Reason to Celebrate?

By Nancy K. Janoch, Nancy Rivet, Susan Dusseau and Harry Grether
Mid-Michigan Voice of the Faithful
®

This year, the local Catholic organization, Mid-Michigan Voice of the Faithful® (MM VOTF), will be 10 years old. Formed in the tri-city area in 2004, this group is an affiliate of the organization that began in 2002 in Massachusetts as a response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Since then, it has grown to more than 30,000 members in the United States and 21 countries. If many have never even heard of this group in the past years, some may ask how this is relevant to Catholics here in the tri-city area?

When the first people joined together for VOTF, they were shocked, hurt and upset. They saw the great injustice of the sexual abuse by clergy and the following cover-up, and they demanded that changes begin in our Church. VOTF became committed to a mission to provide a prayerful, Spirit-filled way for all Catholics to actively participate in the guidance and governance of the present-day Church. This follows Canon Law, which states that the laity “have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.” (Canon 212 §3)

The local Mid-Michigan Voice of the Faithful® continues to work to fulfill their mission statement. They offer an opportunity for all Catholics to enrich their faith and to become more involved in a meaningful way, within the framework of the Church. This is the reason MM VOTF is relevant to those in the tri-city area. Regardless of views on specific issues, this is an open and safe forum where Catholics may freely, respectfully and prayerfully discuss and learn about challenges that face our Church today. Through understanding of the important issues and by working together, good changes can take place for the future of our Church. This is a great reason to celebrate!

In this context, people believe they can embrace the VOTF goals to support the survivors of clergy sexual abuse, as well as to support priests of integrity. They also feel they can follow the goal that encourages work to shape structural change within the Catholic Church. This group finds that there is a lot to learn about their religion and what has been unfolding in this country and around the world. During monthly meetings, they began to learn more about the Church. By being grounded in prayer and through talks, readings, presentations and sharing information, they developed new understandings. Stories of individuals, clergy, educators and others, all showed a “bigger picture” of events, history and viewpoints.

The Catholic Church is a diverse group. Most individuals seek to understand their place in the Church, even if they are not aware of it. At a deeper level, they want to know God and the value of having a relationship with God. However, this also means that such a relationship requires some responsibility on their part. We, the Church, the people of God, are called to find out what duty we have and how we can open our eyes and continue to grow to remain full members of the Church. Mid-Michigan Voice of the Faithful strives to do that.

The recent closings of many area parishes are causing pain for many people here. Are their stories being heard? Who has listened to them? Is there help for them in their grief and loss, and shaken foundations?

In The New Yorker article, “Who Am I to Judge?” by James Carroll (2013, Dec. 23 &30), Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, asks what the exploitation of children by priests has done to Catholic families? What of the broken trust between the people and the clergy? How can people work together to “heal the wounds” and to build stronger faith?

The “Religious Landscape Survey” of the “Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project” (http://religions.pewforum.org) states that “while nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.” This is a trend that many would like to see reversed. It will take the commitment of lay Catholics to make such a change and to restore the belief in Catholic Church.

Over the years, the idea of one’s “rights” in the Catholic Church has evolved. The sexual abuse scandal showed that people have a voice when they choose to use it. However, there is much work to be done to establish justice, inclusiveness, accountability and transparency in the leadership of the Church. It is no longer safe to assume that this will occur without the care and participation of the laity.

Father Joseph Daoust of Rome said, in another quote from James Carroll’s The New Yorker article, “Who Am I to Judge?”—“The way we practice our faith affects how we believe. How we believe affects how we practice. There’s a back and forth …”

The local Mid-Michigan Voice of the Faithful® continues to work to fulfill their mission statement. They offer an opportunity for all Catholics to enrich their faith and to become more involved in a meaningful way, within the framework of the Church. This is the reason MM VOTF is relevant to those in the tri-city area. Regardless of views on specific issues, this is an open and safe forum where Catholics may freely, respectfully and prayerfully discuss and learn about challenges that face our Church today. Through understanding of the important issues and by working together, good changes can take place for the future of our Church. This is a great reason to celebrate!

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