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Our readersOctober 20, 2003

Voices of Which Faithful?

The three models for the Voice of the Faithful outlined by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., (9/29), are interesting from a merely academic point of view. But his suggestion that the incorporational model may be the most effective in the long term appears naïve when a practical application is considered. Does Father Rausch seriously believe that those who might be proponents of a bishop’s resignation or a sharing of power, authority and decision making with the episcopacy (not to mention ordination of women or optional celibacy for priests) would ever be allowed to serve as members of parish councils and diocesan offices...

diocesan committees and advisory boards? I think not.

Those who oppose the status quo or dissent from the policies of those in power will never be given an effective hand in shaping policy. Accordingly, until the day when the laity is given the opportunity to choose episcopal leaders and the authority to set policy, organized groups such as V.O.T.F. must remain independent. This is the only way that allnot somevoices will be heard.

Frank V. Pesce
Westbury, N.Y.

Models of the Future?

It is heartening to read of a hopeful future for Voice of the Faithful in The Lay Vocation and Voice of the Faithful by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., (9/29). Father Rausch’s words quicken our vision of being a positive force that brings the talents of the laity to bear on the temporal administration of the church.

We are indeed faithful Catholics, serving now or in the past in every aspect of ministry, as eucharistic ministers, pastoral council members, lectors, directors of religious education, hospitality ministers, prison ministry leaders, C.C.D. teachers, youth leaders, choir members, pastoral associates and of course as concerned parents.

The incorporational model that Father Rausch recommends already exists.

Education is also an important component of V.O.T.F. New Hampshire affiliates have sponsored numerous lecture series across the state in conjunction with local Catholic college professors and theologians.

On the current schedule are a five-part video series, Faithful Revolution, lectures on spirituality in the 21st century, social justice, and roadblocks and opportunities for renewal. The chairman of the diocesan task force on a new sexual abuse policy has addressed several groups; we held a Mass of healing, co-sponsored a tristate workshop on survivor issues, and a solidarity march at the cathedral. A structural-change working group is focusing on strengthening pastoral councils.

These activities fall under what Father Rausch calls the advocacy group model of educating ourselves and voicing concerns as adult Christians. Another part of that function relates, as he states, to bringing pressure to bear on vital matters. Actions on these in the name of the group require a two-thirds affirmative vote, a very high margin.

Father Rausch cites our call for the resignations of Bishop John B. McCormack, Cardinal Bernard Law’s former aide, and Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Christian, after long deliberation of their roles in the sexual abuse crisis. Yes, we have taken the risk of disagreeing with our bishops and been willing to publicize their negligence that we regard as criminal in all but the legal sense.

Resignation is part of the solution; witness the hope and fresh air in Boston following the installation of Archbishop Sean O’Malley. We pray for the same surcease. Five bishops in Canada, Ireland, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have resigned in the last 10 years for the mishandling of abuse allegations, so our tradition accommodates this remedy.

Father Rausch also refers to V.O.T.F. suggesting a model of parallel structures, which he defines as the desire of members to meet with bishops as an organization, instead of as individuals. This point is confusing. We do not envision organizing structures to co-administer the temporal affairs of a diocese. Instead of refusing to acknowledge our existence as V.O.T.F., let us break bread together like the Knights of Columbus, Right to Life or any other group.

While tensions are perhaps inevitable between the hierarchy and the laity in the short term, all must join to assure that there is some measure of true accountability. A new paradigm of genuine collaborative authority needs to be implemented and V.O.T.F. yearns to participate constructively, allowing the Spirit to transform both the church and ourselves from within, as Father Rausch suggests.

Carolyn B. Disco
N.H. Voice of the Faithful
Merrimack, N.H.

No Evidence

In The Lay Vocation and Voice of the Faithful (9/29), Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., mentions that V.O.T.F called for the resignation of Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., and his auxiliary, Bishop Francis J. Christian. V.O.T.F. also called for the resignation of Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre. The Catholic League quickly came to the defense of Bishop Murphy, because there was no evidence either in Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s report or The Boston Globe’s recent book, Betrayal, that Bishop Murphy was ever involved with moving molesting priests in Boston. To this date no other evidence has been brought to bear against Bishop Murphy either by V.O.T.F. or any other group. While it is important that delinquent bishops be punished, it is also important that innocent bishops not have their good names dragged through the mud.

William A. Donohue
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, N.Y.

Weak Example

In The Lay Vocation and Voice of the Faithful (9/29), Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., refers to the V.O.T.F. as a possible advocacy group. He describes this as his second model, which would have considerable merit.

I agree, although the example cited is the New Hampshire V.O.T.F. calling upon Bishop John B. McCormack and Bishop Francis J. Christian to resign because of their general disregard to the testimony of sexual abuse victims and an unwillingness to remove predatory priests from contact with children. Apparently the V.O.T.F. is a rather toothless lion in this instance.

Joseph C. Mohen
Oaklyn, N.J.

Tell It Like It Is

In Gulag Erin (9/29), Richard A. Blake, S.J., sends two messages to me in his review: there are awful lessons for Catholics to learn from The Magdalene Sisters; and the director, Peter Mullan, shows no balance in this film. Of lessons to be learned, I want to know as much as I can. But when Father Blake hints at the film’s partial truths, I want to know what is deceptive or not true. Is the suggested distortion or falsehood the sort of thing that director Oliver Stone is often accused of? Or is it amplification needed to break through the barriers of denial?

Regarding Mullan’s lack of balance, I sense this has more to do with what Father Blake admits is a viewing particularly painful for Catholics. I don’t expect the director of Romero to ensure I know that there surely must be some good, loving Catholics among the Salvadoran government and military.

Kevin Garvey
Deerfield, Ill.

What We Need

The hierarchy must create a favorable climate for the lay vocations in parish life. In The Lay Vocation and Voice of the Faithful (9/29), Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., does not focus on the responsibility of the cardinals and bishops to promote parish pastoral councils, finance councils and diocesan synods, where the laity can have an opportunity to participate in decisions made or not made in the parish community. In walking in Jesus’ footsteps, we need conversation, not lectures.

The parish pastoral and finance councils must represent the diversity of parishioners and reflect what the pope called a fruitful dialogue between pastors and the faithful. Pastoral planning is most important, because we have fewer priests and we have to work and be stewards of our resources. In the 40 years since the Second Vatican Council, failure to establish effective parish pastoral and finance councils has been disappointing and helped create the problems of today.

Hal Albergo
Freehold, N.J.

A Happy Sister

Thank you for your editorial, Valiant Women (9/22). This is not the first time America has recognized the contribution to education of American nuns. In the 1970’s, you called attention to the injustice of the emolument paid to religious congregations for the work of their sisters in classrooms (and sacristies, where their services were usually gratuitous).

How did sisters live on $3,500 to $4,000 a year? By careful management. By abstemiousness. Grapefruit for dessert on Sunday. Oranges twice a week for breakfast.

Physicians and dentists were good to us, usually not charging for care, which was generous and efficient. Some merchants and some universities offered religious discounts. For a time on the railroads sisters and squaws rode free.

Sisters, few in number, still serve as diocesan chancellors, as advisers to nongovernmental organizations at the United Nations and, while the official church still lags behind, as pastoral associates.

A nonagenarian could ramble on. Sisters made me what I am today, a happy nun for 70 years with a satisfying career to look back on and a blessed eternity ahead, comfortable with the knowledge that good lay people are discharging now the functions that were formerly left to sisters.

Alice Whitehead, I.B.V.M.
Wheaton, Ill.


Having just read your editorial, Valiant Women (9/22), on the contributions of Catholic sisters to the education of America’s youth, I commend to you and your readers the book Sisters, written by John J. Fialka and published by St. Martin’s Press earlier this year [reviewed in America, 3/3]. Mr. Fialka is a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, who I believe has accomplished the impossible in his highly readable gem. Until I read this book, I was unaware of the contributions, primarily of the Irish Sisters of Mercy, to the development of our country. From the early 1800’s to the days of the Wild West, from the Civil War through today, these women willingly accepted the most difficult assignments with creativity, intelligence and humility.

What a shame it is that the general press does not give as much coverage to the extraordinary stories of century-old generosity as they have, for example, to the recent movie The Magdalene Sisters.

Mary E. Sughrue
New York, N.Y.

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