On Sunday, the Boston Globe ran a glowing article about the one-year anniversary of Voice of the Faithful. I continue to ask why the Globe spills so much ink on this group of dissidents. There are thousands of Catholic groups out there, yet the newspaper’s editors are enamored of this one. The reason is obvious. VOTF represents a grassroots challenge to the Church’s teachings which the Globe‘s reporters and editors themselves find to be outdated and a challenge to their own beliefs.
The article is funny because it attempts to defend the group against all the objections against it. It includes a graph of the rise in membership from 30 a year ago, to 19,000 last June, to 25,000 in December, to 30,000 today. Sorry folks, but you were claiming 25,000 members last June and we all know that much of that numbers consists of people on your mailing list, not real members.
It also brings up the obstacles facing the group such as Bishop Lennon’s refusal of the $35,000 it offered—with strings attached. Oh, how could the bishop refuse the money in this grave budget crisis? Precisely because it came with strings attached. The archdiocese’s budget is over $10 million per year. What is $35,000 in the face of the huge deficits it faces? And why couldn’t they just give the money as individuals with their conditions attached to their donations? Because having it come from the group makes a political statement and gives legitimacy to VOTF.
When the article turns on VOTF’s critics, it really goes off the tracks.
A Pembroke woman, Carol McKinley has started an anti-Voice of the Faithful journal online, in which she maintains a running critique of the group as a front for liberal and even anti-Catholic organizations. Another website, Catholic World News, is hosting an online debate about the group, dominated by critics.
And Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic publication, has sent out fund-raising appeals touting its willingness to go after Voice of the Faithful, which it calls an ‘‘extreme dissident group.’‘
The leadership of the Boston Archdiocese has not resorted to such attacks, and Lennon recently met with Post.
What?! Catholic World News does not host and online debate about VOTF? We have a blog in which VOTF is sometimes mentioned. And we have reader feedback pages which is not unlike the Globe‘s letters to the editor. Would it be fair to say that the Globe is hosting a printed debate about the war in Iraq, dominated by critics? Ridiculous, especially that they would call what do “attacks.”
But the Globe will go to any lengths to legitimize the role of VOTF in the Church.
The lay movement has also attracted the attention of scholars and has helped spur a new wave of theological research into the role of laypeople in Catholicism today. Muller, the founder, is at work on a book on the group with Charles Kenney, a former Boston Globe reporter; several other books on the Catholic laity are nearing publication.
Give me a break. Crediting them with the trend is a reach. Give me some clearer evidence.
The Rev. William A. Clark, an assistant professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, who has been closely following the development of Voice of the Faithful, argues that the group has actually improved the church’s public image by reminding Catholics and non-Catholics that the church is held together by something more important than the power of its bishops.
“Keeping the idea that the church is more than the hierarchy in public view is a very important accomplishment,” Clark said. “These are people saying, ‘We’re Catholic too, and we’re just as angered,’ and showing that the church has more depth to it than the bishops who responded so inadequately in the first place.”
No, Fr. Clark, what holds the Church together is neither the power of the bishops nor the power of the laity, but the power of the Holy Spirit. And that Spirit resides in the totality of the People of God with a special expression through the bishops. The Bible and Tradition make the hierarchical structure of the Church united by the Holy Spirit clear. It’s amazing he doesn’t see it.
In the end, it’s Fr. Christopher Coyne, an archdiocesan spokesman who sums it up best.
“Using Voice of the Faithful’s own membership numbers, it is clear that they represent a very small percentage of the Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston,” Coyne wrote in a letter to the Globe last Monday. “While they are a voice of some of the faithful, they do not represent all of the faithful, many of whom do not approve of Voice of the Faithful or the tactics of its leadership.”