our church shaped our decision.
We had to walk that new road into the unknown. And we discovered
an amazing truth: We are the "pilgrim church" we read about
in our religious education books! Like the Jews of the exodus; Paul
of the journeys; and Jesus, who walked everywhere, we were walking!
Today, we are walking toward a truth, born in anguish and pain,
that has become a bright light in our lives. It is meaningful; it
is compelling. It is a grace.
Our first commitment is to survivors. To those who are here today,
I say that we have vowed not to forget the terrible injustice that
has been visited on you. We have vowed to work on righting the wrongs
you have suffered. And we have vowed to fix the human institution
that permitted these evil acts to occur and to be hidden from sight.
The Catholic laity - women and men, young people and elders
are standing up to affirm those vows. In response to this scandal
of sexual abuse, we are saying, as our Jewish sisters and brothers
have said since the Holocaust, "Never again!"
Today, we assert our right and our responsibility
as baptized Catholics to participate in the decision-making processes
of each parish, each diocese, and the whole Catholic Church.
The hierarchy that failed to protect our children cannot be trusted
to exercise sole control over the property, money, and the fate
of our church. This is painfully evident in Boston where the archbishop's
breach of trust has done irreparable harm to the church. Today we
see how the failure of the annual Cardinal's Appeal has produced
deep cutbacks in funding for schools, social services, and Catholic
ministries. People are hurting. We need a healing process.
How can we overcome the "dilemma of conscience" that many of us
feel? Our anger is justified, but we also recognize our responsibility
to neighbors in need. The answer, I submit, is to create new ways
of doing what needs to be done.
Voice of the Faithful is developing new tools for a new era of
Catholicism. In Boston, we have sponsored the creation of a tax-deductible
fund called "Voice of Compassion" to be administered by the National
Catholic Community Foundation. This fund will enable donors to support
Catholic ministries and programs but without the risk of donations
being misappropriated for secret settlements, legal fees, and public
This new giving model has a critical feature: it is funded by the
laity, managed by the laity, and accountable to the laity. This
model can be adapted for use in any American diocese and for parishes
as well. We have a workshop session on this topic this afternoon
and additional information is also available.
Dialogue with Bishops
Another part of our agenda involves communication and dialogue.
I believe we have a responsibility to engage in dialogue with many
people and groups, including the bishops of our dioceses. We want
our bishops to talk with us. But let me be clear about the terms
of this dialogue:
- We will not negotiate our right to exist.
- We will not negotiate our right to be heard.
- We will not negotiate our right to free speech as American
And, we will not give the bishops a free ride on telling the truth.
Today, this Voice of the Faithful convention will petition the
Pope to hold accountable any bishop who enabled a predator to continue
his abuse. Hundreds of us will sign the petition because we believe
that bishops are accountable for past behavior. It is necessary,
but not sufficient, that future practices change. No bishop should
be allowed to stay in office if it is shown that he engaged in intentional
misrepresentation of facts regarding sexual abuse.
On a positive note, I believe that many American bishops do recognize
the burden of proof they face. Some genuinely want to work with
the laity. They understand that trust must be earned, and that their
deeds must demonstrate that they deserve to be trusted by the Catholic
- Trust begins with dialogue and communication.
- Trust is built on the foundation of new practices.
- Trust is built through accountability.
- Trust is earned through performance.
We want to trust our bishops again. But our operating motto must
be "Trust … but verify."
The performance of bishops and dioceses must be reviewed by survivors
and by the laity. The commitments made in Dallas invite us to create
"scorecards" that rate how well each diocese is doing in meeting
those publicly stated commitments. Voice of the Faithful members
locally and nationally will assess the bishops' implementation
of the Charter and report in November 2002. And Voice of the Faithful
will continue to work with SNAP and The Linkup on survivor needs
and issues. Scorecards can be created for parishes and extended
other areas of diocesan performance, including financial management,
pastoral achievements, and engagement with the laity.
Legal loopholes must be closed. We expect the bishops to engage
in vigorous enforcement of their publicly stated commitments, including
appropriate cooperation with civil authorities to create a system
that really does protect the public. No more foot dragging; no more
loopholes. How Voice Will Succeed Are such changes 'realistic'?
We Catholics are a hope-filled people. Jesus taught us never to
give up on another person. We will not give up on the bishops. We
invite them to walk with us. We invite them to talk with us. We
invite them to be one with us. We must live together - our faith
Meanwhile, we must keep pushing the rock up the hill. It is a steep
hill. It is a long hill. And it is a heavy rock!
To move forward, we must build an effective Voice of the Faithful
chapter in every parish in every diocese of this nation and the
world. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We must develop the muscles
to run the long race.
We know how to do this. We have already created vibrant models
of local action through Parish Voices. We are succeeding. Communication
that never happened before is now possible among many people and
- People within parishes
- People in different parishes
- People in different states and countries
- Priests and priests' groups
- Theologians and academics
A banner brought here today by a group from Cedar Knolls, New Jersey
summarizes the excitement of Parish Voice: "To every time there
is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." Thank you,
Cedar Knolls! This is indeed the season for Parish Voices and for
Voice of the Faithful.
What else are we doing?
Our members are developing training programs to share lessons
We are building a national Voice of the Faithful office to
coordinate and support these efforts.
And, as many have requested, we are creating a Speaker's Bureau
of members ready to share their experience with neighbors. In
the great apostolic tradition of our church, we are sending
forth our emissaries. Tomorrow, in fact, one of our members
will head off to Japan with our blessing to start a Voice of
the Faithful initiative in that country.
To undertake these projects we need your support. Everything
that is around us in the Hynes Auditorium today has been accomplished
through the effort of volunteers. Voice of the Faithful is not
running out of volunteers, but we are working them very hard!
Voice must move from being a "virtual" organization to a more
permanent, effective organization. We need your gifts of time,
talent, and financial support. We hope you will fill - or fill
out - the envelope in your packet. Your generosity will be greatly
appreciated and rewarded by the continued good work of this
Another requirement is self-education. We must have a deeper
understanding of our faith and the way the institutional church
operates. We must study canon law. We must read and discuss
Vatican II. We must understand our history in order to chart
our future. We have to understand the administrative structures
of the church in order to change them. The many knowledgeable
people who are speaking with us today testify to the extraordinary
resources available to us in this effort.
We are organizing study groups in local Voice chapters, as
well as nationally, to examine the adequacy of enforcement procedures,
to study issues such as the meaning of "structural change,"
and to design various forms of laity involvement. Throughout
history, the Catholic laity has helped their church in times
of crisis. The thoughtful, well-informed laity of the 21st century
will help to save our church in this crisis as well.
This is a very exciting time to be a Catholic. We have a lot of
work to do. But there is only one road for us to follow. Let us
embrace the survivors of abuse and personally commit to righting
wrongs and ensuring that justice is done. Let us walk with one another
and join hands in fellowship. Let us reject all labels, save the
one that matters most - that is, "Catholic". Let us resolve to make
a difference. If we do these things, our actions will answer the
question, Who are we? And if we "walk this talk," we will
truly be the "Voice of the Faithful." Thank you.