In the Vineyard: August 17, 2018

In the Vineyard :: August 17, 2018 :: Volume 18, Issue 15

News from National

VOTF in the News

Voice of the Faithful was called upon by many news organizations this week, looking to make sense of the horrific Grand Jury report released Aug. 14 in Harrisburg. Following are two excerpts from articles that quoted VOTF. Following that is the text of VOTF’s statement in response to the report, and then a note on the Vatican’s response to date.

From The Washington Post: U.S. bishops say church needs lay Catholics to help address ‘moral catastrophe’
By Chico Harlan, Rome Bureau chief

ROME — Calling sexual abuse revelations within the U.S. Catholic Church a “moral catastrophe,” the head of the American bishops’ group called Thursday for wider investigations of a former Washington archbishop and said laypeople should have a greater role in holding clerics accountable.

Three years ago, the Vatican announced — but never established — a tribunal to judge bishops accused of negligence or coverup.

Proposals such as DiNardo’s can “make for good PR,” said Donna Doucette, the executive director of Voice of the Faithful, an organization of Catholics seeking church reforms. “But as often happens with these kinds of plans, it’s the implementation — the failure to fully implement what was imagined at the beginning,” she said.

From Reuters news service: Vatican voices ‘shame and sorrow’ over damning sex abuse reportBy Philip Pullella, Scott Malone

VATICAN CITY/BOSTON – The Vatican expressed “shame and sorrow” on Thursday over revelations that Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused about 1,000 people over seven decades, vowing to hold abusers and those who protected them accountable.

Nick Ingala, a spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, a group formed to promote parishioners’ voices after the abuse scandal surfaced, said it was heartening that bishops wanted to set up an independent review process but he expressed skepticism that it would be successful.

“I don’t know how they are going to work that out,” Ingala said in a telephone interview. “I’m always hesitant to give 100 percent credence to any plan the bishops put forth based upon experiences in the past.”

VOTF Statement on PA Grand Jury Report

BOSTON, Mass., Aug. 15, 2018 – The findings of a grand jury in Pennsylvania that investigated sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in six dioceses there cannot be called a surprise. Not after grand juries examining clergy sex abuse in two other Pennsylvania dioceses found the same pattern. Not after grand juries in other states and government commissions around the world have unearthed the same crimes and the same failures again and again.

What would be a surprise is if, this time, the Church hierarchy follows up on its numerous promises and expressions of sorrow and finally brings to account all those who participated in the crimes and coverups. Although Church officials can point to the positive efforts made to introduce child protection safeguards and abuse reporting going forward, such efforts cannot substitute for full justice – the Church and the Catholic faithful must hold accountable the many bishops, chancery officials, and even lay persons who knew of abuse, looked the other way, and allowed the predators to claim additional victims.

The latest report goes further than many others in the United States in naming the bishops who allowed abuser priests to escape justice. Now the test for the hierarchy will be whether these bishops face any sanctions for their failures, and whether all priests named as abusers are out of ministry. It is no longer sufficient to say a statute of limitations has passed or that the bishop now knows better. Justice and morality are not defined by legal stipulations. It’s long past time to do what’s right.

Voice of the Faithful has called for such accountability since its founding in 2002. As a lay organization seeking reform within the Church, we work with lay people, priests, and a few brave bishops to bring forward the changes that could guard against such abuses in the future. We promote programs that encourage both transparency and accountability, offer pathways to healing for those damaged by the abuse, and ask all Catholics to exercise vigilance.

However, given the administrative structure of the Roman Catholic Church, such efforts by the Catholic faithful must be endorsed and then implemented by the hierarchy if we are to obtain full transparency and accountability. Recent calls by some bishops, in the wake of news about former Cardinal McCarrick, for lay participation in holding bishops accountable would be a good start. The second step would be to address the clericalism that fosters such systemic failures

Click here to read excerpts from the grand jury report and access link to full report.

Vatican Statement on Grand Jury Report

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” the Vatican statement said of the report, which was released on Tuesday, shocking Catholics with lurid tales of abusive priests and superiors who turned a blind eye. “Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.” By Sharon Otterman and Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times

Pope’s Letter to “The People of God” in Responseto Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report

Pope Francis has acknowledged that the Catholic Church ‘did not act in a timely matter’ to protect children from sexually abusive priests over a period of decades, saying in a new letter to members of the Catholic faith around the world that the church ‘abandoned’ minors to those who would abuse them, according to National Catholic Reporter in a story Aug. 20.

Here is a link to the Pope Francis’ letter …

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Our focus this past week and in this issue of In the Vineyard is, and rightly so, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. But we thought in the midst of this terrible news, we might offer a brief respite–excerpts from a book to be published soon that features a detailed analysis of members in a VOTF affiliate. Neither the individuals nor the affiliate itself will be identified per the privacy consent protocols under which the study was conducted.

Twelve years ago, sociologists Patricia Ewick of Clark University and Marc W. Steinberg of Smith College began an ethnographic study focused on members of one VOTF affiliate. The fruits of their work will be published later this year as a work titled Beyond Betrayal: The Priest Sexual Abuse Crisis, the Voice of the Faithful and the Process of Collective Identity. In their words:

For the past 12 years they shared their stories with us, included us in their meetings, conferences, commemorations and celebrations. They invited us into their homes and introduced us to their families. One would think after 12 years they would have pressured us to finish. They never did. Perhaps more than most they understand that some things take longer than you expect. Without their wisdom, generosity and candor, this book would not have been written. Norms of confidentiality and anonymity prevent us from naming them. But they know who they are. Thank you.

Note that sentence: “Perhaps more than most they understand that some things take longer than you expect.” At this moment, when true justice and accountability seem tantalizingly close, a few excerpts from the work by Dr. Ewick and Dr. Steinberg may serve to help us see how far we have come since 2002. The following passages are excerpts from introductions to two sections of the book and an epilogue.

Everyone felt betrayed, incredulous that the very people who they thought would protect children were willing to sacrifice them in order to preserve the reputation of the Church. In these early meetings, people saw the Church as they never had before: as secretive, impervious, remote, and uncaring. They were shocked by this terrible knowledge and stung by betrayal, but there was also great expectation and hope.


The Catholics who met in those months after the scandal broke caught a revealing reflection of themselves as lay Catholics. Sitting in St. John’s parish hall and later in other church basements and libraries and town halls across the country, sharing stories of abuse and betrayed trust, these Catholics confronted the isolation, silence, and powerlessness of the laity within the Church. Yet almost none of the members of what would become the St. Erasmus chapter of VOTF seriously considered leaving the Church. At the same time, none of them imagined that she would commit herself to a lifetime of activism either.

As they sought a responsive path to the crisis VOTFers, steeped in their faith, relied on some core principles of Catholic social thought. Some of these strands are centuries old, while others are particularly accentuated by the doctrine of Vatican II and inflected by the history of the Church in the US.


In attempting to change the Church, the aim of VOTF parallels that of many change-seekers whose efforts are overwhelmed by the economic resources, political power, and scale of the institutions they seek to change. In a world where the objects of change-seekers are elusive and mobile, and where the exercise of power is remote in time and place, it is all the more necessary to reimagine the possibilities and limitations of challenge. In the case of the Church crisis and the VOTF response, expectations of obedience, deference to hierarchy, presumptions of ecclesiastic immunity, and distrust of secular law collided with liberal and reformist commitments to the individual conscience, liberty, and democracy. Caught between their loyalty to the Church and their sense of being empowered citizens, VOTF members reimagined their Church and their role in it. In the process, they reimagined themselves as Catholics.


Here we are more interested in people who belong to an institution but do not have sanctioned authority within it. The Church was central to the lives of St. Erasmus VOTFers, but, as they discovered, their voices were not central to the workings of the archdiocese.


Others recognize that their initial project of changing the Church has not been replaced by—as much as realized in—their efforts at dialogue and education. Rather than simply changing the Church to accommodate a more active and empowered laity, they have become a more active and empowered laity.


Their first ally was Father Francis. Despite his initial wariness—expressed in his caution that the group was “on trial”—Father Francis became convinced of their loyalty and conviction. The group frequently mentioned how the pastor was quick to stand up for them when a local bishop suggested that he declare the chapter personae non gratae and advised the pastor to prohibit them from meeting on church property. Father Francis reportedly replied, “Those people from Voice of the Faithful are filling my pews. They’re my lectors. They’re serving Communion. They’re taking care of my church. I’m not getting rid of them.”


At the 2007 annual meeting of the national VOTF in Providence, Rhode Island, a button circulated among the attendees. It was a small round metal button reminiscent of political campaigns. The button depicted a drawing of a wide-eyed sheep bisected by a red line, the emphatic “not” of popular culture. The image is semiotically ambiguous. It makes fleeting reference to the Biblical metaphor of the flock, cared for by a loving shepherd. But it also alludes to a flock of sheep that are manipulated, en masse. It is the expression on the animal’s face that privileges the second reference. In its wide-open eyes there is a knowing look of shock and disbelief; this is clearly not a sheepish sheep.

As the St. Erasmus VOTFers reflected on the national conference at the meeting on the following Monday, they brought up the button and the words of a speaker who gave voice to its sentiments. “For the past two thousand years,” she said, “we have been trained to be like sheep. Baaa, baaa.” There was general agreement striated with amusement and defiance. The button served as a symbol of their consciousness, agency and willingness to act. In the middle of this discussion, Shirley casually mentioned that she watched a lot of cowboy movies. Puzzled by the apparent non sequitur, Phil asked, “Where is this going, Shirley?” With a bemused smile, she replied, “Sheep can stampede.”

Sheep can stampede.

Look for Us!

Summer is speedily coming to a close, which means that Voice of the Faithful’s 2018 Conference: Progress & Promise is swiftly approaching. The conference takes place in Providence, Rhode Island, on Saturday, Oct. 6, so register now while our early rate is still in effect. You can get more information, register at the early-bird rate, and make hotel reservations by clicking here.

Also, look for our ad (shown here) during the month of September. The ad will appear online on the websites of National Catholic Reporter ( and America magazine ( and will be included in Commonweal magazine’s email newsletter a couple of times during the month. When viewers of those websites or recipients of the email newsletter see the ad, they can click on it to bring them to our Conference webpage.

See you all in October!

Remembering a Warrior

Nuns and battle imagery seldom mix. But sometimes the best word to describe a person’s life is “warrior,” even if the warrior herself used prayer, determination, and the truth as her “weapons.” When Sister Maureen Turlish, SND, died last month, the words steadfast, loyal, determined, advocate, and active were all used by those who knew her. Here is one such remembrance that her friend Kathy Weyer, a VOTF member from Cincinnati, wrote:

It is with great sadness that I share that Sr. Maureen passed away this day. She had been quite ill for the past two months … Please keep in your thoughts and prayer her family, her Notre Dame community and all of the friends/survivors/advocates who will dearly miss her.

[Sr. Maureen] was a determined and steadfast supporter of victims of childhood sexual abuse and a frequent outspoken critic of the Church’s inadequate response to the problems of abuse by clerics and religious. She was an active voice for changing our laws to better serve the victims and worked with several groups over the past 15 years to advance SOL (statute of limitation) reforms. She was longstanding member and supporter of SNAP (The Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests), VOTF (Voice of the Faithful), NSAC (National Survivor Advocates Coalition), the Catholic Whistleblowers Steering Committee, DE Association of Children of Alcoholics, and DE Child Victims Voice. She wrote numerous newspaper editorials addressing the issue of child abuse and advocated for transparency, accountability and legislative change. She often stood in solidarity with victims and advocates at public vigils and gatherings.

Highlighting issues we face working together to Keep the Faith, Change the Church


Catholic priests abused 1,000 children in Pennsylvania, report says
“Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it, according to a searing report issued by a grand jury on Tuesday (Aug. 14). The report, which covered six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses and found more than 1,000 identifiable victims, is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the United States of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The report said there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or who were too afraid to come forward.” By Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times

U.S. bishops urge Vatican, lay investigation into ex-cardinal abuses, By Scott Malone, Reuters

Cardinal Wuerl proposes national panel to investigate allegations against bishops
“Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl has proposed that the national conference of U.S. Catholic bishops create a new high-level panel to receive and evaluate any allegations or rumors of sexual misconduct by one of its member bishops. In an NCR interview focused on how the American church should address the wider systemic questions raised by the revelations of sexual abuse by his predecessor, now former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl also suggested that the Vatican could designate one of its offices to act on the proposed panel’s findings.” By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter

President of U.S. Bishops’ Conference announces effort that will involve laity, experts, and the Vatican as U.S. bishops resolve to address ‘moral catastrophe,’USCCB News Release

An ‘independent commission’ to investigate the bishops? Here are the problems,”By Phil Lawler,

Albany bishop says lay people should investigate misconduct by U.S. bishops
“Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany said today (Aug. 6) that laypeople, not bishops, should lead inquiries into allegations of misconduct by U.S. bishops. Bishop Scharfenberger was responding to an idea advanced by Cardinal Donald Wuerl in an interview published on Aug. 6 by The National Catholic Reporter. He suggested that the U.S. bishops might create a commission of bishops to investigate rumors of sexual misconduct by other bishops, passing concerns on to a Vatican office.” By Michael J. O’Loughlin, America: The Jesuit Review

Bishop Scharfenberger: laity are ‘essential,’ must lead any investigation, By Bishop Edward B. Scharfengerger, Diocese of Albany

Albany bishop: lay commission should investigate claims against bishops, By Catholic News Agency on

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigns amid sexual abuse scandal
“Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, from the College of Cardinals, ordering him to a ‘life of prayer and penance’ after allegations that the cardinal sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades, the Vatican announced on Saturday (Jul. 28). Acting swiftly to contain a widening sex abuse scandal at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope officially suspended the cardinal from the exercise of any public ministry after receiving his resignation letter Friday evening (Jul. 27). Pope Francis also demanded in a statement that the prelate remain in seclusion ‘until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.’” By Elisabetta Povoledo and Sharon Otterman, The New York Times

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

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