Divisiveness at home

Divisiveness at home

The split in the Church over Voice of the Faithful and the Scandal has hit my parish. Specifically, there was an opinion column in our local newspaper The Salem Evening news on Friday from a parishioner, or should I say former parishioner.

My response to it is right here(I’m also sending it to the newspaper for publication). I will post his article in its entirety at the “More…” link below since only paid subscribers can read it on the newspaper’s web site. Please go read his column first and then come back to read my response.


My heart goes out to Brendan Walsh (Viewpoint, Nov. 8) whose faith seems to be in crisis because of the clergy abuse scandals. However, his reaction to his pastor’s decision not to allow the lay group Voice of the Faithful to meet in his parish seems to be overstated.

I won’t presume to speak for Fr. Timothy Murphy, the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, but I will say that Fr. Murphy would never tell Brendan that he “didn’t know much about” Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). Fr. Murphy and I have had several discussions about VOTF on occasions preceding Brendan’s lunch with him and we both agreed then that the group is divisive precisely because it attempts to “run the ideological gamut.”

Beng the member of a church, particularly the Catholic Church, is not like being a member of a political party. People of good will can disagree on policy decisions and how best to govern a nation or state or city. But being a member of a church has one tenet: what is God’s will and what is our response to it? On the most important issues, there can be one answer and one alone. For example, is it God’s will that unborn children have an inherent right to life? We can’t agree to disagree, because if that child does have that right, then it would be inhuman to allow it, to turn our backs on it. So how do we determine God’s will? As Christians, we believe that God gave us His Word, both written and oral, which has been handed down to us over the centuries, and as Catholics we believe that the Holy Spirit guides his bishops, in union with the Pope, in interpreting that Word for us today.

That’s the short form. The problem is that any authentic grassroots group of Catholics has to start by acknowledging that fidelity to the teachings of the Church is essential. We don’t have an ideological gamut in the Church; there is orthodoxy (Greek for “correct belief”) and heterodoxy. (“wrong belief”).

Now VOTF claims that it counsels adherence to the Church’s teachings. Yet, even today you can go to its web site (http://www.votf.org/Educating_Ourselves/massimini.html) and find recommended reading that contradicts Church teaching on abortion, contraception, sexual morality, who can receive which sacraments, and so on. We find no recommended reading that counsels adherence to Church teaching. This is what makes VOTF divisive. The group offers vague assurances that it only wants to “promote structural change” in the Church, yet never offers what that means.

As for Brendan’s recollection of a Salem priest once having lunch with a member of the American Nazi Party, I wonder the purpose of that anecdote. Perhaps the priest was trying to effect a change of heart in the man. Even Jesus broke bread with the prostitutes and tax collectors. I recall the Pharisees chastized even him for that. And even if that priest of long ago had some sympathies for the Nazi, how do we know he was not punished? Brendan admits he doesn’t know, yet assumes he wasn’t. Now who’s being divisive?

Brendan asks why Cardinal Bernard Law, who he says aided and abetted criminal behavior, has the right to tell a parish who can use the parish hall. Because he’s the bishop and whatever mistakes he’s made in the past, it doesn’t invalidate his responsibility to safeguard his flock from that which would separate them from Christ now.

Brendan wonders what he’ll do on Sundays now that he doesn’t feel like a part of his own parish. I hope he will pray and ask for God’s guidance. Maybe he’ll find a new parish that is to his liking. That’s the beauty of the Catholic Church, that every parish is still part of the same family of God and every Mass a partaking of the same sacrifice of Christ. And on Sundays, I hope all of the family of Immaculate Conception Parish that Brendan has left behind will pray for him, too, that he will find the answers he seeks.