Church Group Stays Faithful

By Lydia Crafts
The Woburn Advocate
August 17, 2006

WINCHESTER - Four years after organizing amid a tempest of sexual abuse scandals, the Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful is still going strong.

Its newly elected president, Mary Pat Fox, said Monday that VOTF will continue to make clerical and lay responsibility the cornerstone of its work within the Catholic Church. Her comments came at a meeting of Winchester Voice of the Faithful, one of VOTF's most active chapters, which meets weekly at St. Eulalia's Church in Winchester.

VOTF formed during the nadir of the sexual abuse scandals of 2002, with the intention of dealing head-on with the corruption that had infected the church. The group holds as its three primary goals to support abuse victims, support priests of integrity and shape structural change within the church.

"This is the first time in history the laity has ever had a voice ... No one in the church ever objected before. This is first time large numbers of people have stood up and objected," said John Moynihan, the head of media relations for the group.

Winchester VOTF invited Fox to speak as part of their continuous effort to breed more dialogue within the group, the Catholic Church and the surrounding community. Winchester VOTF draws members from several area cities and towns, including Woburn.

Only through increased communication and accountability do VOTF members believe they can effect a positive change.

"We need to have dialogue with the hierarchy to accomplish our greater goals," said Louise Aleo, a member of Winchester VOTF.

In Winchester VOTF's first few years, church leaders refused to return its phone calls. But just last week, the Winchester group met with Francis X. Irwin, auxiliary bishop of Boston.

"Bishop Irwin was very open to the way we presented what are goals are," said Aleo. Similarly, Boston VOTF convened with Cardinal Sean O'Malley for the first time in three years at the beginning of the month.

In their discussions with church leaders and the Catholic community, VOTF has identified two campaigns. One is to facilitate financial accountability by calling for the establishment of finance councils in parishes and dioceses. The other involves extending the statutes of limitations to bring the old abuse cases to trial. Fox said that trying these cases remains essential to the church's ability to protect children from the abusers.

"If the story doesn't get told, we don't know who the abusers are," she said. "This is the only avenue to get these abusers exposed."

The group believes it is, and is increasingly becoming, a mainstream voice within the Catholic community. First congregating in the basement St. John Evangelist Church in Wellesley with only 25 people, membership then skyrocketed in just six months when 15,000 new members joined the group. It has since grown to include 150 affiliates nationwide and in 40 countries, with current membership at 35,000.

VOTF includes some of the most active members of the church. A 2004 national membership study conducted by VOTF revealed the 93 percent of members were born and grew up in the church and that many remain highly active as Eucharistic ministers, religious education teachers, Catholic grade and high school teachers and catechumenate leaders.

Fox, the new president, comes to VOTF from New York City. She decided to join the group immediately upon hearing a speech by former VOTF President Jim Post at her church. She soon became the leader of the Manhattan affiliate.

During her time as president, Fox has committed to bringing out the truth in the sex scandals and to building a positive relationship between church and its followers.

"I want to change the church so that it is the community we all want it to be with emotional, spiritual and intellectual nourishment," she said. "There's going to be a lot of butting heads. But we have to realize we're all on the same page in that we want a safe environment for our children of today and our future generations ... it's not a black and white path, but one of many colors ... so many people have great ideas, passion and energy. No one has all the right answers, but we have to take on more responsibility."


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