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Spotlight Report

Bishop bans group from meetings at parish

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 10/1/2002

 In-depth
A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
In the first clear sign of a local crackdown on a Catholic group pressing for change in the church, a bishop in Boston has ordered a parish in North Andover to bar a chapter of Voice of the Faithful from meeting on church property.

''The activities and promotion of the Voice of the Faithful must be curtailed in order to avoid further scandal and polarity among our parishioners,'' the auxiliary bishop who oversees North suburban parishes, Emilio S. Allue, wrote in a letter to the Rev. Paul T. Keyes, pastor of Saint Michael Church in North Andover. ''For the sake of unity and Catholic orthodoxy in the parish, it is inappropriate to foster these meetings and to allow the members of the Voice of the Faithful to meet with the parish councils.''

Keyes, who has generally been supportive of Voice of the Faithful and whose sister-in-law is one of the organization's leaders, told the group it could not meet on church property this weekend, citing his vow of obedience to his bishop. The Saint Michael's chapter, which has been meeting in the parish hall since July, said it will try to find a synagogue, church, or Catholic college that will allow its 135 members to meet.

Voice of the Faithful leaders said they are meeting with canon and civil lawyers and will vigorously contest the ban, which they say is illegal under church and US law. Voice of the Faithful is a lay group that began in Wellesley in February with the aim of supporting sex abuse victims and priests of integrity, as well as pushing for structural change in the church.

''To ban people from using church property to talk about the biggest scandal in the 500-year history of the Catholic Church in North America is ludicrous on its face,'' said James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful. ''If they are looking for scandal, all they need to do is look inside the chancery to find out where the real sources of scandal lie.''

The ban in North Andover marks the first local case in which a bishop has instructed a pastor, in writing, to stop allowing Voice of the Faithful to meet. Voice of the Faithful has chapters in about 30 local parishes. It has been banned by individual pastors from meeting in about a half-dozen other parishes. ''We're extremely disappointed,'' said John Vellante, a leader of the North Andover chapter. ''We love our church, and all we ever sought, from the beginning, was open and honest dialogue.''

The North Andover ban was triggered by complaints from another group of parishioners who object to the organization. Those who complained are members of an alternative group, Faithful Voice.

Carol M. McKinley, spokeswoman for Faithful Voice, confirmed that her group is urging bishops to oust Voice of the Faithful from other local parishes.

''The participants have underlying agendas, like ... the Women's Ordination Conference and all those groups - they're all the same dissenting people with dissenting agendas, and they only take on different names,'' she said. ''Actually, they're anti-Catholic, and they're bringing in anti-Catholic ideas and asking us to accept them. Naturally, we can not have that within our buildings.''

Voice of the Faithful has not taken a position on any issues of Catholic doctrine and denies being a group of dissenters. But the group is facing increasing resistance around the country.

Tomorrow, in Portland, Maine, the group will meet at the United Church of Christ church for a lecture by a prominent Catholic priest, the Rev. Gary Hayes, who heads The Linkup, a national group of victims of clergy sex abuse. Portland's bishop, Joseph J. Gerry, has barred Voice of the Faithful from meeting in churches in Portland and just last week stopped allowing the diocesan newspaper to list meetings of Voice of the Faithful in Maine, although he has permitted the pastors of two outlying churches to allow local chapters of the group to meet, a spokeswoman said.

Bishops in Rockville Centre, N.Y., Bridgeport, Conn., and Camden, N.J., have banned Voice of the Faithful from meeting in their dioceses, according to Voice of the Faithful, and the group is also encountering resistance in eastern Oregon.

''This is pretty much the trend of things,'' said the Rev. William A. Clark, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross who has been monitoring the church's reaction to Voice of the Faithful. ''It's been clear from the beginning that the organization makes the hierarchy uncomfortable.''

The administration of Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston has said it is considering its response to Voice of the Faithful and has designated Bishop Walter J. Edyvean to meet with the group's leaders. But Post said the group has been unable to get an appointment to see Edyvean since June 28.

Donna M. Morrissey, spokeswoman for Law and Allue, did not return a call seeking comment.

Keyes was not available yesterday, but in a recent interview with the Globe, he said the clergy sex abuse crisis has taken a toll on his parish. ''I think the offertory [collection] is down maybe $2,000,'' Keyes said early last month. ''What concerns me more is that we have lost 1,000 [of 4,200] families. Whether they will come back this fall I don't know.''

In a letter to his parish last weekend, Keyes expressed hope for change. ''Hopefully, in the days ahead greater unity, integrity, and compassionate understanding can happen throughout our own archdiocese and throughout the Church universal,'' he wrote.

''Certainly, some faithful parishioners and nonparishioners alike will continue to meet somewhere else as members of the Voice of the Faithful,'' he added. ''I pray that God's Holy Spirit will bring them great wisdom, and I pray that faithful VOTF members will help bring practical and orthodox solutions and answers to very complicated and challenging issues in our Church.''

Thomas Farragher of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 10/1/2002.
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