Voice of the Faithful Organizing in Chicago
1/27/2003 8:00:00 AM By Karl Maurer - Catholic Citizens of Illinois
Chicago, Illinois -- On Sunday, January 19, 2003, Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) Chicago West chapter held a public organizational meeting at St. Edmund's Parish, Oak Park, Illinois. The meeting was announced from the pulpits of several Oak Park area Catholic churches and in the St. Edmund's parish bulletin.
Thirty-eight people attended the event, including several area pastors. The meeting featured Joyce Gradel and Steve Shimek, a former Dominican priest. Shimek's parish, St. Giles in Oak Park, is an active participant in United Power for Action and Justice, an organization well known for supporting liberal Democratic candidates and taxpayer funded welfare programs.
VOTF members have publicly challenged the structure of the Catholic Church, demanding a 'democratized' structure, allegedly to curb clerical sexual abuse. Members of VOTF across the country are identified with heterodox groups such as Call to Action, We Are Church, and the pro-abortion Catholics for Free Choice, and advocate an end priestly celibacy, support the ordaining women as priests, and approve of homosexuality.
Recognizing that VOTF is emerging as umbrella group for dissenters, several Bishops across the country have prohibited them from using Church property for organizing. Citing the VOTF's refusal to accept the Bishop's authority, Cardinal Law in Boston banned VOTF from Boston Diocese Churches. In New Jersey, Archbishop John L. Myers of Newark banned the group saying they were "anti-Church and, ultimately, anti-Catholic," calling VOTF "a cover for dissent." Roman Catholic parishes in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have also banned the group from Church property, forcing them to meet privately in homes or public facilities.
Rev. Joseph Ruiz, Pastor of St. Edmund Parish, hosted the event along with Deacon Edward DeLorenzo, Oratorian, of St. Edmund's Parish. Rick Springer, area coordinator for Linkup-an organization for so-called 'survivors' of priestly abuse also spoke to the group. St. Edmund's was once the parish of Rev. Tom Doyle, who gave the keynote speech at VOTF's convention in Boston last year.
Several people who attended the meeting noted that the opening prayer included references to the Call to Action slogan 'We are Church.' Meeting organizers reiterated that the focus of VOTF, as stated in the St. Edmund Parish bulletin, was "gaining a substantial voice for the laity in the decision making process of the church." Throughout the meeting, members of the audience denounced "patriarchal structures" of the Roman Catholic Church."
In promoting a laity run church structure, VOTF supporters alleged that Catholic Church property actually belonged to the laity in the early days, referring to a 19th Century constitution allegedly drafted by a Catholic bishop, which included a bicameral legislature, one governing body composed of priests and the other of laity.
Focusing on the sex scandal in the church, VOTF speakers were critical of the report on clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Several members of the audience alleged the report was incomplete and inaccurate. The American bishops were criticized for their handling of the situation. According to witnesses, each attack on the Church and the bishops was met with applause from the audience. Attendees were also encouraged to leave their names and visit the local VOTF web site, www.forumforthefaithful.org.
According to VOTF's national web site (www.votf.org) the Chicago West chapter that sponsored the St. Edmund's meeting is the second in the Chicago area. The first listed is Holy Family in Inverness, Rev. Pat Brennen, Pastor. Rev. Brennan has been identified with several national dissenting groups (see www.ourladyswarriors.org.) VOTF speakers at St. Edmund's claimed that Francis Cardinal George has allowed VOTF to use Holy Family property, though Cardinal George has allegedly restricted parish staff from working on VOTF matters across parish boundaries. VOTF speakers also claimed that Auxiliary Bishop Thad Jakubowski had met with VOTF organizers at a recent "parish cluster meeting."
Calls to Holy Family and to the Archdiocese of Chicago regarding authorization of VOTF to use of parish property were not returned at the by the time article was posted.
Holy Family and St. Edmund's aren't the first Catholic parishes to host events challenging Church teachings on Archdiocese of Chicago property. In 2000, The United Power for Action and Justice held a rally at St. Alexander's in Palos Heights, Illinois where several pro-abortion speakers, including then State Senator Lisa Madigan, spoke in favor of health care reform legislation that actually included provisions for abortions. Speakers at that meeting also campaigned for increases in welfare spending, and encouraged attendees to vote against politicians who objected to welfare programs. Palos Heights resident and Roman Catholic State Senator Patrick O'Malley, upon hearing of the meeting, took his concerns directly to the Cardinal.
In a meeting with the Cardinal George, Senator O'Malley indicated his support for policies reported to be in use in Pennsylvania, which made then Gov. Tom Ridge (a 'pro-choice' Catholic) ineligible to discuss public policy on property under the control of the Bishop. "Cardinal George's response," stated Senator O'Malley, "was that he was familiar with the Bishop in question, that he held him in high regard, and the policy in our diocese was much the same as the policy described in the news article. Cardinal George also informed me that local pastors were bound to enforce the rule, and further, they were obligated to know who was a pro-life official and who was not."
Whether these policies extend to dissenting groups like VOTF -- a group that Archbishop of Newark, John L. Myers has already described as "anti-Church and, ultimately, anti-Catholic" -- remains to be clarified by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Absent that, Roman Catholics in the Chicago area should prepare themselves for dissenters appearing in more parishes as VOTF expands nationally.
Karl Maurer, Vice President and Treasurer
Catholic Citizens of Illinois