It was a year ago this month that Voice of the Faithful was born
in suburban Boston, as Catholics gathered to share their hurt and
outrage over mounting revelations of clergy sexual abuse. Voice has
since gained national and international prominence as a lay
organization seeking to reshape a church culture it feels is at the
root of the crisis.
In the process, it has stirred sharp controversy - among the
hierarchy and other Catholics - over what kind of change it has in
mind. Yet it continues to strike a responsive chord among Catholics
across the US. The grass-roots group is growing rapidly in perhaps
the most significant way - in local parishes, from Long Island, New
York, to Nashville, Tenn., to Santa Barbara, Calif.
"Three months ago we had about
60 chapters, and now we are up to about 140," says Jim Post, the
Boston University professor who is Voice president. "We're adding
five to 10 a week."
Bringing about change in the Catholic church, however, means
dialogue with the hierarchy, and in that, the group has often been
stymied. Some bishops clearly see them as confrontational and are
wary of their intentions; eight have banned local parish Voice
members from meeting on church property. When issuing his ban last
fall, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J., went so far as to call
Voice "antichurch and, ultimately, anti-Catholic."
About a dozen other bishops, however, have held sessions with
local chapters, Dr. Post says.
To many US Catholics, this is a moment of opportunity for the
church - a time to move beyond the passive "pray, pay, and obey"
attitude toward parishioners to embrace their talents and expertise
in parish and diocesan decisionmaking. The mismanagement of the
clergy-abuse crisis, they say, shows unprecedented need for greater
openness, participation, and accountability.
But Voice faces a stark reality - Catholic lay movements created
outside the institutional structure of the church have a poor
historical record in spurring reform. And its founders, though loyal
Catholics long active in parish work, ran into trouble early on with
revolutionary language calling for a "Continental Congress" to
counterbalance the hierarchy. Voice is now defining a more moderate
strategy for its most controversial goal - to shape structural
change in the church.
Still, there are those who question the approach and claim they
have a hidden agenda to change church doctrine. A small group of
traditional Catholics in Boston have formed Faithful Voice to
counter Voice of the Faithful's work, and set up a website "to
expose the underpinnings" of Voice, which they assert is made up of
"cafeteria Catholics" who hold heretical views.
Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis, a conservative Catholic magazine,
is perhaps their most vocal critic. "There is certainly a place for
a group like Voice, but it would have to leave behind all the
dissent being spread through its events and chapters," he says.
Despite the group's statement that it seeks no change in church
doctrines, Mr. Hudson insists Voice wants to do away with celibacy
and modify church teachings on sexuality. That is clear, he says,
because chapters regularly invite Catholic theologians to speak who
have such views. "I'm keeping track of this all over the country - I
get reports on a weekly basis," he adds.
Voice members say church historians and theologians are invited
as part of the process of educating themselves on canon law, church
history and teachings as a basis for lay involvement.
"We have members from a broad spectrum but are committed to a
centrist philosophy," says Post. "We keep the three goals squarely
in front of us and are what we say we are: Catholics who love the
church and are determined to make a difference."
Hudson says he agrees with them on the need for more lay
expertise in management, finances, and communications. …