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This Church Won't Budge

By Eileen McNamara, Boston Globe Columnist,
April 2, 2003

The war is over. It is time for Voice of the Faithful to follow Vermont Senator George D. Aiken's advice to President Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam: Declare victory and leave.

The dissident lay group born of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church met half of its mission. It kept the faith. It is time to acknowledge that it cannot change the church.

How much clearer could Bishop Richard G. Lennon make it to thousands of Sunday school teachers, deacons, lectors, and church organists who have been asking politely for a place at the table for more than a year?

The apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston does not want their counsel any more than he wants their cash. His decision this week to reject $35,000 in sorely needed charitable contributions from Voice of the Faithful is only the latest signal that the church would rather subject the poor to hardship than share power with laity it cannot control. How else to explain the decision to spurn donations at a time when the archdiocese's financial straits are forcing it to close schools and churches and to curtail programs for the needy?

Since its formation in outraged response to the systematic coverup by church officials of crimes against children, Voice of the Faithful has walked a tightrope, challenging the actions of the church hierarchy without undermining its authority. What Lennon is telling these prayerful, respectful Catholics is that they cannot have it both ways.

For months after the Vatican installed Lennon as a seat warmer upon the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the bishop refused to return the telephone calls or to meet with Voice of the Faithful leaders. When Lennon finally did grant an audience to James Post, the Boston University professor who serves as president of the group, he refused to yield on any matters of substance.

No, he would not lift a ban on new Voice chapters meeting in churches that the laity's dollars built.

No, he would not accept donations that were conditioned on the money being spent on direct services for the poor.

No, he would not share power with the people who are the church.

It is time to stop asking. Lennon's directive this week to each and every branch of the Boston Archdiocese to reject any and all contributions from Voice of the Faithful is illuminated in neon. It is hard to imagine how he could make his message any clearer: Get in line or get out of the way.

Voice of the Faithful has accomplished much in its brief life. It put the face of compassion on a church rent by betrayal and deceit. It reached out to those who had been assaulted and raped by priests and gave them dignity and solace by its repeated public acknowledgment of their trauma. It gave a voice to women religious. It stood in solidarity with the many, unheralded men in Roman collars who serve their parishes with decency and integrity.

That the 30,000 members of Voice of the Faithful nationwide love the Catholic Church and want to be instruments of constructive change is certain. But, just as certainly, the hierarchy of that church is determined to marginalize them.

What a waste of time and energy for creative and faithful Catholics to continue to stand with their noses pressed against the chancery windows, tugging on their forelocks, waiting for a discredited hierarchy to confer upon them a legitimacy that is already theirs.

Why should they surrender when it is the church leadership that has failed? Maybe because there really are immovable objects that will resist even the most powerful forces. There are charities aplenty that would be grateful for their generosity, church upon church that would welcome their full participation.

This war is over. It is time to declare victory and leave.

Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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