Concerned Catholics Find a New 'Voice'

By Kevin Dennehy
Cape Cod Times [Cape Cod MA]
Downloaded January 10, 2003

NORTH FALMOUTH - A year ago it seemed like every day brought new developments in the clergy sex-abuse scandal.

Like many Catholics, Lloyd Beckett was heartsick and disappointed. Many of his friends at St. Elizabeth Seton parish in North Falmouth felt the same way.

Then they heard about a parish in Wellesley where Catholics were meeting to vent and to figure out what was going on in the church.

A small pocket of frustrated parishioners at St. John the Evangelist in Wellesley had swollen to hundreds within a few weeks. The group became known as the Voice of the Faithful, and the noise they were making about the sex-abuse scandal was drawing national attention.

Beckett and a few others drove to Wellesley for one of the meetings and discovered the issues they discussed were the same ones he and others talked about in Falmouth.

Over the next few months, Beckett and fellow parishioner Betty Craig organized their own informal meetings at St. Elizabeth Seton, giving each other the chance to talk about the unthinkable scandal, and what role church lay members should play.

Within months, more than 60 people were cramming into the church hall with nothing but word of mouth spreading word about the meetings. They became the first Voice of the Faithful chapter on Cape Cod.

Now the group that was among the first to seek Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation is finding its way to a new role in the healing process that many Catholics say is under way in the church.

"It's about communication and openness. Because people just want to know, 'What's going on?'" said Beckett. "I talk to a lot of people around the Cape who would like to be members and they don't know how."

Burgeoning membership
In the year since Voice of the Faithful formed in Wellesley, membership has mushroomed. The group now boasts more than 30,000 individual members and more than 100 parishes worldwide, said Luise Dittrich, a group spokeswoman.

The group provides clout to individuals who disagree with the powerful institution of the Catholic Church and makes them feel comfortable for taking a stand, Dittrich said.

"It's important for these mainstream Catholics to know that it's all right to make a stand when they see something wrong," she said. "It's not just a right, it's a tradition. Jesus did it. St. Francis of Assisi did it. And these people aren't heretics."

Voice of the Faithful also provides educational resources, including guidance for study groups and information on church history and structure.

In North Falmouth, Beckett said he's been surprised by many of the people in his 600-member parish who come from all walks of life but share the same concerns.

"We've asked ourselves, 'What can we do to support the people who've been abused? What can we do to support the priests who had nothing to do with it?' Because they're going through an awful time, too."

Beckett said the group also wonders how such problems could have occurred. "What kind of structure allowed this to happen so long and allow a cover-up? And what can we do to see that it doesn't happen again?"

Banned from some parishes
The group has been banned from meeting in some parishes, but priests in other churches have supported the group.

In North Falmouth, Monsignor John Moore, the pastor at St. Elizabeth Seton, has allowed the group to meet there for several months. As far as he's concerned, they don't represent the larger Voice of the Faithful, but only a voice for his parish.

He regularly hosts "coffee and conversation" sessions in the North Falmouth church.

"People have a right to talk about these things," he said this week. "And I think the parishes should encourage it."

Some parishioners question the motives of the group.

Ben Joyce, a Cataumet resident, agrees the Boston Archdiocese botched the sex-abuse scandal, and should have addressed the numerous cases of priest abuse over the years.

But he said Voice of the Faithful creates a schism within the church and will undermine its authority. By definition, he says, the Catholic Church is not a democracy, nor should it become one.

"If you're not in union with Rome, you're not Catholic," he said. "I think they're using (the controversies) as an excuse to promote their political and theological agendas."

Luise Dittrich said there are some Catholics whom Voice of the Faithful will never reach. But she says there are millions of mainstream Catholics - religious education teachers, Eucharistic ministers, parents - who resent what has happened.

Lloyd Beckett said his only agenda is to improve communication between church leaders and parishioners. People want to know what their role in the modern Catholic Church is, and what it should be, he said.

"An educated laity is a very valuable asset," Beckett said.


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