Reform Catholics Meet with Cardinal

By Kate N. Grossman
Chicago Sun-Times [Chicago IL]
April 1, 2003

After being rebuffed by a half dozen East Coast dioceses, a leader of a growing, reform-minded Catholic group based in Boston won a meeting with Chicago Cardinal Francis George on Monday.

During the two-hour session, George agreed, in concept, to meet with local chapters of the group.

George told Dr. Jim Muller, a co-founder of the Voice of the Faithful, that he neither supports nor opposes the lay group, which wants a say in church governance.

George also told Muller that his group needs to further define its goals, archdiocese spokeswoman Dianne Dunagan said. She said he didn't commit to a specific meeting with the organization's local chapters, saying instead that "the cardinal has always been open to meeting with groups."

Monday's meeting stood in sharp contrast to the group's reception elsewhere. Seven dioceses have banned it from meeting in its parishes, including Boston, Long Island, N.Y., and Newark, N.J., group leaders say. Voice of the Faithful sent a letter outlining its goals to all 302 U.S. bishops last fall, and 30 responded, including George. Its leaders have met with about a dozen bishops.

The group formed in 2002 in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis. It claims 25,000 members with 160 affiliate parishes nationwide. Last summer, affiliates with about 70 parishioners in Oak Park and about 500 in Inverness were launched.

Voice of the Faithful offers support to victims of abuse and to "priests of integrity." Its slogan is "Keep the Faith, Change the Church."

"We represent 99.9 percent of the church, yet we've had little way to represent our voices," said Muller, who founded another group, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

The group has developed a representative council, with one seat for each of the 160 chapters, that meets monthly in Boston to set policy and debate issues.

Muller described his meeting with George as "one of the best dialogues" he has had.

Several local survivor groups said they hoped this would be the start of more dialogue. "I'm hoping that, with the lay people support, that the cardinal will basically do what's right and reach out to the victims," said Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

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