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Alternative group counters Voice of the Faithful
By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, 10/27/02
BOSTON -- It's small, stealthy and exists to expose what it says is the hidden agenda of a prominent group of lay Catholics that formed in response to the church's sex abuse scandal.
Even the name -- Faithful Voice -- is designed to counter Voice of the Faithful, as organizers hope the similarities redirect Internet browsers to their Web site.
Faithful Voice, which counts 50 members, covertly attends as many Voice meetings as possible. They've papered windshields with pamphlets and aren't shy about approaching parishioners and church officials to share their view.
Their fervor rises from a conviction that 25,000-member Voice of the Faithful isn't trying to help the Catholic church through the scandal. Instead, it believes the nationwide organization, which was born in response to the sex abuse crisis, wants to undermine the church by changing its fundamental theology.
"They're taking advantage of the chaos to get their rules in," said Faithful Voice spokeswoman Carol McKinley.
Faithful Voice, though small, has had an effect.
Voice spokesman Mike Emerton blames the group for influencing Bishop Emilio Allue, regional bishop for the Merrimack Valley, to ban a Voice chapter from meeting in a North Andover parish.
"(Faithful Voice) continues to misinterpret what we say," Emerton said. "They flatly refuse to believe our stated missions and goals."
Voice of the Faithful fully backs the church's doctrinal teachings, he said. What it questions are some manmade rules, such as those that prevent lay people from knowing where their donations go or the backgrounds of priests assigned to their parishes. Voice's aims are to support good priests and increase the laity involvement in church governance, as laid out in Vatican II reforms of 1962, Emerton said.
The groups are trying to work out differences. North Andover's Voice chapter arranged an Oct. 30 meeting between some of its members and Faithful Voice members, to be moderated by the Rev. Robert McMillan, the Boston archdiocese's planning and research director.
John Cronin, a founder of Faithful Voice, said he's not sure a meeting will accomplish much.
"It's good that we're talking, but if they expect we're going to change, it's not going to be good," Cronin said.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said she wasn't familiar with Faithful Voice, but she said the archdiocese generally supports the open dialogue such lay groups promote.
Cardinal Bernard Law has yet to meet with Voice of the Faithful, though the group has long sought a meeting.
Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he believes lay people can be a positive force for change in the church, but he's been discouraged by how lay groups have developed in Boston.
"It's more confrontation, more divisiveness. ... (Faithful Voice) is cast in the role as the conservative answer to the liberals," he said. "We need a fresh start in Boston, and everywhere else."
Faithful Voice started on a July afternoon when Cronin and two others put pamphlets on windshields at St. Michael's Parish in North Andover around the time a Voice of the Faithful chapter was forming there. Word of the new group soon spread.
Faithful Voice members began attending Voice of the Faithful meetings around the state, some keeping their affiliation a secret. Those that spoke out have been greeted with boos and hisses, McKinley said. But Emerton said Faithful Voice is causing disruptions with its ambush strategy.
"That's some of the guerrilla tactics they're using to spread false information about Voice of the Faithful," he said.
Faithful Voice maintains Voice of the Faithful intends to overhaul traditional church teachings on subjects such as abortion, celibacy for priests and homosexuality by pointing to people who support or are associated with the group:
-- Leonard Swidler, a professor of Catholic thought at Temple University. Voice has said it might consult Swidler to draw up its constitution. Swidler has been instrumental in crafting a separate "Constitution of the Catholic Church," which promotes, among other things, the right of priests to marry and urges Catholics to "follow their informed consciences in all matters," as opposed to church teachings.
-- Larry Kessler, the openly gay executive director of the AIDS Action Committee, is on the Voice of the Faithful steering committee, leading Faithful Voice to question the other group's commitment to church teaching that homosexual acts are sinful.
-- Debra Haffner, a former official in the abortion rights group Planned Parenthood, spoke at Voice of the Faithful's summer convention, though the Catholic church is against abortion.
One of Voice of the Faithful's founders is Janice Leary, who is associated with the group Call to Action, which promotes priestly ordination for women and homosexuals.
McKinley said the roster shows Voice of the Faithful is made up of dissidents. Most lay people in the group are good Catholics who don't know what the group is really about, and Faithful Voice exists to tell them, she said.
"Voice of the Faithful wants the doctrine to come from the people and go up to God," she said. "No. Doctrine comes from God and you accept it."
Leary, who won't refer to Faithful Voice by its name, instead calling it "Unfaithful Verbiage," said she supports Voice of the Faithful because it's committed to increasing lay involvement in church affairs.
The group doesn't share her views in other areas, and she doesn't expect it to change, Leary said.
"I'm just one (person)," she said. "I would have to be Margaret Thatcher to make that kind of impact."
Emerton asked people skeptical of Voice's intentions to watch what the group does, rather than speculate based on what groups such as Faithful Voice say.
"If we can get through all the misinformation being spread, (people) start to understand who are," Emerton said. "We are the mainstream Catholics."
Cronin said Faithful Voice is simply telling the truth, and that will be Voice of the Faithful's undoing.
"If we bring forth the truth, it has to expose Voice of the Faithful and they'll fold," he said.