Reflections of a Voice of the Faithful [sic; actually "Faithless"] Dropout
By Susan E. Jordan -Catholic Citizens of Illinois
My introduction to Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) was in March of 2002 when I lived in the Boston area.
After the Boston Globe launched its now famous investigative reporting of the clergy sex abuse scandal in early January, many Catholic parishes in the Boston area held listening sessions for concerned parishioners. Within a few months, a steady group of these Catholics from throughout the Boston area began to convene on a regular basis at St. John the Evangelist parish in Wellesley. From an initial gathering of perhaps 30 people on a Monday night, these weekly gatherings grew to over 500 attendees with coverage by CNN, PBS and other major media outlets. This was the genesis of Voice of the Faithful.
My initial reaction to an increasing awareness of the scandal was a desire to figure out some concrete and compassionate way to reach out to the victims (survivors) of clergy sexual abuse. I had never encountered anyone who had experienced such abuse; and any stories I had read or heard I had simply dismissed as Catholic bashing. With the incessant coverage by the Boston Globe, Catholics were bombarded with endless accounts of new abuse cases. The VOTF gatherings brought together abuse survivors with concerned Catholics. The initial intent seemed laudable and credible: 1) support the survivors-work towards healing; 2) recognize “priests of integrity” (this peculiar title always baffled me, but my interpretation was that most priests are faithful to their vows); 3) shape structural change within the Church-to eliminate future abuses. The VOTF mantra “Keep the Faith, Change the Church” was intended to reflect the spirit of the Second Vatican Council toward greater involvement of the laity.
As the VOTF meetings progressed, I found myself included in the Leadership Council. However, I noticed a change in the composition of attendees at these leadership meetings: on one occasion I learned I was sitting between representatives from Call to Action and WomenChurch. I also noticed the VOTF platform was beginning to shift from the original intent of helping survivors to challenging Church teachings on contraception and other issues. During the planning meetings for VOFT’s first convention in June of 2002, I put forth suggestions for speakers like George Weigel, Richard John Neuhaus and Mary Anne Glendon. The visceral reaction seemed to convey that my recommendations were akin to Hitler and Stalin. When I was turned down as VOTF’s first Executive Director, I realized the Holy Spirit had been watching over me and guiding me right out the door for some time. Deo Gratias.