What Faith Are They Trying to Keep?
HYANNIS, Massachusetts, 19 NOV. 2003 (ZENIT).
Several priests in the Diocese of Fall River recently sent out a pastoral
letter to parishioners, to clarify the nature of Voice of the Faithful, a
group that gained attention in the wake of the clergy sex-abuse scandals.
Here we reprint the letter.
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A Pastoral Letter From Your Priests
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In recent days, several parishioners have asked us for clarification about
the group called "Voice of the Faithful," which is trying to make inroads
on Cape Cod and within our Diocese of Fall River. Because we think that
many parishioners beyond those who have approached us might have similar
questions, we thought it would be appropriate to respond by means of a
Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) was founded in the basement of a Wellesley
church in January 2002 by those who wanted to express their concerns about
the clergy sex-abuse scandals. Over the course of subsequent months, many
good Catholic lay people, who were horrified (as were we!) by the
scandals, joined the group as a means of expressing their justifiable
outrage and firm commitment that this dark page in our Church's history
must never be repeated.
When VOTF had its first major convention in Boston on July 20, 2002, many
of us followed it closely to try discern its spirit. We were saddened to
see the direction it took. The star speakers that day were well-known and
oft-quoted critics of the Holy Father who publicly dissent from the
teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. There's a truism that you can
often learn a lot about someone from the people with whom he chooses to
associate. The same goes for VOTF, the leaders of which, of course,
invited and paid for these speakers to come to address those at the
When faithful Catholic clergy and lay people criticized what was coming
out of the convention, spokesmen from VOTF publicly stated that the group
does not take any formal positions on the controversial issues being
advanced by several of the convention speakers and VOTF members. But this
is not sufficient. It is impossible for a group that wants to be
authentically Catholic not to take a position on issues such as the
ordination of women, sexual morality, abortion, and the divine foundation
of the papacy
— all of which the Church has taken a position on. Not to
take a position on such issues is to take a position; one cannot be both
"agnostic" and "Catholic."
In short, because VOTF has given no indication that it fully supports all
the defined teachings of the Church, we have grave misgivings about it and
cannot recommend it to you.
As your priests, our foremost duty is to teach and defend the faith that
has been handed down to us by Christ through the apostles and their
successors. This is the Church's treasure and is the source of our unity
as disciples of the Lord. The Church is not a society of independent
thinkers with equally-valuable opinions, but the community of believers
founded by Christ that remains faithful to His voice and follows His
teaching as it has been handed on to us faithfully by the Church he
founded. To be truly Catholic, you can't pick and choose some truths to
follow and others to ignore. Embracing the Catholic faith means embracing
all of it.
We have particular concern for those Catholics who want to remain faithful
to the Church who now belong to an organization that calls itself Catholic
but refuses publicly to embrace authentic Catholic teaching. VOTF says its
motto is "Keep the Faith; Change the Church." But if the leaders of VOTF
are unwilling to assent fully to Catholic teaching, what faith
Catholics could legitimately ask
— are they trying to keep? And if
organization is not really keeping the Catholic faith, then its proposals
to "change the Church" should be viewed by faithful Catholics with
justifiable suspicion. We encourage faithful Catholics who belong to VOTF
to demand that the leadership of the organization explicitly avow Church
teachings. If the leaders are not willing to do that, then we urge
faithful Catholics to leave the organization.
The burden of proof is, of course, on VOTF to demonstrate its complete
fidelity to Church teaching, by dissociating itself completely from groups
and individuals that are obviously in dissent from Church teaching and
gladly and willingly affirming their Catholic faith in all the defined
teachings of the magisterium. No organization could never honestly claim
to be the voice of faithful Catholic lay people without doing so
several parishioners, angry that the group claims to speak for them, have
pointed out to us.
Until such time that VOTF demonstrates a transparent faithfulness to the
teachings of the Church, no priest who takes his responsibility before God
seriously to promote, preserve and defend the faith would countenance
allowing the group to use Church property for their meetings. The people
of ancient Troy learned a valuable lesson once and pastors would be
derelict in their duty to do otherwise. We love you and love Christ too
much to do otherwise.
If you find some of the statements of Voice of the Faithful to be
attractive, we want you to know that we do, too. For instance, we agree
with several of the organization's stated objectives:
1) We all support those who have been abused and want to prevent any
recurrence of abuse.
2) We all support "priests of integrity" (although you might find it
interesting that no priest from any of the parishes on Cape Cod present at
our last meeting stated that he has received any sign of support from VOTF,
which makes one wonder whether for VOTF this is just a paper objective).
3) We agree that there is a need for "cultural change" in the Church, if
we define cultural change to mean a transparently greater cult (worship)
of Christ among all of us in our daily decisions. The scandals resulted
from the failure of priests to be faithful to Christ and to their promise
of celibacy and of bishops to protect the flock from wolves in shepherd's
clothing. But this grew within a general culture that was taking its moral
obligations before God less seriously. Truly positive change will be
directed toward a culture of greater fidelity to Christ in all the persons
and activities of the Church.
4) We agree that there is a need for greater education of the laity in the
teaching and ways of the faith, which is why, over the course of this
year, we will be doing an extensive adult education series and why we have
already started discussion sessions for parents of those in our CCD
program and school.
5) We also welcome and strongly encourage a greater lay involvement in the
mission of the Church, bringing Christ's teaching and love as leaven into
In all of these areas priests and laity are already working together and,
with God's help, bearing much fruit. If these were the only objectives of
VOTF, the organization would not be objectionable.
The reason why VOTF is controversial, however, and why we cannot support
it or recommend it to you is because VOTF has given indications by its
deeds that its objectives transcend these publicly stated ones. By its
failure to subscribe openly to the whole deposit of faith while at the
same time publicly associating with groups that oppose the faith, VOTF has
done nothing but strengthen suspicions that, while appearing to promote
dialogue and cooperation, it actually promotes an agenda in conflict with
the teachings of the Catholic faith.
There is a better alternative than VOTF for lay Catholics who want truly
to "keep the faith and change the Church" in ways that are manifestly
consistent with our Catholic faith. We invite them to become more involved
in the mission of the Church here at St. Francis Xavier. We encourage them
to join their priests and fellow lay people as together we strive to
fulfill the mission which the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II
have entrusted to us: to live the faith and thereby, with God's help,
strengthen the Church so as to change the world.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Thomas A. Frechette
Fr. Paul T. Lamb
Fr. Roger J. Landry
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