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By the time I got to Boston -- through a weather delay in Philadelphia, a change of airports and attempts to track down a missing bag -- it was late morning on July 20, the day of the Voice of the Faithful meeting, and things were in full swing. Fr. Tom Doyle had just given his speech, a moving and powerful affirmation of all of those who helped to surface the truth in the sex abuse scandals.

In his view, the aftermath of the scandal marks “the beginning death throes of the medieval monarchical model that was based on the belief that a small select minority of the educated, privileged and power-invested was called forth by God to manage the temporal and spiritual lives of the faceless masses on the presumption that their unlettered status equaled ignorance.” But that was 1302, said Doyle. In 2002, one of the founders of Voice of the Faithful is a Nobel prize-winning cardiologist. Those who have nurtured the group through its formative months include professionals, well-educated Catholics who are used to performing to rigorous standards in the wider world. The last thing they need in their lives is another commitment, yet they have been moved to spend enormous amounts of time because of the level of betrayal and incompetence they have seen on the part of the hierarchy.

I have always been mystified in these kinds of gatherings -- and I have been covering all manner of lay gatherings for several decades -- at how seldom church officials have chosen to tap the rich resources of such lay members. So few bishops seem willing to walk amid the wide swath of Catholics; too many feel content to surround themselves with comfortable coteries who know all the right answers and signs of deference.

What a waste. One can only conclude that a group like Voice of the Faithful came into existence because bishops simply don’t trust or really know the lay authorities in their midst.

I heard the story that one Boston archdiocesan official smirked that he wasn’t too concerned about Voice of the Faithful because “they don’t have the numbers.” I wouldn’t bet the rectory on that hunch.

About that missing bag. Actually it got trapped in Philadelphia (where fierce thunderstorms the night before the meeting cancelled most flights) as I flew to Bedford, Mass., the closest I could get to Boston the following morning. I was assured that the bag would catch up to me the next day. It didn’t. I did some emergency shopping for a change of clothes in Boston’s Back Bay area. I finally retrieved my bag when I returned to Kansas City, about 20 feet from the ticket counter where I had checked it two days before. The upside is that I had no problems with security.

The story regarding new appointments to the national clergy oversight board headed by Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating came across too late to include in the body of this issue. In addition to the three members already on board (see Page 4 for an interview with board member Justice Anne M. Burke) the new body will include William R. Burleigh, former chief executive of the E.W. Scripps Co. in Kentucky; Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean of Duquesne University Law School, Pittsburgh; Jane Chiles, former director of the Kentucky State Catholic Conference; attorney Pamela D. Hayes of New York; Paul R. McHugh, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; and Ray H. Siegfried II, board chairman of NORDAM Group, an aviation manufacturing firm in Tulsa, Okla.

By any measure, it is a distinguished group, but David Clohessy, a founder of Survivors’ Network for those Abused by Priests, raises some essential questions. Clohessy has been raising essential questions for years. This time he questions how independent the board can be and how independent its deliberations can be when it is, first, appointed by the bishops it is intended to oversee and, second, includes only one survivor of clergy sex abuse, Michael Bland, who is a former priest and currently works for the Chicago archdiocese.

The board is in a difficult spot. Skepticism runs high that it can accomplish anything. Keating’s every remark is measured against the last, and people perceive that he has been slowly backing away from the tough stance he took at the time of the bishops’ June meeting in Dallas.

It does seem a bit odd that the committee overseeing the bishops’ activities on the sex abuse matter should not include some representative from the organizations that have been tracking the matter since the start.

Parting thought: Has anyone else pondered what we’d do this summer without the phrase “just a few bad apples”? From the chancery office to the corporate boardroom, all the troubles that are rocking institutions are the result of “a few bad” you know. What would we do? How would we explain this era? A rather serviceable few words, I’d say.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, August 2, 2002