In the Vineyard :: January 31, 2022 :: Volume 22, Issue 2
Keep the Faith – Change the Church
By Mary Pat Fox, President, Voice of the Faithful
Voice of the Faithful has been working to do just that – Keep the Faith and Change the Church – for 20 years. Change takes a long time, and changing a 2,000-year-old organization takes a lot of perseverance! In Pacem in Terris, Pope St. John XXIII said: “To proceed gradually is the law of life in all its expressions; therefore, in human institutions, too, it is not possible to renovate for the better except by working from within them, gradually.” Working within the Church marks a unique VOTF characteristic among modern-day reform organizations.
VOTF began as a small group of concerned Catholics in the basement of St. John the Evangelist Church in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and quickly grew to comprise more members than could fit in the church basement. The founders must have known that the change needed to stop the abuse, and ensure it would never happen again, would take a long time because the structure of our mission statement and three goals are still on point, 20 years later, for what needs to be done.
We began with outrage focused on hearing survivors’ stories and on alerting and educating Catholics to the reality of the abuse crisis, even as it continues today. Child sex abuse came at the hands of priests, some of whom we knew and trusted. Abusers do not resemble monsters. They look like ordinary people, hiding in plain sight.
Over the years, we have developed numerous resources to convey this message, all of which can be seen on VOTF’s website, and we have run programs, written letters, and held conferences, among many other projects and initiatives, to keep the focus on Keeping the Faith and Changing the Church.
Fast forward 20 years past that meeting at St. John’s, and you will see that change – despite the Church’s preference for glacial movement – has multiplied during those two decades. VOTF is completing our fifth annual diocesan online financial transparency and accountability report and releasing, soon, our first online reviews on lay involvement in Church governance and on diocesan adherence to established child protection guidelines. We have helped to hold the Church accountable, and these three studies do that.
Presently, we are engaged in holding Synod sessions in response to Pope Francis’s call for us to journey together in a Synod on Synodality, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” All are invited to participate in VOTF’s Synod sessions. Watch our webpage, “Listening to the Faithful: Preparing for the Synod 2021-2023″ for information about upcoming sessions and links to register. The information gathered will be submitted to Rome, according to guidelines for Lay Apostolates of the Catholic Church, as VOTF is recognized.
You will hear more about these and our other activities in upcoming issues of In the Vineyard, as part of our series of stories marking 2022 as VOTF’s 20th year in service to the Church.
Thank you for your continued support.
VOTF Synod Sessions Begin
Voice of the Faithful has taken up Pope Francis’ call for input from all the People of God into the Synod on Synodality by hosting synod sessions through June 2022. Anyone may attend the sessions, for an opportunity to express how they see the Church becoming more synodal, pastoral, and evangelical. The organization also will help any groups seeking assistance with their own sessions.
The first sessions are full but please check VOTF’s website in February, when additional session dates for February and March will be available. VOTF will continue offering input sessions until June and will attempt to schedule them at times suited to other time zones and other countries.
Synodality is the way of being the Church today, in a dynamic of discerning and listening together to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Synod on Synodality has three phases. The first phase, called the diocesan phase, began October 2021 and concludes in August 2022. During this phase, input from all the faithful will be collected and sent to local bishops or directly to the Vatican. Lay organizations like VOTF will send their reports directly to the General Secretariat, for use in the reports provided to the general assembly of the Synod in Rome in October 2023.
More importantly, the process of working together will help Catholics learn new ways to become a synodal Church.
VOTF emphasizes that all voices will be heard for the Synod, even the voices of those who feel uncomfortable talking in a group about their experiences and hopes for the future of the Church. Anyone who would like additional information may email email@example.com(link sends e-mail).
My Experience at a VOTF Synod Session
By Michaela Carroll
Listening sessions as part of the Synod on Synodality have begun across the country, and VOTF is conducting sessions as well. I had the privilege of attending and serving as scribe to a Session 1 meeting this past week, and wanted to share my observations.
The first question we discussed was “Guided by the Holy Spirit, what for me is most meaningful about belonging to a local faith community? What are my dreams for the Church? What do I yearn for more of? What frustrates me? What do I wish would change?”
In our small group, many had similar feelings and experiences. A caring, responsive, and engaged community added value and meaning to belonging to a local faith community. For some, the local faith community that was most valuable was the local VOTF chapter or other alternative faith communities outside of traditional parishes. Sharing beliefs, actions, and hopes allows individuals to grow and be known in their faith communities.
Among the most fervent dreams for the Church at the local level were striving to live the values of a Christ-like life, to emphasize growth in personal relationships with Christ, and to harness the power of women and women’s groups for the good of the local Church. One participant in the session I attended shared a story of how her parish’s women’s group came to her aid after she was injured in a fall at the end of last year. The myriad talents and strengths of the individuals in a parish, particularly those of women parishioners, are being passed over by church hierarchy, to the detriment of the parish community.
Participants also discussed a desire for social justice actions to be a part of the local faith community, particularly in collaboration with other faith groups.
Another way in which participants yearn for more community is through parish councils. One participant discussed how the collaborative to which she belonged had not had a parish council for several years, and how the lack of a parish council led to a mismatch between the parish’s programming and the needs of the parish community.
The biggest frustrations were with the inability of lay faithful to be involved in controlling boards (i.e., diocesean finance councils), the cloistered environment in which priests are formed, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the lack of commitment to social justice. We discussed how priests are formed in cloistered environments that focus solely on spiritual development, while their ultimate role is deeply embedded in the community. At the local level, seminaries should be more involved with their local parishes and communities.
Participants mentioned that while VOTF is doing wonderful work bringing the church forward in accountability and transparency, local churches need to renew their commitment to these ideals. Finally, while local parishes have many opportunities to be involved in local events, we are frustrated with their lack of action in the face of local and systemic injustices when these are all opportunities to live like Christ.
The second question for this session was, “For me, what is most meaningful about being part of the universal Church? What are my dreams for the Church? What do I yearn for more of? What frustrates me? What do I wish would change?”
These responses were similar to the discussions concerning local parishes, with a few notable exceptions. We found that being part of a larger universal church offered a sense of belonging and community, no matter where we go. We dreamed of a universal church with voluntary celibacy, more women’s involvement and leadership, and women’s ordination, and more respect for what Pope Francis says and does.
We are frustrated with the lack of women in leadership roles and wish for a critical mass of women in the College of Cardinals to act as a check on power and allow women to command more respect. We find it frustrating that diocesan finance councils have not always followed Canon law and that they are always white, aristocratic wealthy men. Women have been ignored and disregarded when they tried to contribute. Diocesan finance councils are the only boards with any actual power, but they are always made up of the same types of people, and always have so much deference to the Bishop that they are advisory in name only. We wish that the governance issues would be addressed and allow for lay people to have some control to make things happen.
We are frustrated with the intense clericism innate to the way priests are trained and evident in their actions, and we wish for seminaries to be integrated into communities. Finally, we are frustrated with the lack of movement on vital issues facing our communities: the sexual abuse crisis and the social justice issues affecting our most vulnerable, for example. We feel there must be collaborative efforts to effect change. Pope Francis has spoken at length of the need for action, and while some individual parishes act on his preaching, the majority does nothing.
This session was truly wonderful and I am grateful I had the chance to be involved. VOTF is continuing to hold sessions for the Synod through June 2022, and I recommend everyone take advantage of this opportunity to listen to and with your VOTF community.
To sign up and learn more, please see here.
Anyone who would like additional information may email firstname.lastname@example.org (link sends e-mail)
Voice of the Faithful maintains a continually updated webpage, “Listening to the Faithful: Preparing for the Synod 2021-2023,” that offers information and resources for the Synod on Synodality.
*From the Preparatory Document for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops – For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission
Cardinal Marx Maintains Office After Munich Abuse Report
As has previously been reported, Cardinal Reinhard Marx submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis last year, an offer which Francis declined. Law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl released a report earlier this month about the misconduct in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising between 1945 and 2019.
According to the report, nearly 500 people were abused. The report detailed 247 male victims and 182 female victims, sixty percent of whom were between 8 and 14. The report identified 235 perpetrators, including 173 priests. The objective of the report was to examine the management of several archbishops and address their responsibility for these abuses. Cardinals Michael von Faulhaber, Joseph Wendel, Julius Doepfner, Joseph Ratzinger, Friedrich Wetter, and Reinhard Marx were assessed. In four cases, then-Cardinal Ratziner, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, was believed to have had responsibility, although the authors acknowledge that he answered their questions and claimed no knowledge of the situation.
Benedict XVI, speaking through his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, expressed “shock and shame at the abuse of minors committed by clerics, and expresses his personal closeness and prayer for all the victims, some of whom he has met on the occasion of his apostalic journeys.”
Cardinal Marx was faulted for his handling of two cases in the report and has renewed his apologies to the victims and survivors of sexual abuse, to the faithful, and to the parishes where the abusers were sent. He has not renewed his resignation offer however, explaining that “In the current situation, that struck me as disappearing.” He has, however, expressed that if he is “more a hindrance than a help” he will reconsider and discuss his position with Munich church officials and potentially the Vatican. Another prelate criticized for his handling of abuse in the report has decided to take a leave of absence.
To read more about VOTF’s position on child protection, please see here.
For survivor support resources, please see here.
Report on sexual abuse in German diocese faults retired pope
“A long-awaited report on sexual abuse in Germany’s Munich diocese on Thursday (Jan. 20) faulted retired Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of four cases when he was archbishop in the 1970s and 1980s. The law firm that drew up the report said Benedict strongly denies any wrongdoing. The findings, though, were sure to reignite criticism of Benedict’s record more than a decade after the first, and until Thursday only, known case involving him was made public.” By Geir Moulson, Associated Press, on ABC-TV News
- Benedict faulted for handling of abuse cases when he was archbishop, By Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times
- Vatican to study German abuse report that faults Pope Benedict, By Catholic News Service in America: The Jesuit Review, with Inside the Vatican Special Edition
- Opinion: Pope Benedict’s defense is outrageous and tragic, By Deutsche Welle
- Report on abuse in Munich diocese: 497 victims in 74 years, By Salvatore Cernuzio, Vatican News
- Germany to investigate 42 sex abuse cases reported in the Catholic Church, By Brussels Times
- Former pope was at meeting where pedophile priest discussed, By Associated Press
In first court testimony on abuse ever given by a German bishop, Hamburg archbishop admits to mistakes
“In the first testimony ever given by a German Catholic bishop in a court case on abuse, Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hesse admitted having made mistakes in the case of an offending priest on trial in the Cologne regional court. The German Catholic news agency KNA reported that Archbishop Hesse, 55, the former head of personnel in the Archdiocese of Cologne, was called as a witness in the case against the priest, who has only been named as U. He said the mistakes included that the allegations against the priest that became known in 2010 should have been reported to the Vatican.” By Catholic News Service in America: The Jesuit Review
Vatican includes group backing women’s ordination on website
“The Vatican has included a group that advocates for women’s ordination on a website promoting a two-year consultation of rank-and-file Catholics, indicating that Pope Francis wants to hear from all Catholics during the process. The inclusion of the Women’s Ordination Conference on the website promoting the Vatican’s 2023 ‘synod,’ or meeting of bishops, is significant since the Vatican has long held the group at arm’s length. Catholic doctrine forbids the ordination of women as priests. In the run-up to the synod, the Vatican has asked dioceses, religious orders and other Catholic groups to embark on listening sessions so ordinary Catholics can talk about their needs and hopes for the church.” By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, in National Catholic Reporter
For first time, Pope Francis installs women in two church ministries
“Pope Francis installed women as well as men from all over the world as catechists and lectors on Sunday (Jan. 23), marking a break with what had been church law reserving those ministries to men, even if women have performed those functions in many parts of the Catholic world for decades without the formal designation. Francis conferred the ministries during a celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica of the Sunday of the Word of God, which he instituted in 2019, to encourage among all Catholics an interest in knowing the sacred Scriptures and their central role in the life of the church and the Christian faith.” By Inés San Martin, Cruxnow.com
- With first women lectors and catechists, Francis continues ‘creative work’ of Vatican II, By Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter
20 years after clergy sex-abuse scandal erupted: Reparation and rectification continures
“As we mark the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the toxic avalanche of revelations about decades of clergy sexual abuse of minors in Boston and beyond, two headlines are clear. The first is the unfathomable scope of what had happened and remained hidden prior to that apocalypse: tens of thousands of victims, thousands of clerical molesters, hundreds of bishops and senior chancery officials who had covered up the abuse and transferred the abusers, and the entrenched culture of corruption that enabled all of it.” Commentary by Father Roger Landry in National Catholic Register
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