Pastor bars Florida VOTF from holding annual Mass over group’s restructuring efforts


Citing Voice of the Faithful’s advocacy of church restructuring, the pastor of a Catholic church in Naples, Florida has barred the Southwest Florida VOTF affiliate from celebrating its annual Mass at the parish.

St. John the Evangelist Church pastor Rev. John Ludden told the Naples News that he was concerned about the organization as a whole because “they’re becoming a group within the church that are aligning themselves with other groups that ... don’t trust the hierarchy and want to change our structure.”

Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), a self-described church reform group, advocates a “strategic plan” which would reduce pastoral and episcopal governance of parishes and dioceses. CNA has reported the strategic plan is “remarkably similar” to a recently proposed Connecticut bill that aimed to forcibly reorganize the Church in Connecticut.

The bill was withdrawn after massive Catholic protests and VOTF has denied initiating any specific legislation at the state or federal level to advance their plans.

VOTF of Southwest Florida (VOTF-SWFL) describes its aims on its web site, saying “Our specific area of concentration is the bureaucracy or management of the temporal affairs of our church. The realization of this goal will occur when we, the laity, are given ‘our place at the table’.”

In his reported remarks, Fr. Ludden did not refer to the Connecticut bill, but said he made his decision based on his knowledge of the group. His decision had nothing to do with the individuals involved in the organization, he said.

“I know some of the people who come to Mass every Sunday are part of the group, and by no means does this mean they are not welcome to the church,” he explained. “We are here to foster faith, to nurture it.”

According to the national organization’s web site, VOTF Trustee Board Member John Hushon is a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist in Naples.

“In terms of the Eucharist, the Mass for Catholics is the sacrament of unity,” Fr. Ludden told Naples News, adding that in his view VOTF stands “in stark contrast” to that unity and the group would “stand in contradiction to what the Mass is all about.”

Peg Clark, President of VOTF-SWFL said the priest’s decision was “a total unexpected surprise.”

The group reportedly will celebrate its annual Mass in the sanctuary of a rented Presbyterian Church.

“We will have the Mass in the appropriate venue,” she said. She also voiced her group’s determination to have Mass in a Catholic Church next year.

VOTF-SWFL’s lecture series at St. John the Evangelist was banned in 2008. The Diocese of Venice said the speakers were prohibited from the Catholic venue because they “repeatedly expressed positions which contradict the Church’s teachings and doctrine.”

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