Voice of the Faithful FAQs
Q. Who is Voice of the Faithful?
A. Voice of the Faithful is a lay organization formed in January 2002 in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. The organization began as a “listening session” of 30 parishioners in the basement at St. John the Evangelist church in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Just a few months later, Voice of the Faithful had more than 25,000 registered supporters across the U.S. and around the world. The organization’s exponential growth was fueled by the need for dialogue and change felt among mainstream Catholics and by internet-based communications that propelled conversations beyond the “parish-centric” culture of Catholic life at the time.
VOTF remains committed to working within the Church, with active lay involvement in the governance of temporal affairs — including finances, personnel and administration. We do not seek to change Church dogma. We seek to build up the Church, not tear it down.
VOTF also is committed to providing a safe forum where all Catholics, whatever their views on specific issues, can participate in a conversation about the challenges of our church. Some call this a “centrist view.” We call it that, too; we also call it “inclusive” in imitatio christi.
Q. What is Voice of the Faithful’s mission?
A. Our mission is “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.”
Q. What are Voice of the Faithful’s goals?
A. Our goals are to support victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse, to support priests of integrity, and to help shape structural change within the Catholic Church.
Q. What does Voice of the Faithful mean by supporting survivors?
A. Following the revelations of clergy sex abuse and coverups by the bishops charged with pastoral care of the faithful, especially our children, all Catholics experienced pain and feelings of betrayal. But none feel this pain more acutely than the survivors of clergy sexual abuse themselves. Voice of the Faithful supports survivors by listening, by raising awareness, and by providing opportunities for survivors to tell their stories and express their feelings publicly as a first step to truth, reconciliation and healing. In addition to listening sessions, self-education and public witness, we provide templates for healing masses and prayer services; we support changes in civil/criminal laws that will protect children; and we monitor programs within the Church that should protect children to ensure they are sustained. Key to our work is the use of the Broken Vessels™ prorgram, which utilizes a model of restorative justice known as healing circles to share pathways to reform and healing.
Q. What does Voice of the Faithful mean by supporting priests of integrity?
A. We believe the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests are faithful to their vocation and vows, living lives of genuine holiness and service. But faithful priests suffer personal pain and public humiliation from the heinous acts of their offending brother priests and their own superiors. Voice of the Faithful supports these priests, who in many cases are our pastors, our confidants, our teachers, and our friends. We support them both as individuals and through their own organizations. We pray that our vocal support for priests of integrity — who are frequently oppressed, silenced and intimidated — will help them sustain their work. As part of this work, we support collaborative projects with the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests.
Q. Why does Voice of the Faithful feel entitled to claim a place at the table for the laity in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church?
A. The wise and eloquent documents of Vatican II provide a clear mandate for the laity’s right — and, indeed, responsibility — to become active in the guidance of the Church as “the people of God.”
In addition, simple morality cries out for the laity to become involved, to right the grievous wrong that has afflicted our Church. The hierarchy that failed to protect our children cannot continue exercising unchecked control over the persons, property, money and fate of our church. VOTF believes that baptized Catholics must, as a matter of conscience, assert our right and responsibility to participate in the decision-making processes of the Catholic Church.
Q. What does Voice of the Faithful feel will be the effect of bringing laity into the governance structure of the Church?
A. Catholic men and women have intellectual, emotional, and spiritual contributions to make and knowledge to impart on myriad real-life issues. These include, but are not limited to, women’s rights, family life, finances, business, democratic processes, and the contextual roles of science and history in the healthy life of the Church. In addition, many theologians today are lay people.
A further reality: The vast majority of the Faithful are lay people. Ignoring or suppressing contributions from the majority of the people in the Church serves to impoverish the Church, not to sustain it.
Q. Does Voice of the Faithful have a hidden or open “agenda”?
A. Voice of the Faithful does not have a hidden “liberal” or “conservative” agenda for Church reform. This would be impossible, because our members hold diverse views on issues both within the Church and in the secular world.
We do, however, have an agenda for change. We believe that reform is essential to eradicate secrecy, deceit, arrogance, and the abuse of power, and to return to the collaborative and collegial culture fostered in the early Church.
Q. Is Voice of the Faithful schismatic or heretical?
A. No. Voice of the Faithful is firmly committed to bringing about meaningful reform from within the Catholic Church. We have no intention or desire to found a new church.
We are also in no way heretical. We stake our claim to participation in the governance and guidance of the Church on the clear teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
Q. Does Voice of the Faithful feel that dialogue with the U.S. bishops is worthwhile? Are you seeking such dialogue? Under what terms?
A. Conversation and meaningful dialogue are essential for all the faithful, whether lay, religious, or cleric, and that of course includes bishops. From the beginning, Voice of the Faithful has held conversations with bishops, sometimes privately and sometimes reported publicly. We continue to do so, just as we continue to invite bishops to participate in our projects.
Q. Does Voice of the Faithful think that trust can be restored between the Catholic laity and its leadership? If yes, how?
A. Once upon a time, trust was automatically extended to clergy and bishops. But the scandals of clergy sex abuse and its related coverups, not just in the United States but worldwide, have destroyed such unquestioning trust. The continued failure of some bishops to promptly report child sex abuse, even when required to do so by both Church and civil law, continues to erode the moral authority of all bishops. To that can be added revelations of financial malfeasance, much of it apparently related to secret payments to settle abuse cases, and a host of other breaches with the faithful.
Nevertheless, trust can always be restored. But it requires efforts by the bishops to demonstrate adherence to child protection standards, to transparency and accountability, and to support for the abused. We also feel that, in the interests of morality and justice, bishops must be held accountable for their past behavior. No bishop should be allowed to stay in office if it is shown that he engaged in the intentional misrepresentation of facts regarding sexual abuse.
Restoration of trust also requires vigilance by lay people. We have a responsibility to monitor programs that protect children, to ask for and review financial reports, to serve on the parish and diocesan councils where input from lay people can inform and enhance administrative practices, and to educate ourselves as adult Catholics within our faith.
Q. How does Voice of the Faithful intend to succeed?
A. Voice of the Faithful brings together informed Catholics to pursue efforts that promote our mission and goals and ensure the transparency and accountability of our diocesan and parish administrations. We speak out on issues on concern to our members (and to all Catholics). We ask questions about the structures that so clearly failed to protect the faithful.
Our national operation provides the resources (learning materials, training programs, communications, etc.) needed by members to implement such projects and to make our voices heard on key issues.
We also work with other reform groups on projects of mutual interest that support our mission and goals.