January 03, 2005

Church healing sought

Telegram & Gazette

Kathleen A. Shaw

WORCESTERó Worcester Diocese Voice of the Faithful plans to pursue an aggressive agenda during 2005, in hopes of bringing healing and restoring trust in the church and its leaders, and to begin involving lay people in more decision-making for the diocese.

A planning meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 18 in the Hogan Conference Center at the College of the Holy Cross. David J. O'Brien, a professor at Holy Cross active in the organization, said in a letter to members and prospective members that the group plans to elect interim officers, set a meeting schedule and decide on short-term and long-term projects.

Voice of the Faithful was founded in 2002 in the Boston area during the burgeoning sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church; a chapter opened here that year. It is now a national organization.

The organization's New England regional conference was recently held at the DCU Center and more than 40 people from the Worcester diocese attended a "breakout" meeting with Mr. O'Brien to discuss how they can become more active.

The organization comprises Catholic lay people and priests whose goals are to support victims of abuse and to work for structural change in the church while remaining faithful to the church and the bishops. Not all bishops are happy with the organization, however, and some have barred the group from meeting on church property.

Although the 2005 agenda has not been set, Daniel Dick of Worcester, VOTF's victim support coordinator, outlined some issues he believes need to be addressed.

"There is a tremendous amount of healing that needs to be done," he said.

Mr. Dick said he is trying to introduce a program of "restorative justice" in the diocese and is meeting with a victim and the diocesan Office for Healing and Prevention on this issue. "This discussion has the support of the bishop, but it remains to be seen if he will meet the requirement of a direct participation in the program," he said.

Healing needs to extend to the parishes, he added.

"There are too many people there who want to ignore the healing needs of those who are or were members of parishes, people who have little or no understanding of the role they played in abetting the climate that would allow for such abuse," Mr. Dick said.

To regain trust, the diocese needs to open records and personnel files, he added. People need to know about the settlements with victims, what the settlement policy is and "of the power of the insurance companies and the lawyers," he said.

People also need to know what the relationship is between the diocese and District Attorney John J. Conte, he said, and need to know "who knew what and when. All of this has got to be put on the table for concerned laity to see and evaluate."

Mr. O'Brien said he intends to have Mr. Dick and one or two others meet, before Jan. 18, with Patricia O'Leary Engdahl of the Office for Healing and Prevention to get an update on what has been done and is planned by her office, to learn the results of the second-year audit by theAbuse Tracker Review Board set up by the American Catholic bishops, and to get information on "the diocese's ongoing relationships with victims."

He also suggested that VOTF request that a committee of some of its members meet with the diocesan committee that oversees "the local response to the sex abuse crisis."

Mr. O'Brien said he intends to talk before the meeting with leaders of local clergy and diocesan and religious orders to offer support for "priests of integrity" as well as to open a dialogue about "shared responsibility for the well-being of the diocese and parishes."

Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, before he retired in May, began work on developing a local Diocesan Pastoral Council, Mr. O'Brien said. "I will invite the interim chair to attend our meeting, perhaps with one or two other members, to update us on the status of that body."

Mr. Dick has also said he believes there should be a "review of the health of our parishes."

Mr. O'Brien said Bishop Reilly began an assessment of staffing problems, which led to a "clustering" of parishes. The Rev. Michael F. Rose, pastor of St. James parish in South Grafton, heads the planning committee, and Frank Kartheiser of Worcester Interfaith serves as a member. Mr. O'Brien said he will invite both to the meeting.

Mr. O'Brien said he intended to get an update on the work and recommendations of theAbuse Tracker Review Board, which oversees implementation of the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children, which they adopted in 2002.

"Supporting its work, and keeping the Catholic public informed about that work, seems to me an important function of a local VOTF affiliate," he said.

Posted by kshaw at January 3, 2005 07:46 AM