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Spotlight Report

Law relaxes ban on lay group's meetings

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 10/13/2002

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 yesterday reversed a regional bishop and declared that a Catholic lay group should be allowed to meet in a North Andover church, but he also said that he does not want any new chapters of the Voice of the Faithful to meet in church halls in the Archdiocese of Boston.

In a surprise move, Law sent a note to the Rev. Paul T. Keyes, taking the blame for what he said was the mistaken ouster of the Voice of the Faithful from St. Michael's Church, where more than 100 parishioners had been meeting monthly since the summer, until they were banned about 10 days ago.

Law said that the bishops of Boston, whom he oversees, had decided to discourage pastors from allowing new chapters of the Voice of the Faithful to meet on church property, but not to interfere with the several dozen chapters already in existence. Law said Auxiliary Bishop Emilio S. Allue misunderstood that agreement because of what the cardinal termed a "lack of sufficient clarity on my part."

Law has not said what he thinks of the Voice of the Faithful, but he has not met with its leadership and has refused to take its money. The cardinal has designated his vicar general, Bishop Walter J. Edyvean, to meet with the group, but the two sides have not met since June 28.

Voice of the Faithful, headquartered in Newton, is a national organization that claims about 25,000 supporters based on the number of people who have signed up on its Web site. The group, formed in Wellesley by Catholics unhappy with the church's handling of sexually abusive priests, says it exists to support victims of abuse and "priests of integrity," as well as to pursue structural change in the church. The group says it supports the teachings of the Catholic church, but has not defined what it means by structural change, and as a result it has been banned from meeting in the dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Camden and Newark, N.J.; and in some parishes in Maine and Massachusetts.

"I am in the process of learning more about the Voice of the Faithful, and specifically about its three stated goals," Law said in his letter to Keyes. "Given the present state of my knowledge of the group as a national organization, I decided it would be inappropriate for new chapters to use church property until I had received further information about the Voice of the Faithful. This is consistent with the guidance which I and the auxiliary bishops have offered to pastors when the question has been put to us."

Keyes said in a note to his parishioners that Law had apologized to the parish and the Voice of the Faithful chapter in a telephone conversation with him yesterday, and that the Voice of the Faithful chapter is again permitted to meet at St. Michael's.

"We are extremely gratified by this action," said John Vellante, spokesman for the North Andover chapter. "We hope this is the beginning of open and honest dialogue between the church and Voice of the Faithful. At the same time, however, we hope the cardinal will see fit to allow all VOTF affiliates to meet on their respective church properties."

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page A32 of the Boston Globe on 10/13/2002.
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