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Spotlight Report

Law to reject donations from Voice of the Faithful

By Sacha Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 7/23/2002

A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
Cardinal Bernard F. Law, responding for the first time to a fast-growing lay reform movement angered by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, yesterday said he will refuse to accept funds raised by Voice of the Faithful for church agencies, schools, ministries, and hospitals.

Church officials said Catholic Charities and Caritas Christi, the Catholic health-care network founded by Law, also have agreed to reject donations from the organization.

Voice of the Faithful's plan would undermine the Cardinal's Appeal, the annual fund-raising initiative that supports church programs and also is the largest source of funding for the church's operating budget, said the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, an archdiocesan spokesman.

Saying that it is the cardinal's role, in collaboration with lay Catholics, to distribute money to charities, Coyne said Voice of the Faithful's initiative ''does not recognize the role of the archbishop and his responsibility in providing for the various programs and activities of the church.''

James E. Post, Voice of the Faithful's president and a Boston University School of Management professor, said the organization would not be dissuaded by Law and took exception to the contention that it was trying to thwart the cardinal's fund-raising drive.

''The Cardinal's Appeal failed on its own, and it failed because of the reason we all know - the scandal in the church,'' Post said.

Donations to the Cardinal's Appeal have dropped significantly since the sex abuse scandal exploded in January and left many Catholics deeply embittered by the church's handling of abusive priests.

Few charitable agencies within the archdiocese are financially autonomous and are not structured to receive donations directly, Coyne said. As a result, any money donated to those agencies by Voice of the Faithful would have to be routed through the archdiocese, which would refuse to accept the funds, he said.

Law's announcement was made two days after Voice of the Faithful held its first national convention, which drew about 4,000 Roman Catholics nationwide to Boston to demand a greater role for lay people in the church.

''I never thought I would see the day when any Catholic official advocated any roadblock in helping the poor,'' said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ''The mission of the church is to help the needy in every way possible, regardless of whose return address is on the check.''

Post, who helped establish the Voice of Compassion Fund, as the group's fund-raising initiative is called, said the fund was conceived as an alternative for parishioners who believe they should not contribute to the Cardinal's Appeal because of the sexual abuse crisis or because of Law's resistance to calls for his resignation.

''We've said all along, give to the Cardinal's Appeal, but if you can't give because of an issue of conscience then give directly to the program you support or to the Voice of Compassion,'' he said.

Under the fund-raising initiative, donors would contribute directly to the Voice of Compassion Fund. Voice of the Faithful then would distribute donations quarterly to the archdiocese for programs supported by the Cardinal's Appeal. But the group would specify that the donations, unlike the Cardinal's Appeal, could not be used to pay the archdiocese's administrative expenses or any costs not directly related to providing services to those in need.

The Voice of Compassion fund is not yet operational, but it has already received pledges for approximately $10,000 by group leaders.

Despite a fast-growing membership of about 19,000, Voice of the Faithful, which was founded in a Wellesley church basement just five months ago, has maintained a moderate agenda in its effort to seek greater clout for lay Catholics. It has not, for example, called for Law to resign, as have several other advocacy groups, nor has it addressed mandatory celibacy for priests or the prohibition of the ordination of women.

But the group's attempt to establish an alternative funding mechanism challenges the church on the highly sensitive issue of money.

Although the archdiocese has encountered serious fiscal difficulties since last year, high-ranking church officials have said the scandal has hit the church so hard that it will cut some programs entirely and attempt to slash this year's operating budget by as much as 40 percent.

The Globe reported last month that pledges to the Cardinal's Appeal had reached only $4.8 million, compared with $7.5 million at the same time a year ago. Church officials said the drop-off was due in large part to the fact that nearly a third of the parishes in the archdiocese had postponed participation in the appeal because they had recently asked for contributions to a separate drive.

Coyne said the archdiocese's decision to refuse contributions collected by the group should ''in no way'' be seen as an effort by church officials to sabotage the group's work or to end talks with the group. Church officials are having ''good and fruitful talks'' with the group, which has met twice with archdiocesan representatives in the past month, he said.

''The Voice of the Faithful has a positive role in prompting us to understand who we are as a church,'' Coyne said. ''They are prompting a better understanding of the role of the laity, and they are reaching out to victims and to families, work that is not in opposition to what we are doing.''

Coyne also said the archdiocese would continue to encourage people to give directly to charities able to accept donations.

''This is a question of how we understand ourselves as a church and how we operate as a church,'' Coyne said. ''Any setup that separates the role of the bishop from pastoral works is something the church can't accept. All the pastoral work of the diocese, in one form or another, should be under the guidance of the archbishop of Boston.''

Despite Law's effort to squelch the Voice of Compassion Fund, Post said his group's leaders still intend to make the fund an option for parishioners who want to aid the poor. Donations to the fund are tax deductible because they are funneled through the National Catholic Community Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization that provides funding mechanisms for Catholic groups.

''Voice of the Faithful is about building up the church, not tearing it down,'' Post said.

Michael Rezendes of the Globe Staff contributed to this story. Sacha Pfeiffer's e-mail address is

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/23/2002.
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