INDIANAPOLIS – The Catholic lay reform group Voice of the Faithful is holding a national meeting to create a lasting strategy for involvement in the church, three years after the clergy sex abuse scandal (search) fueled the group's calls for change.
For three days beginning Friday, about 500 leaders from some 200 of the organization's local affiliates will attend workshops on recruiting, strategy, keeping parishes open and supporting abuse victims.
It is the group's first national meeting in nearly three years.
The steps are needed to transform the 30,000-member organization from a cause fueled by anger into a mature advocate for worshippers, observers say.
"Anger gets you part way, but it does not sustain you," said Jim Post (search), the group's president. "What sustains (members) is love of the church, the belief that the church is worth fighting for, an institution with a moral mission."
Voice of the Faithful was formed three years ago to protest transfers of abusive priests within the Boston Archdiocese. Now, the movement stands poised to enter a new phase as a network of affiliates eager to engage bishops.
But many bishops were put off by the group from the start because one of its goals is to work for "structural change" in the church. Its other goals — to support abuse victims and priests of integrity — were objectives that anyone in the church could support.
"When I 'have asked the leadership to tell me what they mean by their third goal, 'to shape structural change within the church,' they have been unable to clearly articulate its meaning or implications," Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein told his priests in a letter two weeks ago. "In fact, they seem not to be aware of possible implications to changing the church's structure."
Lay critics of the group also have seized upon the structural change goal to brand it as a heretical group that wants to open the priesthood to women and married men.
Deal Hudson, former publisher of the Catholic monthly Crisis, has written that the group "is a wolf in sheep's clothing ... using this tragedy in our Church to advance its own political and theological agenda."
Post said Voice of the Faithful has never promoted such an agenda and remains focused on the sexual abuse scandal, lay participation in the church and clearer financial reporting after abuse-related payouts of more than $1 billion.
"What we meant is that if something didn't change, there would be some big problems for the church," he said.
Voice of the Faithful has affiliates in all 50 states and 39 countries but is heavily concentrated on the East Coast. Organizers hope to broaden their reach with the recent election of a national council and the three-day Indianapolis convocation.
Post said the convocation will allow local leaders to share strategies and develop tools to overcome the apathy he perceives on the part of most U.S. Catholics.
"Americans like quick fixes and short wars," Post said. "There are no quick fixes in the Catholic Church."