Banned from Meeting at Church, We Are Still Faithful

Gloucester Daily Times [Gloucester MA]
Downloaded January 24, 2003

In his 2002 book, "Sacred Silence," Rev. Donald Cozzens asks: "Why are we afraid? ... How is it that a church that is the bearer of the Word and the champion of the oppressed can maintain unholy silences while denying that obvious pastoral and ecclesiastical problems, indeed crises, even exist?"

Father Cozzens ended his book with these words:

"Without healthy dialogue, the denial and 'church spins' marking the first years of the present century will continue to threaten the integrity and credibility of our bishops and the very mission of the church. It is time to replace fear with confidence and control with trust. It is time for a holy silence and sacred listening. Above all, it is time for courageous, honest speech -- a time to tell the truth in love."

I am afraid that Catholics who only read Boston's Catholic newspaper, "The Pilot," or "Crisis" magazine have a distorted perception of the "Voice of the Faithful." Since we were banned from meeting in a Catholic Church last September, local VOTF meetings have been held on the second Thursday evening of each month from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church in Gloucester, with the next meeting on Feb. 13. Each meeting begins and ends with prayer and at times, we have guest speakers.

On Dec. 12, the Rev. John "Jack" Toomey spoke on "The Church and the Future." Father Toomey spoke about how rare it was for priests to leave in 1961 when he was ordained, comparing it to post-Vatican II departures. He also said that while celibacy deprived priests of family and children, "common prudence" enables most priests to lead faithful lives.

He said that the great evil of the church was power and secrecy, and that bishops need to be held accountable for their actions. He stated that the future of the church is the Eucharist, but with 600 active priests at an average age of 68, suggested ordaining five or six deacons as priests each year as one way to alleviate the situation.

On Jan. 9, Sister Marie LaBollita, SC, spoke on "Going Forward" (the changing role in laity). Sister Marie spoke of the impact of the Vatican II (1962-1965) on her as a novice in the Sisters of Charity, Halifax. It turned her community "inside out and upside down" and determined what the church "could be" with new structures. Superiors were term-limited, convincing her that it would be a good thing for our church if popes, cardinals and bishops had to live with the decisions they make.

Today, she said, the church is going through a "Baptism of Fire," and like Jesus, after his baptism by John, we will never be the same again. We are called to be a "new people of God" and no one has a blueprint of what that will be. Only through prayer, scripture, theology and dialogue will we come to understand what kind of church we will become. But since God brought a "universality of order out of chaos," the power of God will do that for us.

She quoted a Franciscan, Sister Nancy Schreck, who called the Holy Spirit "the turbulent twister of settled systems" and described the Catholic Church as a "most settled system." Reminding us that Pope John XXIII opened the windows to bring transparency and fresh air to the church in Vatican II, Sister Marie said that Baptism calls us to transparent ministry but warned us about the needs and the costs of commitment. We will need persistence and courage, martyrs, as well as prophets, and can expect no less than "our form of crucifixion" because of our commitment.

In a personal story, Sister Marie described her involvement with Paula and Rodney Ford, whose lives were drastically changed by the sexual abuse of their son, Greg, by Father Paul Shanley. She said that our lives, too, will have to change as we reflect on the way that Voice of the Faithful is "pushing the limits" in parishes and dioceses by speaking out and speaking our truth.

As a parishioner and pastoral associate of Our Lady Help of Christians Church, she participated with VOTF and parish council members in the preparation of documents for the "selection of a new pastor" and the "role of the faithful in the selection of bishops" and said that both documents will eventually be sent to Boston and Rome. While she realized that "nothing may happen," she said that it will let church leaders know that "we want a voice." One document she handed out, "The Parish as a Model for the Church," lists the values needed if change is to take place -- accountability, transparency, justice, prudence, respect, collegiality and collaboration.

One member of our steering committee described her participation in a candlelight vigil at Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston on Monday, Jan. 6. Commemorating the Feast of the Epiphany, participants brought wrapped "gifts," symbolic of the gifts that the hierarchy, in banning the VOTF meetings from church property, refuses to accept from laity. Monica's gift was labeled "compassion."

A local demonstration for Cape Ann Catholics to "take back our church" was discussed and tentatively scheduled for sometime this winter, if the ban has not been lifted before then.

Sister Marie concluded her talk with a quote from William Shakespeare:

"There is a tide in the affairs of man

Which taken at the flood,

Leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and miseries."

And she had a challenge:

"The choice is ours; how will we respond?"

Eileen Ford writes every other Thursday for the Times.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.