Magazine article The Christian Century

Catholic Reform Group Lacks Conservatives

Magazine article The Christian Century

Catholic Reform Group Lacks Conservatives

Article excerpt

The first national assembly of the growing lay Catholic group Voice of the Faithful fell short of projecting the centrist image it hoped would give the movement some clout in democratizing a U.S. hierarchy that the group's members see as having failed them in the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Determined to convert their anger into action, more than 4,000 Catholic laypersons came together in Boston on a mid-July weekend to listen, pray and take steps of their own. Heady words abounded. "We know that in the church, power is ordained by the pope," said Mark Serrano, an abuse victim and activist with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "But in America, power is ordained by the people. Today, that power is being ordained."

Laypeople from as far away as German), and California sought answers from one another in standing-room-only workshops and plenary session speeches that drew both tears and applause. Attendees gained new tools for keeping church leaders accountable: a checklist for rating bishops, for instance, and information on a new fund to support church charities while circumventing church coffers.

Despite warnings after the gathering from the Archdiocese of Boston not to accept money from the lay reform group, the church's primary social service arm said July 24 it will consider gifts intended to circumvent church coffers. Catholic Charities thus found itself caught in a power struggle between the church hierarchy and Voice of the Faithful, but a Charities spokesperson said the archdiocese has not clearly stated such a request, and the charity will not in the meantime blacklist any potential donors.

Though the turnout was sizable, the meeting fell short of its goal of displaying an indisputable unity for reform among the church's conservatives and liberals. With no notable voices from the right on any panels or major workshops, Voice of the Faithful struggled in its quest to present itself as a broad-based coalition. "No real change ever occurred without liberals and conservatives getting together," said Paul Baier, conference chairman.

The lay gathering in Boston marked the culmination of six wrenching months for aggrieved Catholics since news of a priest-abuse and cover-up scandal broke in January. …

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