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Sunday, August 10, 2003

Voice for change


Sex scandals: Reform movement

The Boston-based church reform group Voice of the Faithful is still banned in some Catholic dioceses, but VOTF founder Jim Muller received a cordial reception here from Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk Friday. The soft-spoken Boston cardiologist is no Martin Luther firebrand seeking schism, even though VOTF's worldwide movement sprang from outrage over priest sex abuse scandals in Massachusetts. Those scandals were echoed in dioceses across the country, including Cincinnati and Covington. The reform group is seeking more of a voice for lay people in guiding the church, and more accountable church leaders, to prevent cover-ups and other abuses.

On his visit here, Muller assured Pilarczyk that VOTF does not aim to change church core doctrine. Pilarczyk already had given pastors here the go-ahead to decide if Voice of the Faithful groups may meet on church property and if VOTF notices may be included in church bulletins.

Muller has impeccable credentials when it comes to advocating reform. He is a founder of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Who would fail to support VOTF's three core goals? Support sex abuse victims. Support priests of integrity. Shape structural change within the church. VOTF wants to create democratic lay congresses at every level of the worldwide Catholic Church to advise church leaders.

Started only last year, Voice of the Faithful numbers more than 30,000, with 186 affiliates, including chapters in Australia and New Zealand. Its Web site www.votf.org rallies the membership. When people tell Muller the laity doesn't stand a chance, he says, "We have instruments reformers didn't have before." The Internet is already a powerful force for VOTF.

Muller argues the early church was governed more democratically. Only later were lay people disenfranchised. He thinks church leaders would be better off sharing power. With energized lay people, the church could accomplish more good. Muller's is a voice worth heeding.




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