85 Attend Catholic Laity Meeting
Voice of the Faithful Formed in Response to Church Sex Scandals

By Joan D. Laguardia
News-Press [Fort Myers FL]
Downloaded February 12, 2003

ASKING QUESTIONS: "The Catholic Church has never been a democracy, and they always made sure we knew it," said Walter Stawski from south Fort Myers as he voices his opinion Monday during an informational meeting for the Voice of the Faithful in south Fort Myers. He wondered if VOTF would be able to change that.


About 60 people showed up Monday for the first informational meeting of Voice of the Faithful, a grass-roots organization of Roman Catholics seeking a greater role for laity in their church.

Goz Gosselin, organizer of VOTF - Greater Fort Myers and a popular Southwest Florida shell artist, said he would have been satisfied with 10 people and hoped for about 40.

"Love for one another and for our church is the true reason we are here," Gosselin told the audience of mostly married couples of retirement age meeting in Lee Plantation's clubhouse.

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Learn more about Voice of the Faithful here and nationwide.

He urged them to make sure the Catholic church lives up to the role Jesus intends for it. Voice of the Faithful, he said, does that by addressing the "great flaws in the church that brought us up and out of the pews."

Massachusetts Catholics formed VOTF in March 2002 and incorporated in June after revelations of cover-ups of sexual misconduct by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.

It has three goals: to support victims of abuse, to support priests of integrity and to work for structural change in the church.

While Voice of the Faithful organizers draft a mission statement to define exactly what "structural change" is, VOTF chapters continue to spread. In 10 months, the organization grew from a handful of people to more than 25,000 members worldwide.

Most people, however, still don't know much about it.

"As a Catholic, I wanted to educate myself as to what this is all about," said Marion Kelly of Bonita Springs. She had not made up her mind whether to join, but said she was feeling "more positive than negative."

More and more Catholics wonder what is their appropriate role in a church where the laity have always been followers, rarely leaders. Can the dogma of the church survive a more democratic structure? And if it could, would Voice of the Faithful be able to accomplish the change?

"I think VOTF can make structural changes in the church," said Pat Stock of Sanibel Island. She pointed to the organized withholding of funds by Catholics in Massachusetts and the removal of Cardinal Bernard Law as the archbishop of Boston as examples of its influence.

"We have to try and make this grow," said Connie Lewis of east Lee County, another VOTF - Greater Fort Myers organizer. "This is going to be evolutionary and not revolutionary. We are not going to storm the Vatican."

A Naples area chapter, Voice of the Faithful of Southwest Florida, started in the fall and now has about 200 members.

Peg Clark of Naples, who helped found the chapter, has met with Bishop John J. Nevins of the local Diocese of Venice. She believes Nevins is supportive of the Collier group, which stresses its independence from the national organization.

"I believe the meeting between Bishop Nevins, Father Jerome Carosella, the chancellor and Mrs. Clark was cordial, as was the meeting I had with her," said Gail McGrath, spokeswoman for the diocese.

"For lay people to come together and be concerned about the church is right and appropriate," McGrath said.

"Bishop Nevins has consistently supported greater involvement of the laity in the activities of the Church but would not support those groups which identify themselves as Catholic but which, in fact, advocate views that are clearly in conflict with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, Catholics for Choice."


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