“Voice of the Faithful” Shows Its Stripes

Deal W. Hudson

There was quite a flurry in the news yesterday involving our favorite dissident group, Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). It seems that yet another bishop has banned a VOTF affiliate from meeting in a North Andover, Massachusetts parish. Auxiliary Bishop Emilio S. Allue from the Boston Archdiocese wrote that “the activities and promotion of the VOTF must be curtailed in order to avoid further scandal and polarity among our parishioners,” emphasizing that the archdiocese would need “clarification of all hidden and open issues involved and promoted by the VOTF” before signing off on the group.

As you probably guessed, VOTF is furious. They’ve been enjoying such popularity lately that any break in their stride must come as a shock. John Vellante, the spokesman for the Saint Michael’s chapter of VOTF, said, “We love our church and all we ever sought, from the beginning, was open and honest dialogue.”

Which is, apparently, why they’ve hired a canon lawyer to help them fight back. Jim Post, president of VOTF, had this to say about the archdiocese’s move: “Bannings and denunciations are wrong on fact, wrong on process and wrong on morality. The bishops must understand that Voice of the Faithful, on behalf of the Catholic laity, will demand fair and equitable treatment according to the spirit of canon law. We will use any procedure available in civil law to discover the truth and rebut slander coming from any source, and we will not fail to bring our case before the court of public opinion.”

Sound like fighting words to me. But as far as I can tell, Bishop Allue has done nothing out of line. He isn’t denying their right to exist, merely their right to meet on private church property. That seems “fair and equitable” to me. I mean, must VOTF expect to be welcomed with open arms wherever it goes? They’re getting the same treatment any organization would, and yet they seem to think they deserve special privileges.

This kind of temper tantrum doesn’t give me much confidence about their direction, either. They insist time and again that they’re a centrist movement, one that respects Church authority. And yet, whenever they’re in the news it isn’t about their work to “support the abused” – the first goal of their mission – but about bringing in canon lawyers to fight the bishops in their struggle to “change the Church.”

The Evolving Voice

VOTF is continually honing its image in response to the mounting criticism. I have to admit, their presentation is very attractive. Of course, that’s what concerns me the most. They’ve smoothed over the rough spots of their early mission, explaining away inconsistencies and trouble areas, or simply not mentioning them at all.

Let me give you an example.

Some things have mysteriously disappeared off their new and improved Web site. Take, for example, a May 15th article from the Philadelphia Enquirer. The article outlined VOTF’s intention of holding a “a Continental Congress in Philadelphia next year to write its constitution – an effort [former VOTF president Jim] Muller said it was coordinating with Leonard Swidler, a professor of Catholic thought at Temple University.”

If the name Swidler sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because we mentioned him in our first report on VOTF. He’s the “Constitution chair” for the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church and one of the leaders in its movement for a Catholic Constitution. Predictably, Swidler is a big figure in the “restructure-the-Church” movement.

So, to connect the dots, VOTF’s original mission involved reshaping the Church in consultation with dissident Leonard Swidler.

Of course, the link to this article is impossible to find on VOTF’s new Web site. A convenient way to sweep its questionable history under the rug and out of sight. As a result, the updated version of VOTF can promote its identity as one of “centrism” that doesn’t take any stand on divisive issues in the Church.

Fortunately, not everyone is falling for it. In a report last week, Massachusetts News covered a meeting convened at Holy Cross College on September 18th. Ostensibly, the meeting was called to discuss the merits of establishing a VOTF affiliate group in the Worcester Diocese.

According to the article, there was a period of “shouting and confusion about goals of the organization,” followed by a vote to determine if a VOTF chapter should be established. According to VOTF’s own rules, a two-thirds majority must vote in favor of a motion before it can be passed. When the votes at the meeting were tallied, the results were 30 in favor of opening a chapter, and 27 against – not even close to a two-thirds majority.

I bet you can guess what happened next.

In true democratic form, VOTF went ahead and established an affiliate chapter anyway. MassNews reports that, “almost on cue, someone in the audience questioned why they had to vote on it in the first place and suggested they should start an affiliate anyway.”

Apparently, this wasn’t the only time during the meeting when the voices of the real faithful were being ignored. According to MassNews, some of the people in attendance where hushed or told to leave when they started asking questions about that slippery goal of VOTF to “shape structural change in the Church.”

Laurie Letourneau should know – she was at the meeting. Apparently, the gathering wasn’t publicized very well, a fault she attributed to their desire to appear democratic while restricting the vote to supporters. She told MassNews, “Speaking as a faithful Catholic, and not representing anybody, what I witnessed tonight was people who pretended to be open, but when push came to shove, just weren’t open at all.”

Unfortunately, Laurie, I’m not too surprised.

I know it’s wrong to gloat, but there’s something vaguely satisfying about seeing Voice of the Faithful discredit itself so publicly. So much for establishing a more democratic Church! I only hope that more bishops will follow suit with Allue, Lori, Murphy, and others in keeping VOTF’s ideas of “change” away from the true faithful.

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