In the Vineyard: November 8, 2019

In the Vineyard :: November 8, 2019 :: Volume 19, Issue 20

News from National

2019 Conference: Working Together for Reforms

Considering the present state of the Catholic Church, in a decades-long upheaval called the biggest “since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century,” it is no surprise that more than 150 Voice of the Faithful members gathered in the Boston area on October 19 for Voice of the Faithful’s 2019 Conference: Creating a Just Church. They were there to listen, learn, discuss, and act.

Attendees heard featured speakers and updates from VOTF project leaders:

  • Honorable Anne Burke, chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, told how she has come to believe that effective responses to child sex abuse cannot rely upon bishops in the hierarchy for needed steps.
  • Char Rivette, executive director of the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, spoke about an advocacy-center process that helps ensure justice and support services for the abused.
  • Fr. Richard Lennan, a theologian from Boston College and co-author of “To Serve the People of God: Renewing the Conversation on Priesthood and Ministry,” presented steps needed to propel seminaries out of their Middle Ages citadel approach to training ministers.
  • Grass roots advocates for change in the church from faith communities in three U.S. geographical areas described their work to-date and plans for the future.
  • VOTF’s Finance Working Group chair reported on some results from VOTF’s 2019 U.S. diocesan online financial transparency study.
  • VOTF’s Protection of Children Working Group chair described a new VOTF child protection initiative.

Justice Burke was a special return guest speaker; she had spoken at VOTF’s 10th Anniversary Conference in 2012. For more than two years, Justice Burke served as the interim chair of the USCCB’s National Review Board, directing its efforts to investigate the causes and effects of the clerical sexual abuse scandal and helping to establish guidelines and policies for effectively responding to the scandal. After more than a decade of experience, she says, she no longer trusts that bishops will place the safety and well-being of lay people and our children above their own self-interest. (Also see the next story in this issue.)

Justice Burke was joined by Char Rivette, who spoke about how the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center could be a model for battling clergy child abuse in any U.S. diocese. ChicagoCAC is Chicago’s front-line responder to reports of child sexual abuse, physical and other serious abuse, and the only not-for-profit coordinating the efforts of child protection staff, law enforcement professionals, family advocates, medical experts, and mental health clinicians under one roof. More than 40 other states have such centers set up as well.

Fr. Lennan, who directs Boston College’s sacred theology licenture program, discussed issues related to the paper he co-authored with Boston College theology professors Thomas Groome and Richard Gaillardetz. The paper resulted from a two-year-long study at Boston College. Contributors to the study included both lay and ordained women and men, theologians, and ministers working in pastoral and academic settings. It calls for reexamining the formation process for diocesan priests and eradicating the priesthood’s embedded clerical culture.

Local grass roots advocates for a just Church, who participated in a panel discussion, included Thomas Beecher from the Buffalo, New York, area; Kathleen Coogan (below, second from left) from the Washington D.C. area; and Jan Seidel (below right) and Susan Vogt (second right) from the Cincinnatti, Ohio, area. Each panel member described actions they are taking at the grass-roots level to help create a just Church in light of scandals particular to their communities.

Conference attendees had the chance to ask the panel members about the broad variety of activities in which they are engaged and which have energized both their local faith communities and faith communities they have contacted in other parts of the country. Discussions of issues arising from the panel presentations continued during lunch (see Voices column in this issue).

Use the links below to see videos of each of the speaker presentations at VOTF’s 2019 Conference, as well as remarks by Mary Pat Fox, VOTF’s president, Q&As from speaker presentations and the panel discussion, an opening prayer by Jayne O’Donnell, former VOTF trustee and Broken Vessel™ Healing Circles co-facilitator, and the reports from Margaret Roylance and Pat Gomez on, respectively, diocesan financial transparency and diocesan child-protection monitoring.

NOTES: National Catholic Reporter carried stories on both Justice Burke’s speech and the VOTF 2019 assessment of Diocesan Financial Transparency.

VOTF 2019 Conference:
Creating a Just Church video presentations

VOTF 2019 Conference Welcome & Opening Prayer …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Anne Burke …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Char Rivette …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Burke & Rivette Q&A …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Fr. Richard Lennan …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Fr. Richard Lennan Q&A …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Grass Roots Panel Discussion …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Financial Transparency Report …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference New Child Protection Initiative …(link is external)

Burke Urges Alternate Strategy for Sex Abuse Response

Anne Burke, Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, delivered what can only be described as a scathing condemnation of the American Catholic hierarchy and their response to the Catholic sex abuse crisis to at the 2019 Voice of the Faithful conference on October 19. Burke was unswerving in her critique and unequivocal in her conclusion: “I no longer have faith in the hierarchy or trust in their ability to place the safety and well-being of the laity and our children over its own self-centered needs,” she declared.

Her palpable anger at the bishops was borne of firsthand experience with their intransigency: Justice Burke served on the National Review Board, a lay board established by the U.S. Catholic Council of Bishops in 2002 to evaluate and respond to the growing revelations of sex abuse in the Catholic Church. At one point, she served as interim director of the board, and she described the period following her appointment as one of hope; hope that real, tangible, desperately-needed change might be had within the American Catholic hierarchy.

Burke’s experience on the board quickly disabused her of such notions. She relayed a litany of instances where the bishops had frustrated or opposed outright the work of the NRB. Information was withheld: Burke discovered a protocol for hiding “secret files which we had been told did not exist.” Recommendations were completely disregarded, and the authority of the lay body was curtailed. She even recounted a letter from a prominent bishop criticizing the “tone” of a letter that she had written to the Council of Bishops. The bishops, said Burke, were unwilling to confront the problem in their own ranks and take the necessary steps to prevent further abuses from occurring. Her experience working on the board made it “clear” that “the Church hierarchy is not capable of policing itself from within.”

Burke’s disillusionment has only grown since she left the NRB in 2005. She cited the recent revelations about Archbishop McCarrick—and the awareness of his abuses within the hierarchy before the information was made public—as evidence that the bishops continue to close ranks to protect each other and the reputation of the Church. She called the new “Metropolitan Plan,” devised by the USCCB to address sexual misconduct by the clergy, a “continuation of the cover-up” and described the pace of progress as “glacial.”

Burke’s audience, however, was not the bishops who she so frequently criticized. As her closing remarks made clear, she believed that working with the hierarchy was essentially futile, and she endeavored to persuade the laity that the only meaningful route to addressing the sex abuse crisis lay outside the Church entirely, in the hands of the civil authorities and the press. Future allegations of misconduct should be brought to the police, and ongoing investigations should be carried out by those who have no obligations to the bishops. “How could we ever trust that the bishops will not continue to engage in secrecy and cover ups,” she asked. In Burke’s eyes, there is too much at stake for the future of the Church to be entrusted to its hierarchy.

Link to Justice Burke’s remarks

Nominations Open for Board of Trustees

Voice of the Faithful is seeking members who are passionate about our mission and goals and are willing to serve on the VOTF Board of Trustees. Please send a brief paragraph to the Board of Trustees in care of Donna Doucette, Executive Director at, outlining your VOTF experience and describing which ongoing or new VOTF initiative(s) you would choose to support as a member of the Board.

Thank you for your interest and support.

Board of Trustees:
Mary Pat Fox, Pat Gomez, Larry Mulligan, Michael Ryan, Margaret Roylance, Anne Southwood

Continuing the Conversation

Attendees at the 2019 Conference continued the discussion initiated by the Grassroots Panel presentations during lunch. We asked facilitators at each table to prepare a summary of the comments. Here are a few of the comments gathered. We will post more in later In the Vineyard issues.


Every parish must have a Finance Council–that’s Canon Law. Try to join it. Ask for year-end published financial statements if they don’t report them.

[Seek] equality between laity and clergy.

Should be a general understanding that priests are to serve.

Shepherds should “smell like sheep” — need a college education and also work for a while to gain life experience.

Define a “just Church.”

Parish Council should be elected by the parishioners. The meetings should be regularly scheduled, with pre-posted ahendas, and open to all parishioners. Parishioners should be given a time period to talk. The minutes of the Council meetings should be published. The same process should apply to the Parish Finance Council.

Catholics have to mature and know their own history.


Speak up. Do not remain silent!

Lead RCIA–change one heart at a time. Talk about love of God and Church art work/music. Seek compliance and support of the parish.

“I am in transition. [There is] nothing for spiritual nourishment.”

A collaborative ministry is not supported in current day.

What you can do in a parish depends on the pastor.

The Church is in transition, with collaborative fixing rather than through fighting. Change is in motion right now.

A parish council is only advisory. The priest is in charge canonically.

Lay people have the right of consent under Canon Law on the finance council. Is the diocese in conformity with canon law under governance? Work on a charter for the finance council. Transparency and accountability are key.


Foster networks.

Ask Pastor and Parish Council to discuss, to listen, to act on this issue of a just Church.

Stay involved with VOTF, CORPUS, CTA, FutureChurch.

“We are working to empower our church laity. hold the Catholic Church accountable, and bring about change.”

Get involved in parish work and social action.

“I have NO faith community … I run solo, nearly all online. I have mailed both the last two popes … I wrote every single English bishop I could find, twice! I have emailed over 3,000 people and organizations. I petitioned the USCCB conference, my bishop’s women’s conference, and the Pittsburgh theological convention (I got kicked out) …”

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


USCCB president disinvites Bishop Bransfield from fall assembly
“Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in consultation with the members of the USCCB Administrative Committee, has taken the highly unusual step of disinviting a fellow bishop from the conference’s fall general assembly. The decision affects Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, retired bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, who left his position in September 2018 under a cloud of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.” By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service

Catholic bishops back ordination of married men as priests in Amazon region, a milestone
“ A summit of Roman Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican recommended on Saturday (Oct. 26) that Pope Francis allow the ordination of married men as priests in the Amazon region, which would lift a roughly 1,000-year-old restriction and potentially revolutionize the priesthood. It is the first time a grouping of bishops convened by a pope has endorsed such a historic change to the tradition of a celibate priesthood. The proposal is limited to remote areas of South America where there is a scarcity of priests but could set a precedent for easing the restriction on married priests throughout the world.” By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times

Synod calls for more church roles for women but stops short of diaconate
“Members of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon asked that women be given leadership roles in the Catholic Church, although they stopped short of calling for women deacons. In the Amazon, like in the rest of the world, the essential roles women play within the family, the community and the church should be valued and recognized officially, members of the synod said in their final document.” By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, in The Pilot

Illinois chief justice distrusts church hierarchy to police itself on abuse
Don’t count on the bishops to clean up sex abuse in the church, Anne Burke told the annual gathering of Voice of the Faithful here Oct. 19. Burke, chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and a justice of the court’s First Judicial District, formerly served as interim chair of the National Review Board for the U.S. bishops’ conference; she last addressed Voice of the Faithful in 2012. At that time, she saw reason for optimism that the bishops were willing to address the sex abuse crisis.” By Peter Feuerherd, National Catholic Reporter

Voice of the Faithful surveys U.S. dioceses’ financial transparency
“Catholics in the icy north of Anchorage, Alaska, know the warmth of financial transparency in their local church, while Catholics in tropical St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, are getting the cold shoulder. Those two dioceses represent the polar opposites of this year’s financial transparency survey of American dioceses compiled by Voice of the Faithful. The Anchorage Archdiocese rated a perfect 100 score, while the St. Thomas Diocese rated the lowest, at 14 points. A total of 177 dioceses were rated. This is the third year of studies on financial transparency compiled by Voice of the Faithful …” By Peter Feuerherd, National Catholic Reporter

A New York diocese filed for bankruptcy, Will others follow?
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester was the first in New York to seek bankruptcy protection under the weight of new sexual misconduct lawsuits, but lawyers and church leaders say it may not be the last. All eight of the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses face financial pressures as a result of the state’s new Child Victims Act, which temporarily set aside the usual statute of limitations for lawsuits to give victims of childhood sexual abuse a year to pursue even decades-old claims. More than 400 cases have been brought against the dioceses since Aug. 14, when the law’s one-year “look back” period for such suits began.” By Carolyn Thompson, The Associated Press, in National Catholic Reporter

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

November Prayer Intention from Pope Francis

In his prayer intention for the month of November 2019, Pope Francis invites us to pray that “a spirit of dialogue, encounter, and reconciliation emerge in the Middle East.”

You can watch it here.

In the Middle East, concord and dialogue among the three monotheistic religions is based on spiritual and historic bonds. The Good News of Jesus, risen out of love, came to us from these lands. Today, many Christian communities, together with Jewish and Muslim communities, work here for peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Let us pray that a spirit of dialogue, encounter, and reconciliation emerge in the Middle East.

Book Corner

Papal Biographer Publishes Book on Francis

Looking for a book to read or to give for the holidays? Pick up Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church. The book was written by Austen Ivereigh, papal biographer and a Fellow in Contemporary Church History at Campion Hall, at the University of Oxford. In a recent talk at Fordham University, Ivereigh said the title “reflects the pope’s agenda, to move the church from a reliance on abstract principles and dogmas to a lived experience of conversion.”

Borrowing an image from Don Quixote, Ivereigh said, “The resistance to Francis is a sign of the progress the pope is making, because as he moves along, much like the fictional knight on horseback, the dogs are barking.” Read more here.

To order the book, please start at VOTF’s Amazon link and a portion of the purchase price will support VOTF.


What About Women Deacons?

Phyllis Zagano, Senior Research Associate-in-Residence, Department of Religion at Hofstra University, will be speaking Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at 5:15 p.m. on her favorite topic: women deacons. The foremost authority on this issue, Dr. Zagano will be delivering her lecture as part of the St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture Series at Albertus Magnus College, in the Atrium of the Tagliatela Academic Center, 700 Prospect, New Haven CT.


Immigration, Crisis, and the Good Samaritan

Dr. Westy Egmont, Co-Chair, Governor’s Advisory Council on Immigrants and Refugees, will be speaking at an evening sponsored by St. Susanna’s Adult Faith Formation group Monday, Nov. 18, 7 to 9 pm, in the parish hall, 262 Needham Street, Dedham. There will be a refreshments break. There are no fees, there is no charge for refreshments, and there is no pre-registration requirement. Free Will offerings are gratefully accepted to cover costs. Dr. Egmont has focused on the human needs and social services of newcomer communities, immigrant rights, and the complex dynamic two-way process of immigrant integration.

The description from St. Susanna’s begins with this note: In response to a legal scholar’s question “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan and at the end He asks the legal scholar, “Which of the three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The scholar replied, “The one who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” The priest and the Levite who both walked by the injured man may very well have felt compassion for him but it was the Samaritan, code word for “outsider.” who allowed his compassion to be actualized into mercy. A movement from emotion to action is what Jesus was calling for when He said, “Go and do likewise.”


Please send them to Siobhan Carroll, Vineyard Editor, at Unless otherwise indicated, I will assume comments can be published as Letters to the Editor.

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