Voice of the Faithful in the Future
Jim Post, President, Voice of the Faithful
In the wake of the worst catastrophe to befall the Catholic Church
in 400 years, Catholics all over America and the world are hurting.
We need a healing process. We need solutions. We need dialogue with
our hierarchy. We need prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
For example, how can we overcome the "dilemma of conscience" that
many of us feel giving expression to our justifiable anger,
but also fulfilling our responsibility to neighbors in need? One
solution is that 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 relations.
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,
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 on the following terms:
- 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.
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 Linkup on survivor needs and
issues. Scorecards can be created for parishes and extended to other
areas of diocesan performance, including financial management, pastoral
achievements, and engagement with the laity.
Legal loopholes must be closed. We will monitor how earnestly the
bishops 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.
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 requires it. 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
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
Voice. We are succeeding. Communication that never happened
before is now possible among many people and groups:
- People within parishes
- People in different parishes
- People in different states and countries
- Priests and priests' groups
- Theologians and academics
What else are we doing?
- We are developing training programs to share lessons learned.
- We are building a national Voice of the Faithful office to coordinate
and support these efforts.
- We are creating, as many have requested, a Speaker's Bureau
of members ready to share their experiences with neighbors. In
the great apostolic tradition of our Church, we are sending forth
our emissaries. 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.
VOTF must move from a "virtual" organization to a more permanent,
effective organization. We need faithful Catholics' gifts of time,
talent, and financial support.
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"; and to design
various forms of lay 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 "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.