Voice of the Faithful Members Profiled: Survey Shows Reform Group's High Level of Commitment to Church

Article excerpt

A recent survey of members of Voice of the Faithful suggests that participants in the grass-roots reform group have a high level of commitment to the Catholic church.

"Our members come from the heart of the Catholic church in America," said James E. Post, the group's outgoing president. "The study convincingly shows that we are who we claim to be--Catholic women and men who share a deep commitment to their church."

The 2004 national membership survey of Voice of the Faithful, an organization that sprung up in the Boston archdiocese at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal in 2002, measured a variety of variables including Mass attendance, formal Catholic education, behavioral attitudes to church policy, participation in church life and religious practices.

Lead researchers William V. D'Antonio and Sulpician Fr. Anthony Pogorelc presented their findings at an Oct. 23 forum on the Boston College campus. More than 400 people attended the afternoon symposium sponsored by Boston College as part of its Church in the 21st Century Center (see accompanying story).

As new leadership emerges from recent Voice of the Faithful elections, held in February, the survey results may provide valuable information for future growth, as well as fuel for organizational momentum.

Voice of the Faithful claims 30,000 members as defined by affirming support of the organization's main goals stated on its Web site: supporting survivors of clergy sex abuse and priests of integrity, while shaping structural changes in the church in "full accord and harmony with church teachings."

The study originated from a 2003 Louisville Institute grant awarded to D'Anotonio and Pogorelc of the Life Cycle Institute of The Catholic University of America. In undertaking a two-year study of Voice of the Faithful, the aim was not only to document the emergence of the group as a social movement, but also to learn what, if any, were the shared socioreligious characteristics among members. The study also aimed to discover a common vision for the group.

To that end D'Antonio and Pogorelc employed an Internet questionnaire containing 85 items, including 10 open-ended items. Using random sampling methodology, a sample size of 4,542 generated 1,273 completed surveys--a 28 percent response rate. Key findings include:

* Most Voice of the Faithful members are in Massachusetts (22 percent) and the East (35 percent), with 12 percent residing in the South, 15 percent in the Midwest, and 10 percent in the West.

* Ninety-three percent identify as "cradle" Catholics, born and raised in the church.

* Two out of three attend Mass at least once a week, compared to 34 percent nationwide.

* Sixty-two percent consider the church to be the most important part of their lives, or among the most important parts, compared to 44 percent of Catholics nationwide.

* Eight of 10 respondents said they pray at least once daily.

* Participation in church life is high, with half of respondents saying they serve on parish councils, while 45 percent are on liturgy committees, more than 40 percent serve as lectors and eucharistic ministers, and more than 50 percent teach religious education.

* A third of Voice of the Faithful members are fully retired; and more than half of the membership earns in excess of $100,000 annually.

* Sixty-four percent of members claim some Irish heritage and ethnicity, with others claiming English (22 percent), Italian (13 percent), French (11 percent), and Eastern European (nine percent) heritage. Less than 1 percent are Latino and African-American.

* Survey results also found a generational contrast between the U.S. Catholic church at large and Voice of the Faithful members. For example, 41 percent of respondents are pre-Vatican II Catholics (65 years of age or older), compared with 17 percent in a 2005 national survey of American Catholics. …