Voice of the Faithful
Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) is an organization of progressive Catholics, formed in early 2002 in response to the Catholic sex abuse cases.
Founding, growth and mission
VOTF began when a small group of parishioners met in the basement of St. John the Evangelist Church in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to pray over allegations that a priest had abused local youngsters. Its meetings soon became well attended, as well as attracting significant media attention. A conference it held in July 2002 attracted over 4,000 lay Catholics, victims of clergy sexual abuse, theologians, priests and religious from around the United States and the world. Less than a year after its founding, VOTF was able to claim 30,000 members worldwide. VOTF currently has members in all 50 states and in 21 nations, with over 150 Parish Voice affiliates.
Jim Muller, one of VOTF's co-founders and its first president, has written a book about the group's founding called Keep the Faith, Change the Church.
VOTF's mission statement is: "To provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church."
It has articulated three goals:
- To support victims of clergy sexual abuse;
- To support priests of integrity; and
- To shape structural change within Church.
Voice of the Faithful works to support victims of clergy sexual abuse and advocates for bishops' fuller accountability for their handling of complaints of abuse by clergy. The group is partially credited with forcing the resignation of Boston's Archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, in December 2002.
Members of the organization have worked to extend statutes of limitations for allegations of abuse against minors. One of its more visible accomplishments was its involvement in the effort to extend the statute of limitations in Massachusetts. The group leading this effort, called the Coalition to Reform Sex Abuse Laws, included many VOTF members. In April 2011 it mailed a letter to the priests working in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to elicit their support for the abolition of the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania.
VOTF advocates for structural change in the Church—in general, for lay members to have a greater administrative voice, especially regarding financial oversight, in their parishes and dioceses.
VOTF has recently taken a controversial stand in calling for the Vatican to review the requirement that priests be celibate. Jim Post, a former president of VOTF, stated, "We’ve repeatedly rejected that argument, saying that those are not our issues. Even I, from time to time, wonder whether we shouldn’t just declare victory and say a lot’s been done in five years."
Connecticut attorney Thomas Gallagher, a noted contributor to VOTF, was instrumental in writing proposed legislation, similar to the 1905 law in France, which would remove bishops' control of the dioceses and place them into the hands of laymen.
Leaders from VOTF have helped create the American Catholic Council, a group of dissident Catholics who want to reform the Church.
A two-year study conducted by Catholic University of America found that VOTF members "share a deep and highly involved commitment to their Church." and the group has been endorsed by a number of American Catholic theologians. An article in Commonweal called the group "one of the most interesting and hopeful developments to come out of the Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse crisis."
Since its inception, many have questioned whether VOTF is, as it claims, operating within the law, doctrine and tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. The group has hosted many speakers not in favor with the hierarchy, such as Eugene Kennedy, a long-time observer of the Roman Catholic Church, professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and author of the book The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality; and Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., J.C.D., an advocate for obtaining justice for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, who has been reprimanded for failing to implement liturgical guidelines.
Some feel that ongoing publicity, prosecution and high profile legal settlements related to sexual abuse by priests, such as the July 2007 Diocese of Los Angeles settlement, point to the group's continued influence. Other reports, however, say that the group is broke and facing an identity crisis.
In his 2008 book Here Comes Everybody, author Clay Shirky studied VOTF as an example of an activist group for which the communication possibilities of the Internet were essential; contrasting its success with an "almost identical" 1992 case of a pedophile priest in the same diocese, also under Bishop Law and reported by the Boston Globe, but before widespread adoption of the Internet.
In her 2011 book Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful Is Changing the Church, author Tricia Colleen Bruce offers an in-depth look at the development of Voice of the Faithful and its struggle to challenge church leaders and advocate for internal change while being accepted as legitimately Catholic. Drawing on three years of field observation and interviews with VOTF founders, leaders, and participants, the book explores the contested nature of a religious movement operating within the confines of a larger institution, an example of what the author calls an intrainstitutional social movement.
- "Catholics Hoping to Shift Bit Of Power From Pulpit to Pew", The New York Times, July 21, 2002. Accessed April 4, 2008.
- "Law, Citing Abuse Scandal, Quits As Boston Archbishop And Asks For Forgiveness", December 14, 2002. Accessed April 4, 2008.
- "Welcome to Parish Voice". Voice of the Faithful. 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- "Our Mission Statement". Voice of the Faithful. 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- "PHILLY PRIESTS SENT BOGUS SURVEY" (Press release). Catholic League. 25 April 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
- "Letter to Philadelphia Priests" (Press release). Catholic League. 21 April 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
- Belluck, Pam (2007-06-24). "Catholic Lay Group Tests a Strategy Change". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- Walther, Andrew; Ela, Elizabeth (2009-03-11). "Religious Freedom Under Attack in Connecticut". Headline Bistro. Retrieved 2009-03-11.
- Gallagher, Tom (2009-03-09). "A proposal: Look to Civil law to reform parishes". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 2009-03-11.
- California Catholic Daily, A New Church? Dissenter umbrella group forms
- "2004 Survey of VOTF Members" (PDF). Voice of the Faithful. 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- "THEOLOGIAN PETITION: Voice of the Faithful Has the Right to Exist". Voice of the Faithful. 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- "Are The Bishops Listening? An Interview with VOTF's James E. Post". Commonweal. 2003-06-06. Archived from the original on 2007-11-08. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- "Conversion is the change the church needs". National Catholic Reporter. 2003-10-24. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- Wakin, Daniel J. (2004-04-29). "Catholic Priest Who Aids Church Sexual Abuse Victims Loses Job". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- "Interview with Rev. Thomas Doyle". Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. 2003-06-27. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- Goodstein, Laurie (2007-07-16). "After Abuse Settlement, An Apology to Victims". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
- Eric Gorski (2007-07-11). "L.A. lawsuit negotiations, polling and donations point to a diminishing clergy abuse scandal". San Diego Union-Tribune.
- People Power On the Media, February 29, 2008
- Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful Is Changing the Church Oxford University Press, February 2011. Accessed March 8, 2011
- official site
- The Boston Globe: Spotlight Investigation: Abuse in the Catholic Church
- The Boston Globe: IN-DEPTH: The rise of Voice of the Faithful
- Richard Sipe: VOTF: LEARNING FROM HISTORY – HOW TO PROTECT AGAINST ABUSERS (lecture by Sipe)
- ‘‘The Christian Science Monitor’’: Catholic reformers hold historic meeting
- National Catholic Register: Cover story: Church in Crisis: 4,000 meet to give laity a voice
- Notre Dame Magazine: Keep the Faith, Change the Church (interview with first VOTF president Jim Muller)
- National Catholic Register: Joan Chittister: Voice of Faithful goes after biggest issue of all: authority
- The Christian Science Monitor: A window on reform
- National Catholic Register: Church in Crisis: Meltdown in Boston
- ‘’National Catholic Register’’: Voice of the Faithful misleads the laity: Group’s challenge to bishops’ authority is challenge to doctrine
- The Friends of ST. FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI: Digging in to stay and pray - At some 'suppressed' churches, they defy O'Malley's plan (reprinted from National Catholic Register)