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Spotlight Report

Lay group calls for unity, respect for church rules

By Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent, 11/17/2002

SHERBORN - The 60 or so men and women who gathered at St. Theresa's Church yesterday for prayer and an open dialogue about the turmoil in the Catholic Church were in some ways as frustrated as those who have held picket signs and chanted into megaphones against Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

They harbored many of the same concerns as Voice of the Faithful and the other groups that are pressing for change within the church.

But instead of harsh words, angry voices, and condemnation of Law, those who attended the inaugural meeting of the Parish Leadership Forum spoke only of unity and collectedness and the importance of respecting local pastors and the church's hierarchy.

The best way to bring about reform, the attendees said, is to strengthen the church by working within its established rules, not clamoring for new ones.

"I used to work for W. R. Grace. Everyone asked me, `How could you work for a company that pollutes?"' said one Catholic who did not wish to give his name. "I would tell them that if there were no good people working for the company, there could be no change."

Though yesterday marked the first meeting of the Parish Leadership Forum, its roots can be traced to last spring, when the group was called the Association of Parish Pastoral Councils. The association eventually dissolved under pressure from Bishop Walter J. Edyvean, Law's top aide, who said the group might be "divisive."

This summer, David W. Zizik, a lay member at St. Theresa's involved in the association, revived the group and worked closely with archdiocese leaders to win their support.

The archdiocese has scarcely acknowledged Voice of the Faithful. In contrast, the Rev. Robert McMillan of the archdiocese's Office for Planning and Research, attended yesterday's meeting and was active in the small-group discussions.

"This group comes from the point of view that they are used to working with parish priests. By working within the hierarchy -- that's how the church most fruitfully operates," McMillan said.

Zizik said his group's main goal is to establish interparish dialogues among the state's more than 360 parishes about a variety of issues affecting the church, from financial concerns to the best way to form a new Catholic Youth Organization.

"We are independent of Voice of the Faithful. We view what we are doing as complementary, but our point is really not to develop a new structure," he said. "What we want to do is get the archdiocese moving at the parish level and get people back in church."

After an opening prayer and the lighting of dozens of thin candles whose flames seemed to blend into one, signifying the unity of the church, the Rev. Paul Ritt, pastor of St. Theresa's, spoke about the laity's role in decision-making within the church according to church teachings.

"The laity have the right and duty to bring their views of the church to their pastors ... with the proper respect," he said.

After Ritt's speech, the attendees, who hailed from parishes mostly in the Natick-Framingham area, broke into discussion groups focusing on evangelization, finances, youth involvement, and parish participation.

Some attendees said they were not convinced that the forum's format would bring about change. "I need all this to percolate for a while," said one. Another said he still believed that Law should step down, but most were positive about the group's mission.

"If you want to communicate with the church, you have to talk to them on their own grounds," said Richard Stack, a parishioner from St. Ann's of Wayland. "You have to work within the church because it is your church. If you're not in it, then you're outside it."

This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 11/17/2002.
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