Fidelity of 'Voice of the Faithful' Group Comes Under Scrutiny Again

NEWTON, Mass. — New questions about the fidelity of the reform group Voice of the Faithful have arisen following a one-day meeting June 7 of 45 Boston-area Voice affiliates.

According to a June 7 press release from the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, keynote speaker Paul Lakeland, professor of religious studies at Connecticut's Fairfield University, told the Newton gathering that Catholics were “suffocating from structural oppression” and advocated the abolition of the College of Cardinals, the ordination of women as deacons and lay participation in the election of bishops.

And, Lakeland predicted, future priests would consist of “some married, some not; some straight, some gay, some women, some not.”

The Catholic Action League said Lakeland's comments serve as “further compelling evidence of the hypocrisy of Voice's claim of fidelity to the Catholic religion.”

In an interview June 18, Lakeland confirmed the Catholic Action League's reporting of his comments was substantially accurate. But Lakeland said he was expressing only his own opinions in his keynote address — which dealt primarily with the future role of the laity in the Church — and not the opinions of Voice of the Faithful.

And, Lakeland said, the comments singled out for criticism do not challenge Church doctrine but rather Church practices that are open to change.

However, Lakeland acknowledged during the interview that he remains a proponent of the ordination of women as priests, even though Pope John Paul II definitively ruled against women priests in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (On Priestly Ordination). And, when asked if he agreed with the Catechism of the Catholic Church's statement that homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered, Lakeland replied, “No, I don't.”

History of Controversy

Voice of the Faithful was formed in January 2002 in the Boston area, shortly after the revelations of the mishandling of clergy sexual abuse that triggered the nationwide abuse scandal and eventually led to Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation.

From its inception, Voice of the Faithful has said “structural change” to democratize Church structures is key to addressing the abuse crisis. However, Voice's Web site explanation of “structural change” states Voice of the Faithful “does not seek any change in Church doctrine.”

And in its “Policies and Positions” section the organization states, “We do not advocate the end of priestly celibacy, the exclusion of homosexuals from the priesthood, the ordination of women or any of the other remedies that have been proposed across the spectrum of Catholic thought.”

Voice of the Faithful's critics have challenged these claims of doctrinal fidelity, pointing out that dissenters frequently are assigned prominent roles at the group's meetings. At a major Voice gathering in Boston last July, for example, featured speakers included Debra Haffner, a former official of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, and several theologians who have publicly challenged the authority of the Church's hierarchy.

Voice of the Faithful vice president Ann Carroll, who served as chairperson at the Newton meeting, said there was no intention of promoting dissenting views by inviting Lakeland to speak. She said one reason Lakeland was selected was because he holds a faculty position in the religious studies department of a well-known Catholic university, which Carroll said indicates that his views accord with Church teachings.

“Our No. 1 criteria was we wanted a theologian, and a theologian from a noted Catholic university,” Carroll said. “We aren't a dissident group.”

After that event, a Voice of the Faithful spokesman sought to refute charges it was dominated by dissenters. But Lakeland's keynote address shows that Voice remains sympathetic to dissent, said C.J. Doyle, president of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts.

“Now we know what [Voice of the Faithful] means by structural change in the Church — Protestant church government, a weakened papacy and women priests,” Doyle said in the Catholic Action League's statement. “The notion that [Voice of the Faithful] is faithful to anything remotely resembling Roman Catholicism is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics.”

(Register correspondent John Mallon contributed to this report.)