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Spotlight Report

Catholic group fights bishop over banning from church

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 10/4/2002

A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
Stepping up its confrontation with the administration of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful issued a written demand yesterday that the bishop who banned it from using a church hall in North Andover reverse his order and apologize.

''As the national president of Voice of the Faithful, I protest - in the strongest possible terms - the actions you have taken,'' Voice of the Faithful president James E. Post wrote in a letter to Bishop Emilio S. Allue, who oversees North suburban parishes for the Archdiocese of Boston. ''These actions are inappropriate based on the facts of the situation and based on canon law. We believe your actions to be inconsistent with Church teaching, Christian morality, the spirit of the Vatican II Council, and contrary to your pastoral duty.''

The letter marks the first time Voice of the Faithful has publicly confronted a bishop who has banned the group, which was formed in Wellesley in February by Catholics upset by the clergy sex abuse crisis. The group claims 25,000 supporters nationwide, including about 135 in North Andover.

This week, Voice of the Faithful hired a canon law specialist, the Rev. Ladislas M. Orsy, to advise the group on its rights, after bishops in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York barred the group from meeting on church property. Orsy is a visiting professor of law at Georgetown University.

Boston Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said the church is continuing to talk with Voice of the Faithful.

''The dialogue with Voice of the Faithful remains open, and it is our hope to continue that,'' Morrissey said. ''It is better to have discussions with the bishop, and not issue letters to the media. We get more accomplished that way.''

But Voice of the Faithful members said the archdiocese is not engaged in talks with the group. They said Law's designated liaison to the group, Bishop Walter J. Edyvean, has met with Voice of the Faithful only twice and has been unavailable since June 28.

Voice of the Faithful has become increasingly controversial as it has grown. Although many of its leaders are weekly communicants who have served as religious education teachers and on a variety of lay leadership boards in the church, critics now routinely accuse the group of being anti-Catholic. Bishop William F. Murphy of Long Island reportedly referred to the group as ''Voice of the Unfaithful'' on a radio program, and Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine, sent his readers an e-mail alert yesterday saying, ''I only hope that more bishops will follow suit ... in keeping VOTF's ideas of `change' away from the true faithful.''

An opposing group, Faithful Voice, whose views helped lead Allue to oust Voice of the Faithful from the North Andover parish, posted a letter on its Web site yesterday declaring Voice of the Faithful's actions to be ''anti-Catholic and ... schismatic.'' Faithful Voice labeled a priest honored by Voice of the Faithful ''heretical,'' a theologian consulted by the group ''appalling,'' and has declared on its Web site that a ''homosexual agenda steers VOTF.''

Post said in his letter to Allue that the criticisms are unfair, and asked Allue to rescind the ban on using church property in North Andover, where some parishioners had been using St. Michael's Church since summer for periodic meetings of the local Voice of the Faithful chapter.

''To our best knowledge and sincere belief, our organization has not adopted, nor does it advocate, any position contrary to church teaching,'' Post said. ''Voice of the Faithful prominently states on its Web site that `We accept the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.' There should be no confusion regarding the position of Voice of the Faithful with regard to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.''

Post asserted that the group has a right to meet under canon law, and that it is not fair for Allue to ban the group without meeting with it first to discuss his concerns.

''We might expect actions such as this from totalitarian rulers and repressive political regimes, but not from the stewards of our faith family,'' Post said. ''Bishop Allue, if you listen to slanderous accusations, fail to verify their veracity, and use unsubstantiated accusations as the justification for your public actions, you are either a participant in or a victim of an unbecoming smear campaign.''

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/4/2002.
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