New Leader of Voice of the Faithful Hopes to Improve Dialogue with Diocese

By Dan Tepfer
The Connecticut Post
July 16, 2006

Entering John Marshall Lee's insurance office in Fairfield, visitors can't help but be overwhelmed by hundreds of turtle replicas filling every nook and cranny.

For Lee, the reptiles symbolize long life and infinite patience. The patience aspect comes in particularly handy in his new position as chairman of the Bridgeport Diocese chapter of Voice of the Faithful.

The group — dedicated to increasing lay participation in diocese operations after past sex scandals involving priests — has gotten the cold shoulder from Bishop William Lori.

Lee said he has written two letters to Lori requesting a meeting, but so far has received no response."I believe we should be open and respectful," Lee said. "We are members of local parish communities where many have been involved for decades. We are banned from meeting together in our own parish community buildings. "I believe the life I lead as a Catholic is to be welcoming and affirming," Lee said. Lee said the bishops in a majority of American parishes — including Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell — allow VOTF groups to meet on church property. "Bishop Lori says he is open to communicate with church members and we are church members," Lee said.

Joseph McAleer, diocese spokesman, said that Lori received a letter from Lee, dated June 28, 2006, which arrived on July 5.

"He is considering a response," McAleer said. "As in the past, the Diocese of Bridgeport invites the Voice of the Faithful to move beyond its neutral stance on various church teachings on faith and morals. As a Catholic, one cannot be both neutral and faithful."

Lee, 63, of Bridgeport, is owner of People Insurance and Investments in Fairfield. Growing up in Hamden, he attended Notre Dame High School in West Haven and graduated from Yale University in 1964. "The day after I graduated, I came to Fairfield to sign a contract with an insurance company and to see whether I could survive selling life insurance," Lee said. "Five years later, I owned a home in Fairfield, I had completed my military duty with the U.S. Army Reserve and had a son and was three or four years into the Fairfield Rotary Club."

Lee, who for the past 18 years has lived in Black Rock, is married and the father of three adult sons.

Lee's own father died when Lee was a sophomore at Notre Dame. He said if it had not been for support from the school community he would not have been able to continue at the school. That support would later spark Lee's own charitable spirit. He paid for a student to attend the high school, and built houses for those displaced by the tsunami in Thailand.

In 2004, Lee spent time in China building playgrounds for children.

A member of St. James Church in Stratford, Lee said he also worked on his spiritual side, attending the School of Spirituality at the Mercy Center in Madison from 1998 to 2002."When the church scandal broke I was flabbergasted. I'm not usually someone who jumps on a bandwagon," Lee said. "In October 2002, the first thing I did was write a letter to the bishop.

"I asked him to forward certain information and I never got a response to that letter," he said. Lee said that in the spring of 2003 he went to a meeting of Voice of the Faithful and the first thing that surprised him was the age of the people.

"I met a group of people who were alert, probably average age of 70 to 75, and who had been faithful in their ministry over the years," he said. He started reading some of the group's material and found out about their purpose. As he attended the VOTF meetings, Lee said, he was affected by the stories told by abuse victims. "About two-thirds of the meetings were listening to people who were just telling their incredible stories and trying to recover," he said.

Lee said this year the group wants to look into the financial accountability of the church. "I understand that the church says we are not a democracy, and that's fine. I'm not trying to get us there," Lee said. "What I am trying to do is to have people listen to each other." McAleer said the 2005 financial report is posted on the diocesan Web site,, and referenced in the current edition of Fairfield County Catholic, which is sent free to every Catholic household. "Accompanying this report is a letter from Bishop Lori, and an interview with our chief financial officer, Norm Walker, which explains the advances we are continually making," McAleer said, adding that a new accounting firm was hired to conduct the audit and prepare the financial statements in full conformity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

"This extended the time needed to complete this report, which was reviewed and approved by the Diocesan Finance Council, comprised of 15 lay members and four members of the clergy," McAleer said. "The transparency of our reporting has increased, which will be of significant benefit to our stewardship efforts."


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