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Spotlight Report

  Thomas Doyle  

The Catholic faithful have to speak out


IN MY undergraduate days I recall reading two books that stuck in my mind: ''Animal Farm'' and ''1984.'' A major part of each plot was mind control. What's particularly scary is that the same obsession with mind control now besets my own church. It is a staple that feeds the arrogance of clericalism.

I was ordained a priest in 1970. I became the canon lawyer at the Vatican Embassy in Washington in 1981. I believed in the good of the church in 1984, when two colleagues - a priest-psychiatrist and a civil attorney - collaborated with me on a 100-page document advising the bishops on steps to take to halt the damage caused by pedophile priests. Our report was ignored.

Most of my early confidence in the hierarchical system has been shattered by my experiences with sexual abuse victims. Why, many ask, do you stay? Fundamental to my motivation is a belief that the church really is the body of Christ and not a string of fiefdoms belonging to bishops. I believe that in Christ's view, the most important people are the disenfranchised and rejected, not bishops and cardinals. I learned about faith, courage, and persistence from the victims-turned-survivors. The awareness spurred on by the survivors has awakened the laity. The most visible show of concern is an organization known as Voice of the Faithful.

The reactions by Cardinal Bernard Law and some of the bishops toward the group show their fear over losing control. The church is changing; they don't want that, nor do they know how to respond to the damage they have done. Lay people and many priests are refusing to be treated like indentured servants, deemed faithful only if they pay, pray, and obey.

Voice of the Faithful was founded in Boston in response to the horrific clergy abuse scandal. It was a reaction not so much to the sexual crimes but to the disgraceful response of the hierarchy. In just a few months the group started in a church basement has grown to 25,000 members. One of its goals is to participate in the decision and policy making of the church. Another is to offer an alternative to those who have decided not to give donations to official church sources.

Voice of the Faithful's existence is solidly justified in the Code of Canon Law, Roman Catholic theology, and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. This notwithstanding, the lay group's simple agenda apparently is a threat to some bishops as well as to some self-described orthodox Catholics. However, the bishops and others who have been so critical and judgmental have betrayed true orthodoxy by failing to engage in dialogue or discussion with Voice of the Faithful. They simply decided that its agenda was against the interests of their own power.

Voice of the Faithful is a movement of lay people who are authentic, thinking members of the Catholic Church. They are disgusted by the abuse scandal and the bishops' failure to protect our youth. It took an avalanche of negative publicity caused by a couple of thousand lawsuits for these bishops and the self-styled guardians of orthodoxy to wake up and smell the spiritual stench. This mess started in 1984, but it was not until 2002 that the real awakening happened. That's a 17-year delayed reaction, spurred not by their own consciences but by the courts and the secular media.

The arguments against Voice of the Faithful are a smokescreen. The real issue is power. Voice of the Faithful is a reaction to the horror of sexual abuse and the betrayal of trust that came with it. It has nothing to do with dissent on women's ordination, birth control, or letting priests marry. It is about bishops breaking the most basic rules of moral conduct time and time again.

What's at stake is way beyond the mind games and wordy debates over authentic orthodoxy. What is at stake is human life, the building up of young people in good, caring ways and rebuilding the soul life of the many thousands of abuse victims who have had their spiritual lives violently assaulted. In Voice of the Faithful burns the genuine hope that we can remake the real church, the body of Christ, by coming together - bishop, priest and lay, conservative, orthodox and liberal - to insure that such an evil debacle never happens again.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle is a canon lawyer, Air Force officer, and longtime advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 8/29/2002.
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