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Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Oh, no, no, no, no, no,, no, not at all. I- I- I just think that the.. uh.. their appeal is becoming more selective."

Voice of the Faithful's dynamism is unmatched:

The two-day event, featuring more than 30 workshops and talks by such luminaries as the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, is expected to draw between 500 and 700 participants, according to the group’s president, Mary Pat Fox.

The number is only a fraction of the 4,200 who turned out for Voice of the Faithful’s first convention at the Hynes Convention Center in 2002, but organizers say that should not be seen as a decline.

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But with a membership that has expanded to 150 affiliates and 42,000 registrants across the country, leaders say the group no longer needs to look to mass meetings to push for reform. Rather, they are engaged in the more difficult and less glamorous task of trying to ensure every parish and diocese has an active pastoral and financial council.

* * *

Topics to be explored in more than 30 workshops: strategies and tactics the laity can use to protect their parishes from being closed; priesthood in crisis, a strategy for collaboration and starting a conversation about issues affecting the priesthood; the election of bishops; dealing with anger and examining ways to transform it; and best practices for preserving parishes in a time of fewer priests.

* * *

Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio has conducted a study on the Voice of the Faithful and has found them to be an extraordinary lot: their Mass attendance is twice that of other Catholics; they are more likely to be lectors, religious education teachers or Eucharistic ministers. A third of them are also members of the Knights of Columbus, 70 percent went to parochial school and 57 percent attended Catholic college.

Besides Father McBrien, who will deliver a keynote address Friday night, other featured speakers include poet, theologian and writer Edwina Gateley, and Judge Michael Merz, the chairman of the national review board set up by American bishops to help them monitor their response to sexual abuse.

Ah, so now that the rage has been harnessed, people are signing up in droves to set up parish bureaucratic structures.


Naturally, this goal of institution-building is superbly facilitated by having Fr. McBrien in to rant for the 43,208th time about the betrayal of the spirit of Vatican II and Edwina Gateley to...discuss whatever it is she's going to talk about. Not that Gateley's oeuvre appears to be germane to the big gear-up Ms. Fox claims is in progress.

However, Gateley does something that VOTF hasn't--she's actually lived her faith in the world. Specifically, she established a center in Chicago which rescues women out of prostitution and supports them as they rebuild their lives. While there's plenty to be dubious about with respect to Gateley's theology, she deserves great credit for this work.

At one point, VOTF did useful work for survivors of clerical rape. But that's a dwindling fraction of its mission these days.

Now, VOTF is focused on grasping at the levers of ecclesial power--the dread clericalization of the laity which changes "kiss my ring" to "genuflect before my degree." In Rich Leonardi's memorable phrase, it's "the sanctification of the parish basement, not the world." Look at the workshops highlighted in the article: with one exception, it could be the agenda for your local priests council or USCCB meeting.

Here's the complete list. The subliminal message: the clergy are the Church. Despite all the claims to the contrary, VOTF says the crozier's where the action is. Nothing else counts. Living your faith in the world? Pfft. That's for evangelicals. And if you can't smell the northeastern/midwestern mindset, your sniffer's out of service--look at the focus on parish closings. That's a front burner issue in Boston or Detroit. Dallas, Raleigh or Los Angeles...not so much.

VOTF, you're at minute fourteen. And the Church in America doesn't have a constituency for one Call To Action, let alone two.

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