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Spotlight Report

Group and Law seen at odds on donation plan

Voice of Faithful to offer $62,000 to archdiocese

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 10/11/2002

A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
The deteriorating relationship between Voice of the Faithful and Cardinal Bernard F. Law is set to enter an even more difficult stage, as the organization of lay Catholics formed after the clergy sexual abuse scandal broke prepares to offer the Boston Archdiocese $62,000 in donations for the poor, money Law has signaled that he will reject.

The donations, promised for next week, also have troubling implications for Catholic Charities, the social service arm of the archdiocese, which will be offered the money if Law refuses it. The 55-member Catholic Charities board is torn between an apparent majority determined to accept the funds and those reluctant to alienate Law, who has the authority to dismiss board members.

''We're hoping the chancery and Voice of the Faithful come to some kind of agreement so there can be a relationship among all these people of good will,'' said Peter G. Meade, vice chairman of the Catholic Charities board and executive vice president of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, said yesterday that under the terms of the organization's Voice of Compassion Fund, established in July, the organization will offer its first quarterly donations in a letter to Law next week - but with strings attached. Many VOTF members have withheld contributions from the annual Cardinal's Appeal to protest Law's management of the sexual abuse crisis.

Under the terms of the fund, which is managed by the Maryland-based National Catholic Community Foundation, Law can accept the donations made by 267 individuals only if he guarantees that none of the money will be used to cover administrative costs of the archdiocese. He must also agree to identify the programs funded by the Cardinal's Appeal and account for how the donation from the Voice of Compassion charitable fund is used.

''We're looking for transparency at the front end and accountability at the back end,'' Post said.

Since June, when the Globe reported that Voice of the Faithful was organizing a fund to make up for a drop in donations to the Cardinal's Appeal, church officials have said the conditions imposed on the donations are unacceptable to Law. ''The proper format for the asset allocation is a task reserved for the bishop,'' Chancellor David W. Smith has said.

Yesterday another church official said that although some church leaders believe it is important to begin a serious dialogue with Voice of the Faithful, Law is unlikely to accept the organization's donations unless it modifies its terms. ''In Catholic theology the bishop calls the shots,'' the official said. ''Any action that circumvents that is not going to be something a bishop is likely to allow.''

The potential impasse between Law and the Voice of the Faithful comes at a time when relations between the lay organization, which counts 25,000 members nationwide, and the church have reached a low ebb.

Post said that although organization officials have exchanged telephone calls with Bishop Walter James Edyvean, the group has had no substantive talks with the archdiocese since June 28.

Last week, Auxiliary Bishop Emilio S. Allue ordered a parish priest in North Andover to bar 135 Voice of the Faithful members from meeting on church property. Other bishops in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Portland, Maine, have also barred Voice of the Faithful members from meeting on church grounds.

Catholic Charities board members had hoped to avoid the dispute between Voice of the Faithful and the Boston Archdiocese. Last month, Meade, board chairman Neal F. Finnegan, and Catholic Charities president Joseph Doolin, said Voice of the Faithful agreed not to donate funds to Catholic Charities for the time being.

But in a statement released yesterday, Voice of the Faithful said that if Law does not agree to its terms and rejects the $62,000 in donations, the money will be offered to Catholic Charities. If Catholic Charities turns down the money, the statement said, the funds will be given to other unspecified Catholic organizations in Greater Boston.

One board member at Catholic Charities said yesterday that it is the ''overwhelming'' sentiment of the board to accept Voice of the Faithful money, an act that could set up a confrontation between Law and the organization that fulfills much of the church's mission to the poor. But that sentiment could evaporate, the board member said, if the matter comes to a vote that forces board members to decide whether to disobey Law.

Another board member who generally supports Voice of the Faithful's goals said that accepting funds from the organization could alienate other, more conservative donors who are loyal to Law. ''We could get hurt either way,'' the board member said.

Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.Michael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 10/11/2002.
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