.- Voice of the Faithful, a group synonymous for many with anger and dissent, held their first meeting in three years this weekend in Indianapolis where they discussed ways to reform the Catholic Church following the priestly sexual abuse scandal.
The national meeting drew some 500 leaders from 200 different affiliates around the country in what many observers see as an attempt to bully Catholic clergy and bishops.
One of the groups publicized goals is to structurally change the Church, a goal which makes many faithful weary of VOF‘s true intentions.
In a letter to the priests of his diocese two weeks ago, Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein wrote, "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.”
"In fact,” he said, “they seem not to be aware of possible implications to changing the church's structure."
Voice of the Faithful was established in Boston three years ago in response to the abuse crisis in that city. It is now active in all fifty states.
The group announced many draft resolutions established this weekend which include tougher laws against abusive priests and the bishops who may have “protected them”, greater financial transparency within the Church and a greater collaboration between laity and bishops.
There is no sign however, that the Church will accept any of VOF’s demands or resolutions.
Many in fact, believe that major steps will be needed to transform the organization, often associated with anger and dissent into the advocate for Catholic lay people the 30,000 member group wants to be seen as.
Jim Post, president of VOF said prior to the meeting that, "Anger gets you part way, but it does not sustain you…What sustains (members) is love of the church, the belief that the church is worth fighting for, an institution with a moral mission."
Deal Hudson however, former editor of Crisis Magazine, thinks that the group is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “Voice of the Faithful”, he told CNA, “has been trying for the past three years to lead a revolt against the teaching authority of the Church. It's a revolt repudiated by the outpouring of tribute to the life of John Paul II followed by the election of Benedict XVI.”
Other resolutions approved by the group this weekend included demands for lay involvement in the election of bishops and calls for discussion of "women and other marginalized people within the church."
According to reports however, some of these even brought internal criticism for their language which seems to exclude men.
Virgine Elking, a member of Dayton, Ohio’s Sisters of the Precious Blood said that, "I feel used and non-recognized. Why? Because I am a woman."
At the close of the meeting, members sprinkled one another with holy water with Post adding: "We want all of you to leave here today to be ambassadors of change, ambassadors of action."
But George Wiegel, commentator on the Church, and biographer of Pope John Paul II, told CNA that "When the leadership and membership of Voice of the Faithful acknowledge that a culture of dissent in the Church played a significant role in creating the damaged ecology from which priestly sexual abuse and the bishops' failure to deal with it both emerged, then -- and not before -- will VOF contribute to the authentically Catholic reform of the Church."