Sunday, August 17, 2003

'Voices' hope to empower laity

By Nan Fischer
Guest columnist

One response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, which is currently erupting in the Catholic Church in Cincinnati, has been the development of a national organization called Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). Currently there are more than 30,000 members and 181 affiliates across the United States.

There are three affiliates in Cincinnati and one in Dayton. The local affiliates include Cincinnati VOTF, made up of 15 people from a variety of parishes, and two parish affiliates, Nativity parish in Pleasant Ridge and St. Francis De Sales in Walnut Hills. The mission and goals of VOTF are:

• To provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the spirit, through which the faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic church.

•  To support those who have been abused.

• To support priests of integrity.

• To shape structural change within Church.

The last goal that has gotten the most attention and sparked the most controversy. However, critics of VOTF who have immediately focused on structural change in the Church have missed the most important part and have demonstrated how the church has gotten itself into this mess in the first place - by preserving and protecting the structure at all costs.

Supporting the survivors is the place for all Catholics to start. The survivors have become the "face and voice" of the crisis. In addition to being survivors they have become witnesses to the need for dialogue, openness, collaboration and change.

The way to ensure that abuse of this kind never happens again is to listen and learn from the survivors. The sacrifice of the survivors is every Catholic's entry point to addressing injustice in the church. Solidarity with survivors offers all Catholics the opportunity to own the painful reality of not only their situation, but the painful reality that our church does not currently resemble much of what Jesus talked about.

By being willing to enter their pain, we can be the church for them that their church was not.

I chose to get involved with VOTF because it allows me the opportunity to more fully live out my vocation as an adult, baptized Catholic. VOTF has empowered me to speak my truth about the church I love. It has offered me a way to continue being involved in my faith tradition in a way that does not compromise my personal and spiritual growth. Through VOTF I am able to participate in the kind of conversation and activity for growth and change that can complete the unrealized vision of Vatican II which promised, but did not deliver, a church where the gifts of all God's people were recognized and used.

VOTF provides a forum for all voices - traditional, liberal, conservative, centrist, progressive - to proclaim out loud what the hopes, desires, concerns and fears about the Church in this critical time of crisis and change.

Forty years later, VOTF is continuing the Vatican II window-opening work of bringing in the fresh air and sunlight that is needed to offset the darkness of secrecy, exclusion and non-accountability that has existed in the hierarchy for too long.

VOTF offers to all those who love and care for their church the chance to express what we want and need our church to be. We have a new opportunity to define for ourselves and the world what it means to be people of God, followers of Christ and signs of the Spirit.


Nan Fischer is chairperson of Cincinnati VOTF, VOTF Regional Coordinator.

National Website: www.votf.org

Local website: http://home.earthlink.net/~nafischer33

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