In the Vineyard: July 17, 2023


In the Vineyard :: June 20, 2023 :: Volume 23, Issue 12

National News

Farewell and Hello

Dear Friends—a word I feel applies to all of you I have met these past 16 years whether in person, by email, or via Zoom,

Today is the official announcement of my retirement from Voice of the Faithful as of August 31. That is exactly 16 years since I began working as Executive Director, and as much as I still love the work we do and, more importantly, the people I do it with, I am not as young, or as healthy, as I once was. It is time to let someone else pick up the reins. You will be in excellent hands with Leslie Scales. This is a farewell from my current role, rather than a goodbye to you, because I will continue working on VOTF’s Synod project—and to answer the phone if Leslie calls!

Looking back, I will remember not only our many accomplishments these past years but also, as I said, the wonderful people I have met. From the workers and volunteers at the office to the volunteers spread across the U.S. and into other nations, to the previous leaders who offered their counsel and support, to the many donors who trusted us to speak for them and who lent their own voices to our efforts. There are too many of you to name, but please know that you are in my heart and in my thoughts and forever will remain there, under a huge tent named “people I have been blessed to know.”

I will also remember every step of the journey towards fulfilling our Mission: 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. The Spirit heard us, I believe, and has invited us through the Synod on Synodality—through ongoing synodal work—to step up and do just that. 

So, while taking a break and resting from the daily demands of my soon-to-be-previous job, I will be lending my voice to that synodal effort. I hope you will join me in doing so, wherever you are and however you can make your thoughts known. 

I also pray that you will continue your support for all our other projects. Leslie will be relying on you, as I did, to keep our Voice strong. We are being heard, now, today. Let’s not lose our chance to make lasting changes that bring our Church into the 21st century, renewing the synodal way of its earliest institution.

Peace and blessings,

VOTF Executive Director (until Aug. 31)

Saying Farewell

Voice of the Faithful has been blessed for the past 16 years to have Donna Doucette as our Executive Director. Donna’s contributions to VOTF are too numerous to list. In addition to running our national office during a time when we evolved from being an affiliate based to a more centralized organization focused on the work of the working groups, Donna championed the annual conferences and ensured we grew with the times by posting videos of the keynotes on our website; established VOTF’s working relationship with the Association of US Catholic Priests (AUSCP); spearheaded the VOTF Synod process. In my opinion, we can all be proud of VOTF’s Synod Submissions. Donna has also been responsible for some of our best fundraising. 

Donna has decided to retire. We will miss her in the office and working together with her on so many projects. Fortunately, she will continue to be involved in our relationship with the AUSCP (as she is their only lay person on their board) and the Synod process. Please join me in wishing Donna all the best in her retirement and thank her for a job well done!

Chair, Board of Trustees

Saying Hello

I am happy to announce that VOTF has hired a new executive Director, Leslie Scales. Leslie is an experienced Executive Director, with experience in growing and leading non-profit and for-profit organizations. She comes to us with enthusiasm for our mission and goals. Leslie has proven experience with working directly with a board, managing profit and loss, event planning and execution, establishing partnerships and relationship management. I am excited to be working with Leslie as I am sure you will be. Please join me in welcoming Leslie to her new position. Leslie’s email is

Chair, Board of Trustees

International News

New Faces at the Synod

Many say the upcoming Synod meeting in October 2023 will be the most important event since Vatican II. If Pope Francis’ pick of delegates is any indication, the decisions made at the Synod could alter the course of the Catholic Church forever. The list of delegates, released earlier in July, includes noted LGBTQ+ advocate Jesuit Fr. James Martin and all four U.S. cardinals created by Pope Francis, offering a clear sign that despite often being a minority in the U.S. church, voices such as these—in alignment with the Pope’s thinking on synodality and renewal—will become part of the discussion on the future of the Catholic Church. 

Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago; Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C.; Robert McElroy of San Diego; and Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, are among 48 persons hand-selected by the pope to take part in the October Synod. The meetings there will consider a range of sensitive issues in church life, including the role of women, LGBTQ Catholics, clergy sex abuse and more.

In addition, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley—a member of the pope’s council of cardinal advisers—and Seattle’s Archbishop Paul Etienne were among the pope’s personal nominations. 

In April, the Vatican announced that for the first time in history, the Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops will include lay men and women as full voting members of the Catholic Church’s primary consultative body.

Each of the seven global regional bishops’ conferences also have nominated 10 participants for the gathering, along with five religious women and five religious men from the two global umbrella groups representing men and women’s religious orders.

The 10 North American delegates include Sami Aoun, a Maronite Catholic from Quebec; Cynthia Bailey Manns, director of adult learning at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Catherine Clifford, a theology professor at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada; Richard Coll, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for the U.S. Catholic bishops; Sr. Chantal Desmarais, Sister of Charity of St. Mary; Fr. Ivan Montelongo of El Paso, Texas; Wyatt Olivas, a young adult musician from Cheyenne, Wyoming; Julia Oseka, a student at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia; Sr. Leticia Salazar, Order of the Company of Mary Our Lady and chancellor of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California; and Linda Staudt, recently retired director of the London District Catholic School Board in Canada.

You can find the entire list of participants on the Vatican web site but for now it’s only in Italian. They say there will be an English list soon.

Read more here. And here.

The Synod and Abuse in the Catholic Church

Abuse prevention experts who recently gathered in Rome hope that the Synod on Synodality’s potential to reform power structures and promote dialogue could also improve abuse prevention and accountability in the Catholic Church.

In a June gathering, more than 200 participants took part in small working groups, adopting the approach the synod will follow this fall. The spirit of synodality also inspired the willingness to bring to light issues that are usually considered taboo in many cultures.

The International Safeguarding Conference, with the theme of “Sustaining Organizational Accountability,” was organized with the Institute of Anthropology, which supports training for missionaries and others about child abuse and protection.

“Opening the dialogue around the very concept of synodality is getting the whole church involved in saying, ‘OK, how do we solve this together?’” said Canadian Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau during a closing news conference on Thursday.

Durocher said that he sometimes encounters “resistance” on the part of clergy and lay faithful when addressing abuse prevention. Archbishop Simon Poh of Kuching, Malaysia, also told reporters, “people in Asia are generally silent when it comes to questions of abuse,” attributing the silence to a culture that places more importance on the community and society than on personal needs.

The organizers hope that the synod will increase awareness by also examining the role of bishops and how they relate to their dioceses and the Vatican. “Accountability requires structures of accountability and we are working on that in the church more and more,” Durocher said.

The Rev. Hans Zollner, who heads the Institute of Anthropology at the Gregorian University, said there is a “need to rethink the role of the bishop” in relation to theology and canon law. While the church under Pope Francis has adopted many laws that regulate punishments and responsibilities in cases of abuse, “what is not there is the sustainability in the application of these norms.”

The patchwork application of accountability measures shows that “norms don’t suffice,” Zollner said. “What we need more is a change in attitude, which is unfortunately not done in a year or five. It takes years or generations.”

According to Jörg M. Fegert, a trauma researcher at the University of Ulm in Germany, Catholic institutions’ response is still greatly lacking. “Something that has to change in the way these cases are dealt with is the openness,” he said at the news conference. He said decades of a lack of transparency created “a crisis of trust.”

To read more click here.

To read more about VOTF’s work on abuse, click here.

Top Stories

To reach and keep young Catholics, the church must recognize women’s leadership / Opinion
“Women play a vital role in passing on the faith to the next generation. But when 99% of Catholic churches will have a male preacher this Sunday in a world where 50% of the Catholic population are women, it’s time for our daughters and granddaughters — and sons and grandsons — to see us naming out loud a problem we’ve endured quietly in our hearts. What seemed normalized to my devout Catholic Cuban grandmothers and became uncomfortable for my mother and has become unacceptable for me, is now unbearable for my nieces and many of our daughters. This will have untold consequences for the future of Catholic ministries.” By Ellie Hildagdo, Miami Herald

Synod document sets stage for wide-ranging debate on women, Catholic ministries and structures
“When prelates and lay delegates gather in October for the Synod of Bishops, they will be asked to directly confront a number of pressing questions — including the possibility of women deacons, access to the priesthood for married men, the integration of LGBTQ+ Catholics, and penance for sexual abuse and the abuse of power, conscience and money — in consideration of how the Catholic Church might transform and expand its structures to become more welcoming to all its members. In a much anticipated document released June 20, the Vatican’s synod office set the stage for a wide-ranging discussion for the first session of a high-stakes meeting that is attempting to respond with ‘missionary urgency’ to the challenges of church life in the modern world.” By Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter

Assembly of U.S. Catholic priests discusses calls for women’s ordination
“Her (Cecilia González-Andrieu) son’s experience can serve as a reminder of the need to truly see ‘la realidad’ — the reality of life — of marginalized people, and women especially, as the Catholic Church continues its three-year journey exploring Pope Francis’ invitation to synodality, she said. Synodality, González-Andrieu explained, is meant to highlight the rich diversity of the voices and talents of the people of God. Her talk turned to the word ‘difference’ and how through the diversity of people and cultures and animal and plant life ‘God’s creation loves difference.’” By Dennis Sadowski, National Catholic Reporter

German police search church properties in probe of Cologne archbishop over perjury allegations
“German police and prosecutors searched Catholic Church properties on Tuesday (Jun. 27) in connection with a probe of the archbishop of Cologne in western Germany over perjury allegations, authorities said. The searches included the vicar general’s office and the premises of an IT company that provides email services to the archdiocese headed by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki … The cardinal is under investigation on suspicion of having falsely testified to court about when he became aware of reports of clergy sexual abuse in the archdiocese.” By Kirsten Grieshaber, Associated Press

Click here to read the rest of this issue of Focus …

Mark Schmieder Memorial Scholarship Funds for 2023

Greater Cincinnati VOTF established the Mark Schmieder Memorial Fund in 2010 to encourage prevention, awareness, and healing of abuse trauma. The Fr. Mark Scholarship Funds are available to help a survivor, family member of a survivor, or survivor advocate who wishes to attend the National SNAP Conference. This year the conference is at the Westin Arlington in Arlington, Virginia, August 11-13, 2023. The award amounts will be based on the needs of the individual applicants and available funds. 

  • Applicants for scholarship funds should apply by email stating their interest in attending the 2023 SNAP conference along with a brief statement (no more than ½ page) about their interest in advocacy, education, outreach, or their healing journey. Include a contact phone number, mailing address, and a statement of what help you are seeking (for example: registration, lodging, transportation costs). Call or email if you have questions about applying: 513-231-5271,
  • Priority is given to applications from Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana or those attending for the first time. However, victims/survivors from other states are also eligible and encouraged to apply.
  • All application-emails should be submitted to by July 27, 2023.

Fr. Mark Schmieder (1940-2009) was an active member of Greater Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful since its beginnings in 2003. He was instrumental in obtaining their 501(c) 3 nonprofit status and was serving as Treasurer of the Cincinnati VOTF Coordinating Committee at the time of his death on December 24, 2009. Fr.Mark also was actively involved in the Cincinnati-Dayton SNAP network of survivors of clergy abuse and in 2005 he gave testimony in Columbus OH supporting legislative changes to extend and eliminate the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. He advocated for better training for priests about the issue of abuse trauma, and in 2008 he spoke during the diocesan priest convocation of his own abuse and encouraged his fellow priests to pastorally reach out to those harmed by abuse.

July’s Prayer Intention from Pope Francis

For the month of July the Pope asks Catholics to focus on the Eucharist. He asks that we place the celebration of the Eucharist at the heart of our lives, transforming human relationships in a very deep way and opening to the encounter with God and all their brothers and sisters.

To watch a video of the Pope’s intention, click here.

Letter to the Editor

Since VOTF is dedicated to supporting priests of integrity I was amazed that the Catholic University survey involving thousands of priests who listed lack of trust in their bishops was not somehow included in this conference. Was it brought up? Large oversight in my less than humble opinion. 

Great summary, thanks.


NOTE: Reply from Donna

Hi JF, if you are referring to the AUSCP conference we attended, oh yes, the lack of trust in bishops was certainly discussed among the attendees, as were the difficulties of dealing with some of the anti-Francis and anti-Vatican II bishops. However, the focus of keynote sessions was always on the positive: how to move forward and continue renewing the Church. If you would like to hear some of those speeches yourself, check out this page at the AUSCP site where they will be posting the videos soon:


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