The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church

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Sharon church to establish Voice of the Faithful chapter

By Judith Forman, Globe Staff Correspondent, 8/11/2002

Following the lead of several local -- and national -- churches, members of Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon are forming a chapter of Voice of the Faithful to give lay members a chance for a more active role in the Catholic Church.

Lay leaders in Sharon have scheduled an informational meeting at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Cottage Street church for those interested in learning more about the Voice of the Faithful. The meeting is open to members of Our Lady of Sorrows and other area parishes.

Founded in Wellesley after the priest sexual-abuse scandal made headlines, the group's mission is to offer lay Catholics a place to talk about their concerns, support one another, and find ways to participate more actively in church governance, organizers say.

According to the group's Web site, Voice of the Faithful also aims to support those who have been abused, support priests of integrity, and shape structural change within the church.

Plans for a local Voice of the Faithful chapter first took shape in February, shortly after the sexual abuse scandal broke, said Bob Strong, a Sutton resident who has been a member of the Sharon parish since the mid-1980s. In the winter, the Parish Council created a task force of about 15 people to consider ways for the parish to react and to keep people involved in the church.

Of the 1,200 families belonging to the parish, Strong said, about a third are active. And as a result of the crisis, he said, donations to the church and attendance at Mass have been dropping.

"There were many, many personal concerns" among Sharon parishioners, Strong said, "ranging from `Are there victims in the parish?' to `How do we support our pastor?' to `How do we change the policies in the parish to ensure this type of thing won't happen here in the future?' "

Strong's job on the task force was to connect with other parishes responding to the crisis. "And that job led me to locate Voice of the Faithful," he said.

There were no incidents involving the parish that led to the local group's formation, Strong said.

In July, about 35 members of Our Lady of Sorrows attended Voice of the Faithful's first national convention, held in Boston. There, about 4,200 people from 36 states and seven countries took part in prayer, education, and organization.

"The response was extremely positive," Strong said of parishioners who went to the convention.

So, late last month, the parish decided to form its own chapter. A temporary steering committee of four members, including Strong and Lauretta Maslanka, is guiding the chapter until September, when a new steering committee and officers are expected to be elected.

"When this started coming out, I think people were distressed," said Maslanka, a Sharon resident who has been in the local parish since about 1974. Personally, Maslanka said, she thought the crisis was "unbelievable."

"I thought `How did this happen?' " she said. "I thought the cardinal had too much power and too much say and [the church] was too centralized."

A lot of the healing, Maslanka said, will come from members of the Voice chapter working and learning together.

"The more you're educated and empowered, the more you feel hope for the church," she added.

Other area Voice of the Faithful chapters have formed -- or are in the process of forming -- in Braintree, Canton, Hingham, Brockton, Plymouth, and East Weymouth, Strong said. There are 23,000 members worldwide and 68 chapters around the country that have formed since January, said Voice of the Faithful spokesman Mike Emerton.

In Sharon, Our Lady of Sorrows also has planned a healing Mass for Oct. 6, at 10 a.m., said the Rev. Robert Bullock, who has been with the parish for 24 years.

"We need to reach out to our parishioners," Bullock said. "We need to celebrate. We need healing. We need to gather."

Judith Forman can be reached by e-mail at jforman@globe.com.

This story ran on page S6 of the Boston Globe on 8/11/2002.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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