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Spotlight Report

Catholic group to rate bishops

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 7/20/2002

 In-depth
A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
Taking their first steps to try to claim more power for laypeople within the Catholic Church, leaders of Voice of the Faithful said yesterday they will begin publicly evaluating bishops around the country, and will launch an effort to raise money for church ministries without sending it through the offices of bishops.

Leaders of the group, which was formed in February in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, say they are expecting 4,000 Catholics from around the country to attend their daylong convention today at the Hynes Convention Center.

At a press conference yesterday, Voice of the Faithful unveiled its most provocative effort to date, a report card it will use to evaluate bishops around the United States based on their compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was approved by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at its meeting in Dallas last month. Voice of the Faithful leader Paul Baier said that he expects local chapters to begin evaluating their bishops shortly and that the results will be posted on the Internet in three or four months.

Baier said the group is also poised to launch its Voice of Compassion fund, which would accept charitable contributions from people unwilling to contribute money directly to the Archdiocese of Boston. Voice of the Faithful would then attempt to route the money to ministries run by the archdiocese, which is facing sharp budget cuts because of a decline in Sunday collections and fund-raising attributed to the abuse scandal. The Archdiocese of Boston has not said whether it would accept such contributions, which would be designed to circumvent the cardinal's office.

Baier said that, depending on the success of the Boston fund, the organization might attempt to start similar funds, particularly in other large urban dioceses around the country.

Voice of the Faithful leaders met yesterday with the heads of the two major victim-advocacy groups, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the Linkup, who will attend today's convention. At a joint news conference at Faneuil Hall, victims praised Voice of the Faithful as the first group of mainstream Catholic laypeople to embrace victims of clergy sexual abuse.

''This is the first time a large group of Catholics has come together to say we support you and we believe you and we want you to be healed,'' said Barbara Blaine, founder and president of SNAP, as she held a photograph of herself at 12, the age when she says a priest began sexually abusing her.

David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, said that when his organization was founded in 1992, ''Some Catholic laypeople wished we survivors would shut up and go away.'' Yesterday, surrounded by Voice of the Faithful members wearing black ''Survivors First'' buttons, he held back tears as he said, ''Nothing in this whole scandal is more energizing and gratifying to us than your support. ... That moral witness will ultimately make the church a safer place.''

Voice of the Faithful has rapidly been evolving over the last five months, since a handful of parishioners at St. John the Evangelist Church in Wellesley began gathering to share their anger over the clergy sex abuse crisis. In the group's first public action, a half-dozen women parishioners from Wellesley showed up at Cardinal Bernard F. Law's annual gathering of lay leaders wearing red to demonstrate their penance for their church's conduct. Now the group says it has 19,000 members in 40 states and 21 countries, and it has started dozens of local chapters.

''The bishops have an admirable record of reaching out to the marginalized in our society - the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the vulnerable, and the aged,'' said Mary Scanlon Calcaterra, a Voice of the Faithful trustee, who expressed ''shame'' at the behavior of bishops who failed to remove abusive priests from ministry. ''We call on the bishops to reach out to those who feel marginalized within our own church - the laity,'' she said. ''We are devoted men and women. Our hearts yearn for true healing made visible in action.''

The group held its press conference at Faneuil Hall in an effort to establish a symbolic link to American democracy, according to spokesman Michael Emerton. The group's main goal is to win a stronger voice for laypeople in church matters; the group has avoided taking positions on other controversial issues, saying that it wants to include Catholics across the ideological spectrum.

''Voice of the Faithful is the beginning of the constitutional process that will create a democratic body for the 1 billion Catholic laity of the world,'' Emerton said. ''A city that gave democracy as a remedy for autocratic secular rule in the 18th century now offers a democratic process for the Catholic laity suffering under a medieval, autocratic structure in the 21st century.''

Concerned that some in the church might question the right of laypeople even to gather, Voice of the Faithful on Thursday released a letter signed by 66 Catholic theologians declaring that ''we support the rights and responsibilities of lay Catholics, acting in the grace of their spiritual gifts, to gather in the Spirit of Christ, who dwells within the whole church.''

Barbara Thorp, the director of the Archdiocese of Boston's new Office of Healing and Assistance Ministry, will attend today's conference representing the archdiocese, said spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/20/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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