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Church in Crisis

Boston reform group meets with bishop


The reformers in Boston met the leaders of the target of their reform recently in the first face-to-face, sit-down meeting between officials of the Boston archdiocese and a three-person leadership team representing a cutting edge church-reform organization, the Voice of the Faithful.

Representatives of the newly formed organization seeking a greater role for the laity in the governance of the church came away describing the session as cordial and constructive, while short on particulars regarding the main goal of the group -- reshaping the governance structure of the church.

Steven Krueger, a spokesperson for the lay-led group, characterized the meeting as a “conversation, a preliminary conversation.” He added, “We wanted the archdiocese to get to know us, understand what our motivations are, and to start to develop an atmosphere of trust.

Krueger is a parishioner at St. Ignatius, a Jesuit parish, located on the campus of Boston College. Krueger is serving in his third year of a five-year appointment to the Boston Archdiocesan Parish Council.

Representing the archdiocese was Bishop Walter J. Edyvean, vicar general and local moderator of the curia, along with Fr. Mark O’Connell. The meeting, which lasted about two hours, took place May 23 at the chancery in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood.

Others who represented Voice of the Faithful included its president, Jim Muller, and vice president, Mary Calcaterra, both of St. John’s the Evangelist Church, Wellesley, Mass.

Calcaterra described the meeting as “frank” and “open,” and Edyvean as “disarming” and “quite cordial.” During a telephone interview, Calcaterra explained that the archdiocesan officials “really listened” as the delegation presented an overview of the organization’s mission and goals.

Organized months ago in Boston’s western suburbs, Voice of the Faithful has grown rapidly in part by its quick-fire response to the anguish, if not outrage, of many lay Catholics to the now global scandal of the sexual abuse of children and young adults here in the nation’s fourth largest Roman Catholic archdiocese.

Since mid-winter the organization has garnered considerable media attention and interest from lay people around the United States and in other countries. The organization’s mission statement is ambitious, if lacking in specifics: “To provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic church.”

Although Calcaterra and Krueger said they were happy with the meeting, they also said that specifics on how to continue a conversation did not come up.

Nor is it clear just where Voice of the Faithful would fit, if at all, into existing ecclesiastic structures and mechanisms to bring about significant participation in governance and oversight by the laity.

“I am more hopeful than when I went in,” said Krueger. “Hopeful in the context of an opportunity to create and establish an ongoing dialogue between VOTF and the entire archdiocese,” he added.

During a wide-ranging interview recently at the group’s regional planning and working group session, Krueger was quick to point out that the archdiocese and Voice of the Faithful were in full agreement with the lay group’s first two goals, which are to “support those who have been abused” and to “support priests of integrity.”

But it is the group’s third goal to “shape structural change within the church” that hits a snag. “Obviously this area is where we believe there is an opportunity for continuing dialogue,” Krueger explained. “We stressed to the archdiocese that we are mainstream Catholics, Catholics who love the church and want to work within the hierarchical structure,” he said. “We do not want to tear down that structure.”

Krueger said that Edyvean emphasized, “Nothing could come between a bishop and his church.” Just what that means, Krueger said, “we are trying to ascertain.

“What would impede dialogue between VOTF and the archdiocese of Boston,” Krueger said, “is any concern [by archdiocesan leadership] that the organization may do something to create space between the bishop and his church. We have as many questions as they must have as to what it means to shape structural change.”

While acknowledging the laity’s right to meet, the archdiocesan response to greater lay participation and voice effecting structural and systemic changer sounded a cautionary note. “Bishop Edyvean pointed to the right of all the faithful to form associations,” said Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the cardinal and the archdiocese, in a written statement issued on the day of the meeting.

But, she added: “He underscored the fact that associations in the church, from the point of view of both theology and canon law, are meant to aid the mission of the church and that mission is carried on necessarily with and under the bishop of the diocese. Likewise, it is the diocesan bishop’s role to exercise vigilance with regard to the way in which Catholic associations perform the tasks they set for themselves.”

NCR faxed questions to the archdiocese as requested, but had received no response before press time.

Morrissey said that Edyvean would brief Cardinal Bernard Law and the other auxiliary bishops about the meeting.

Freelance journalist Chuck Colbert writes from Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, June 7, 2002