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Earlier stories

Spotlight Report

Voice of the Faithful's appeal inspires new chapter in area

By Emily Shartin, Globe Staff Correspondent, 08/08/2002

Responding to the priest sexual-abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church, members of a cluster of parishes in Plymouth, Kingston and Carver are establishing a local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, an organization that has vowed to change church policy and empower the laity. The new chapter plans to hold its first meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at the Sacred Heart High School on Bishops Highway (Route 80) in Kingston.

Based in Wellesley, Voice of the Faithful has grown as a forum for lay Catholics to discuss their concerns, support one another, and find ways to participate more actively in church governance. Several area chapters have formed over the past eight months, and the organization says it now has 23,000 members worldwide, with 68 chapters in the United States.

The organizers of next week's meeting are members of six local churches: St. Peter's, St. Bonaventure's, St. Mary's and Blessed Kateri, all of Plymouth; Our Lady of Lourdes in Carver; and St. Joseph's in Kingston. The latter came face to face with the sexual abuse scandal earlier this year when its pastor, Monsignor Frederick J. Ryan, resigned amid allegations that he had molested three teenage boys 20 years ago.

In an April 24 resignation letter to his former parishioners, Ryan cited a "need to free myself to concentrate on the legal process into which I've been placed. . ." He asked forgiveness of anyone he may have "injured" but did not mention guilt or innocence with regard to the allegations.

In the one-page letter, Ryan said he asked Cardinal Bernard F. Law to accept his resignation at a time when he was unable to give the parish stable leadership and daily pastoral care.

"I love each and every member of St. Joseph Parish, and the people of the towns whom we serve," he wrote. "If I have injured anyone in any way, I ask your forgiveness."

After attending meetings of a Voice of the Faithful chapter in Hingham, Kathleen Leslie, a Plymouth doctor and member of St. Peter's, said some local Catholics believed it was time to bring the organization to the Plymouth area.

"There are a number of us who have been very concerned about the crisis in the church," Leslie said.

The Rev. Joseph Hennessey, who became pastor at St. Joseph's in June, said his parish supports Voice of the Faithful's progressive mission.

"I think they're a prophetic voice," Hennessey said. However, the St. Joseph's parish council voted not to start its own chapter of Voice of the Faithful because the parish already is working to incorporate similar goals on its own, he said. Rather than creating a separate organization, Hennessey explained, the parish is working to move forward and heal as a group.

"That doesn't mean ever forgetting or ignoring the trauma," he added.

Voice of the Faithful's commitment to influencing the church has won the support of several pastors, although some admit that their allegiance to the Archdiocese of Boston, the epicenter of the priest scandal, puts them in a conflicted position. The Rev. Bob Deehan, pastor of St. Bonaventure's Church, said he is "very sympathetic" with Voice of the Faithful's goals, but would hesitate to allow the organization to advertise in his church bulletin.

Plymouth resident William Gate ly, an alleged victim of abuse by a former priest, is optimistic about what Voice of the Faithful can accomplish, but is careful not to characterize the organization as a panacea for the hurt and anger felt by many in the Catholic Church. Gately, who grew up in Canton, never pressed charges, but said he has confronted his alleged abuser -- who now lives in Arizona -- twice.

Gately has been talking with local Voice of the Faithful organizers in advance of next week's meeting.

On the phone from North Carolina, where he was traveling this week, Gately said he believes it will take time for Voice of the Faithful to achieve its goals, but said the organization has already succeeded in rallying Catholics who were taught never to question the church. The key, Gate ly said, will be sustaining the current level of enthusiasm for Voice of the Faithful's mission.

"They have tremendous potential," he said. "I just hope that they persevere."

Emily Shartin can be reached by email at

This story ran on page S1 of the Boston Globe on 08/08/2002.
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