BOSTON, Mass. (National Catholic Register) – Questions are again being raised about the fidelity of the Massachusetts-based organization Voice of the Faithful. The organization, which has repeatedly featured high-profile church dissenters at its conferences, referred to several dissenting individuals and opinions in the Aug. 24 issue of its Internet newsletter, “In the Vineyard.”
The brief newsletter, available at www.voiceofthefaithful.org/vineyard, contains items promoting two prominent dissenting theologians, Father Charles Curran and former priest Daniel Maguire; a link to a group that promotes the ordination of women; and a link to a recently published argument against the church teaching barring divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving Communion.
It also mentions a recent article in America magazine by Valerie Schultz, a CCD teacher who has written articles published in the secular media in support of homosexual “marriage.”
In contrast, the Voice of the Faithful newsletter contains no references or links to individuals or articles that defend Catholic teachings on the priesthood, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, the definition of marriage or the authority of bishops.
Voice of the Faithful was formed in early 2002 in the Boston area, during the early days of the sexual abuse scandal that came to light that year.
The group has always insisted that its focus is on promoting “structural change” in response to the abuse scandal. It states on its Web site that its members are “faithful Catholics in communion with the universal Catholic Church” who “accept the teaching authority of our church.”
History of dissent
But Voice of the Faithful’s critics contend it is actually a front for activists who dissent on issues like the authority of bishops and the ordination of women.
Such criticism has been fueled by repeated appearances at Voice of the Faithful conferences of dissenters and representatives of organizations that oppose church teachings.
At a major conference in Boston in July 2002, featured speakers included Debra Haffner, a former official of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, and several theologians who have publicly challenged the authority of the church’s hierarchy.
Paul Lakeland, a professor of religious studies at Connecticut’s Fairfield University, was the keynote speaker at a June 2003 meeting of Voice of the Faithful affiliates in Newton, Mass.
Lakeland told the gathering that Catholics were “suffocating from structural oppression” and advocated the abolition of the College of Cardinals, the ordination of women as deacons and lay participation in the election of bishops.
Lakeland predicted future priests would consist of “some married, some not, some straight, some gay, some women, some not.”
Because of concerns that Voice of the Faithful promotes dissent and division, its activities have been banned or restricted in about 20 U.S. dioceses, according to Voice of the Faithful spokesman John Moynihan.
C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, said it’s been clear since Voice of the Faithful began that it wasn’t supportive of church teachings.
“Anyone over the age of reason knows that Voice of the Faithful is a dissenting organization,” Doyle said.
Along with the organization’s repeated history of featuring dissenters in its publications and conferences, Doyle cited the failure of the Massachusetts-based organization to support pro-life and pro-family causes.
“We’re at ground zero here in the struggle for the traditional family in Massachusetts with the legalization of homosexual ‘marriage,’” said Doyle. “No one has ever seen a member of Voice of the Faithful in either the pro-life movement or the pro-family movement, and, from the noises they’ve made, they’ve clearly indicated they are on the other side.”
Voice of the Faithful’s Moynihan insisted in an interview that the organization is “neutral” on issues like abortion, homosexuality and women’s ordination.
Asked why the Aug. 24 issue of “In the Vineyard” promotes dissenting opinions on several sensitive issues and has no content supporting church teachings on those issues, Moynihan said that the newsletter was serving as a forum for “discussion.”
“We are not taking a position as an organization on any of these issues, but we are encouraging discussion,” Moynihan said. “I think that’s good.”
Moynihan declined to provide any examples of when the newsletter had supported church teachings on the issues mentioned in the Aug. 24 issue. “I’m not saying we’re going to have to give space to the opposing perspective on every issue,” he said.
Fall River, Mass., is one of the dioceses that have barred Voice of the Faithful from meeting on church property. Father Roger Landry, executive editor of the diocesan newspaper, The Anchor, said that Voice of the Faithful is “dying” locally from a lack of support.
Father Landry said that in the organization’s early days, it attracted support from two groups – church dissenters and loyal Catholics who were deeply disturbed over the abuse scandals.
“Over the course of time, especially at the national level, it was clear it was not about keeping the faith and changing the church, but trying to change the faith of the Church,” Father Landry said. “And as things have settled over the course of the last few years, that strain of Voice of the Faithful has triumphed, and many of the people who came in to try to bring greater accountability to the church have left.”
Voice of the Faithful’s trademarked slogan is “Keep the Faith, Change the Church.”
Father Landry said that Voice of the Faithful’s leaders initially sought to disguise their dissenting perspectives in order to win support from mainstream Catholics. But more recently they have been less cautious about concealing their agendas.
Said Father Landry, “I think now they realize it’s going to be hard to attract those ordinary Catholics again, and their true colors are starting to appear.”
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Voices of the truly faithful
A group calling itself “Voice of the Faithful” was formed to “change the church” but its numbers are flagging.
Meanwhile, 30 U.S. Catholic men’s conferences energetically defending the church attracted thousands in 2006:
- Boston, Mass., 5,200.
- Detroit, Mich., 3,500.
- Cincinnati, Ohio, 3,200.
- Pittsburgh, Pa., 1,400.
- Worcester, Mass., 1,200.
Worldwide, the biggest gatherings in the history of humanity have been at World Youth Days with the pope:
- 1995, Manila, 5 million.
- 1997, Paris, 1.2 million.
- 2000, Rome, 2 million.
- 2002, Toronto, 800,000.
- 2005, Cologne, 1.2 million.
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Tom McFeely, based in Victoria, B.C., Canada, is a contributing editor of National Catholic Register.
Copyright © 2007 Circle Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Republished with permission by Catholic Online from the Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2007, National Catholic Register (www.ncregister.com), a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner.