Representatives of a group called Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) started appearing in the media—mainly the Boston Globe—in the months following the revelations about sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. Initially the group appeared credible. I know many faithful Catholics added themselves to the organization’s mailing list, hoping the lay group would challenge the bishops to stop ignoring the deeply rooted problems that led to the scandal. Close inspection of VOTF’s Web site, however, gave me serious doubts about the sincerity of its “centrist” label. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and the folks at the helm of VOTF have created a huge smoke screen for their dissenting agenda.
My doubts about VOTF were confirmed when I saw the roster of speakers invited to its first conference, which took place in Boston on July 20. As I noted in our August 8 e-mail special report, “When Wolves Dress Like Sheep,” the conference participants were Call-to-Action types who espouse everything from women’s ordination to the creation of an American Catholic Church.
Our e-letter evidently hit a nerve with VOTF—its next newsletter responded to our charges by apologizing for its conference invitation to the former head of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and by affirming its loyalty to the teaching of the Church. (Sadly, its response didn’t address the many other points we made.)
Incidentally, our special report also elicited a number of e-mails from VOTF members—some of whom attended the Boston conference—corroborating our view that VOTF’s declaration of fidelity is a ruse. We read stories from VOTF members who felt unwelcome after they raised questions about the loyalty of the conference speakers. The questions themselves were met with evasion and hostility.
Sound familiar? Anyone who has entered a room full of dissenters is familiar with the experience. These bait-and-switch tactics have been used by Catholic dissenters for decades. I don’t understand why they can’t be more straightforward. Why must they feign fidelity and dupe fellow Catholics into supporting their crusade to change the teachings of the Church?
Of course, their answer to this is always “dialogue.” Dialogue, they say, is integral to Catholic teaching, and their only agenda is to foster “open discussion.” But why call for dialogue about teachings that the Church says cannot be changed? A call for dialogue on settled issues is itself a symptom of dissent.
What’s needed now isn’t dialogue but teaching. Bishops and priests need to address this crisis in the Church by explaining to Catholics in the pews the nature of the priesthood and the reasons for its tradition of celibacy. If the average Catholic heard this preached from the pulpit on a regular basis, then groups like VOTF would be seen for what they are.
Bishop William Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, have courageously acted to bar VOTF from using Church property for their meetings; other bishops will surely follow suit. In the meantime, some priests are inviting VOTF into their parishes. Have they been fooled, or are they, like VOTF, taking advantage of the present confusion to undermine Church teaching? What happens when the laity, without the backing of the bishops, challenge the decisions of priests who invite VOTF into their parishes? Not much.
It certainly doesn’t help that the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invited former White House Chief-of-Staff Leon Panetta to sit on the Keating Commission, which oversees the implementation of the policies on sexual abuse adopted in Dallas. Panetta was firmly in favor of former president Bill Clinton’s vetoes of the bill outlawing partial-birth abortion. The message Bishop Wilton Gregory sends with this appointment is that someone like Panetta is considered a Catholic in good standing in spite of his refusal to protect unborn life.
No wonder Catholics are confused and dispirited. No wonder they fall under the influence of vigorous and loud groups like VOTF: Such groups promise leadership where there’s a leadership vacuum. It’s time for the bishops to fill it.