Cover image for Keep the faith, change the church : the battle by Catholics for the soul of their church
Keep the faith, change the church : the battle by Catholics for the soul of their church
Muller, James E., 1943-
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[Emmaus, Pa.] : Rodale, [2004]

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vii, 310 pages ; 24 cm
A church of good and evil -- A new voice for the faithful emerges -- The cardinal convenes his flock -- Finding our public voice -- A growing prayerful voice speaks to survivors -- Like the man in Tiananmen Square -- Resistance from bishops, support from theologians and clergy -- A miraculous convention -- Democracy for the Catholic laity? -- The battle is joined -- The enduring strength of Catholicism -- Make your voice heard.
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BX809.V65 M85 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A Defining Moment in the Life of the Church

Even before the terrible revelations of sexual misconduct and the cover-up that allowed such atrocities to continue happening, the Catholic Church was in trouble. With a devout but aging congregation giving way to a generation of so-called lapsed Catholics, the spiritual vitality and significance of the church had seemed, in the context of modern American society, to be ebbing away. Then when the scandal hit, even true believers were pitched into an all-out crisis of faith.

It was at this low point that a fiercely committed group of Catholics emphatically said, Enough! This book tells their inspiring story, the story of Voice of the Faithful, a grassroots organization formed to give the laity a voice in making their church a more effective spiritual and social force. The group came to realize that the underlying cause of the cover-ups and the failure of the church to adopt many needed changes is the abuse by some in the hierarchy of the excessive power they hold.

For too long, average Catholics have been disenfranchised. Now, with the growing success of Voice of the Faithful, there is finally a legitimate forum for the laity. As James E. Muller and Charles Kenney show in this urgent call to action, history is on the side of those who would stand up and be heard.

Author Notes

James E. Muller, M.D., the founding president of Voice of the Faithful, is codirector of the CIMIT Vulnerable Plaque Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School. He is also a founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, an organization that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985
Charles Kenney is the author of three novels and three previous works of nonfiction, He was a reporter and editor at the Boston Globe for sixteen years and now serves as a consultant in communications strategy



* CHAPTER 1 A CHURCH OF GOOD AND EVIL BISHOP WALTER EDYVEAN SAT directly in front of me across an enormous conference table in the wood-paneled boardroom of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Over his shoulder, just beyond a huge picture window, an encampment of journalists had maintained a vigil ever since the horrific news broke about the sexual abuse of children by priests and the cover-up by the church hierarchy. The almost-daily revelations of new atrocities, first in the Boston Globe and then in papers across the country, shocked Catholics everywhere. The leaders of an institution dedicated to promoting Christian values had desecrated those values. It was as if fire-fighters had become arsonists, or doctors had intentionally spread disease. The cover-up of sexual abuse by the hierarchy had caused me to question the foundation of my cultural and spiritual identity. The Catholic Church had guided and nurtured me in many ways. I was a graduate of St. Joan of Arc Grade School, Cathedral High School, and the University of Notre Dame before attending the Johns Hopkins Medical School. An uncle was a priest, an aunt a nun. My father had been the medical director of a large Catholic hospital. I had given commencement addresses at Catholic institutions and served on their academic committees. I realized how enraged I truly felt one morning when I looked at the eighteen-inch-high Steuben cut-glass award on my desk. It had been presented to me by the Archbishop of Indianapolis, an award for my work to help prevent nuclear war. I read the inscription: "For your considerable impact on and service to our community." I noted the engraving at the top, CELEBRATING CATHOLIC SCHOOL VALUES, with the T of "Celebrating" in the form of a cross, and I recalled the great pride with which I had received the award. Yet in the immediate wake of the revelations I felt an urge to seize it, to smash it, to shatter it. The scandal had actually caused me to consider leaving the church, or, as I would later express it, to acknowledge that the church, by its actions, had left me. But I could not leave the Catholic Church. It was the church into which I had been baptized as an infant, the church which had provided spiritual guidance throughout my life. It had done incalculable good for millions of others working for world peace, caring for the poor and sick, educating tens of millions of students throughout the world, nurturing countless souls across the millennia. It was the church of my beloved wife; the church of my parents and grandparents; the church in which my children had been raised. It was my church, and I could not leave it. But I also knew that I could not remain and simply accept what had happened. And so I helped form a grassroots organization called Voice of the Faithful. We are a group of devout Catholics, now more than thirty thousand strong, with a determination to be heard. We started out meeting in a suburban church basement and now have nearly two hundred active affiliates from Florida to Alaska. We are mainstream practicing Catholics, the lifeblood of our faith--parents and grandparents, Sunday school teachers, deacons, members of the choir, Eucharistic Ministers, and concerned members of our communities. We are hardly a band of radicals. But while we are faithful Catholics, we are certain that if the laity had a meaningful role within the church, the sex abuse of children by priests would have been halted in its earliest stages. With lay people involved in the decision making, certainly no priest who had abused a child would have been transferred to another parish and allowed to molest other children-- parents would never have permitted it. Early on, then, the founding members of Voice of the Faithful decided that our historical docility had contributed to the cover-up and must end. We saw our meeting with Bishop Edyvean as a crucial step toward that goal. On the day of our meeting--May 23, 2002--we wanted to be embraced by the hierarchy, to work in partnership with them. Our goal was to forge a trusting relationship with the cardinal and others in the hierarchy so that the laity could gain a seat at the table, become part of the process of decision making, and help build a better church. As Vicar General and moderator of the curia, second in command to Cardinal Bernard Law, Bishop Edyvean was a powerful figure. Now in his early sixties, he had a reputation as an erudite, courteous man who was particularly well connected, having served for some years at the Vatican. In Boston he played a behind-the-scenes role, implementing the policies of Cardinal Law. Bishop Edyvean was joined by another priest, a young canon lawyer, while I was attending the meeting with two other members of our group, Mary Scanlon and Steve Krueger. I arrived just as the meeting was starting, having raced to the chancery from Massachusetts General Hospital, where I work as a cardiologist. Coming to the meeting that day, I believed that we had much to offer the hierarchy. I felt a sense of exuberance for I knew we could help. I was sure that if the local hierarchy were to embrace us it would be a signal to countless Catholics deeply troubled by the scandal that there was a genuine desire to work with the laity to improve the Church. My excitement approaching the meeting was tempered, however, by reports we had been hearing that Bishop Edyvean was working back channels against us, presumably at Cardinal Law's instruction. We began the meeting with a prayer, led by the bishop, and then exchanged pleasantries. Having been awarded honorary degrees from five Catholic colleges, I was accustomed to affable discussions with church officials, and I hoped this meeting would not be an exception. But the mood quickly grew tense as the younger priest, Father Mark O'Connell, attacked our group, claiming that our very existence somehow undermined the leadership of Cardinal Law. While I was surprised by his arrogance, and the hostile tone he had suddenly injected into the meeting, I replied that we supported the authority of the hierarchy but that as lay Catholics we had a right and even a responsibility to help our church in its time of crisis. Cardinal Law and other members of the hierarchy had committed grave errors of judgment transferring many priests who had sexually molested children to other parishes where they continued as sexual predators. The Cardinal had not only transferred these men, but he had led a massive cover-up as well. We noted that our group had been formed in response to these failures of the hierarchy. The accusatory tone set by Father O'Connell made it easier for us to pose the difficult question for which we needed an answer. "Bishop Edyvean," I said, "we've heard that you're blocking us in parishes, that you're calling pastors and telling them not to let Voice of the Faithful meet on church property." I looked him in the eye and paused a moment, then asked him directly: "Are you blocking us?" The bishop hesitated, then replied, "There are a lot of issues we have with your organization. We have to know what you're about." This response didn't ring true, for I was certain he already knew a great deal about us. A priest supportive of Voice had told us that Bishop Edyvean had downloaded materials from our Web site. Newspapers, magazines, and television networks from all over the world had reported on our movement. It was clear that we were about responding to the horrific sex abuse scandal to support victims whose lives had been so deeply scarred. We were about getting involved in the church so that never again would the culture of secrecy be permitted to cover up abuse of children and criminality. We were about using the talents and experience of educated, successful lay people--doctors, lawyers, professors, judges, business people, mothers, fathers--to help revive our church after the abuse scandal and assist in resolution of the many other problems of the Catholic Church. What Bishop Edyvean did not know about Voice of the Faithful from the many public sources was easily available from talking with us. We had no secrets. But we had been told that he acted against us before joining in dialogue. As I looked across the table it was clear to me that Bishop Edyvean hoped I would drop the subject. But I couldn't. So I posed the question again, this time in a tone with a bit more intensity. "Bishop Edyvean, are you trying to block us?" The tension in the room increased. The canon lawyer at the bishop's side frowned, clearly annoyed. "We'll have to do more research," he said, continuing to evade the issue. I replied as respectfully yet as directly as I could. "You haven't answered my question." This was not easy for me. I was a sixty-year-old lifelong Catholic with an instinctive reverence for priests and bishops--indeed, for all church leaders. Yet I was also a scientist who believed in a probing search for the truth. "Are you actively blocking our organization?" There was a brittle silence. Finally, Bishop Edyvean conceded that, yes, he had tried to block us, but he said that he had phoned only one parish. While I appreciated his acknowledging an unpleasant truth, I was astonished that a bishop would act against some of the most enthusiastic Catholics in his archdiocese who were acting in compliance with all the rules of the church. "We're concerned," he said. Concerned? I thought. Concerned about mainstream lay Catholics who want to help their church through a crisis? I feared that the bishop's concern was reflective of what had gotten our church into trouble in the first place: a concern more for protecting the age-old culture of secrecy, for placing the power of the hierarchy above the safety of children. Rather than pushing us away, rather than secretly trying to block our growth, it was clear to me that church leaders should have been doing the opposite--embracing us, welcoming our offers of help and support. As others at the table spoke, I thought back to my meeting with the hierarchy twenty-one years earlier in this very same conference room. The contrast in tone was striking. In 1981, the pastor of my church had helped me arrange a meeting with Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, the predecessor to Cardinal Law. At that time the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in mad rhetoric about winning a nuclear war. Having worked in the Soviet Union as a young physician, I had gotten to know a number of Russian doctors, including Dr. Evgeny Chazov, an esteemed cardiologist who included among his patients Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev. Along with my American colleagues Drs. Bernard Lown, Eric Chivian, and Dr. John Pastore, I joined with the Russians to form a group called International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Our goal was to frame the nuclear debate in medical terms, to educate people throughout the world that any sort of nuclear exchange would be a medical catastrophe. We believed that accurately describing the medical consequences of nuclear war would convince the people of the world to force their political leaders to move beyond the bellicose language of the Cold War. Early on in our antinuclear efforts, we were criticized as being naive dupes of the Soviet propaganda machine. If this charge were to stick it would have severely damaged our movement. I realized that nothing would combat that charge more effectively than if Pope John Paul II, with his impeccable anti-Communist credentials, were to endorse our group. I had sought the meeting with Cardinal Medeiros, to ask whether he would help our organization obtain a letter of support from the Holy Father. This was a highly unusual request. It was not common for the Vatican to send out letters on request, but Cardinal Medeiros supported our mission and agreed to help. I told the cardinal that there was some urgency in my request--our group planned its first convention in just six weeks. He asked what I hoped the Holy Father might say in his letter, and I volunteered to draft something. He readily agreed, and I set about doing so- -right there at the very table where I was to meet with Bishop Edyvean. As I wrote, Cardinal Medeiros brought me several documents from his office containing the Pope's statements on nuclear war, pointing out a wonderful excerpt from the encyclical Pacem in Terris, issued by Pope John XXIII, "on establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity and liberty." Six weeks later, at the first conference of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, in Washington, D.C., a letter arrived from Pope John Paul II endorsing our efforts. It was a crucial statement by the church at the ideal time--a prime example of the Catholic Church using its moral authority to bring the teachings of Christ to the modern world. The Pope's endorsement helped us build an international organization with 130,000 physicians in more than twenty nations, which in turn led to a massive grassroots uprising that altered the discussion of nuclear war. President Reagan sent us a statement at a later conference indicating that, "Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." Five years after we received the letter from the Holy Father, I traveled to Oslo, where our group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This had been the church at its best. But now we were confronting the church at its worst. Shadowing our meeting with Bishop Edyvean were the unspeakable crimes that had been committed by priests and covered up by the hierarchy. Father John Geoghan alone, it is believed, molested more than 130 children in a half-dozen parishes over three decades. He had fondled some, raped others, traumatized all. After abusing a twelve-year-old boy whose father had recently committed suicide, Geoghan told the child to keep it secret. "We're very good at keeping secrets," the priest told him. Cardinal Law, and even Cardinal Medeiros, despite knowing of Father Geoghan's crimes, wrote glowing letters for this sexual predator as they assigned him to new parishes. And then there was the matter of Father Ronald H. Paquin openly admitting his transgressions to a Boston Globe reporter. "Sure, I fooled around. But I never raped anyone and I never felt gratified myself," the priest said. There was a case where both a father and his son had been molested by priests a generation apart. And there was the shocking story of Father Paul Shanley, who reportedly left a trail of sodomy and ruin in his wake. These horrific crimes--and the many others that have been reported since-- have made it clear that, like a decubitus skin ulceration, the decay of the Catholic Church was deeper and broader than the surface signs indicated. Excerpted from Keep the Faith, Change the Church: The Battle by Catholics for the Soul of Their Church by James Muller, Charles Kenney All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 A Church of Good and Evilp. 1
Chapter 2 A New Voice for the Faithful Emergesp. 15
Chapter 3 The Cardinal Convenes His Flockp. 35
Chapter 4 Finding Our Public Voicep. 53
Chapter 5 A Growing Prayerful Voice Speaks to Survivorsp. 81
Chapter 6 Like the Man in Tiananmen Squarep. 97
Chapter 7 Resistance from Bishops, Support from Theologians and Clergyp. 123
Chapter 8 A Miraculous Conventionp. 141
Chapter 9 The Historical Case for a Democracy of the Laityp. 177
Chapter 10 The Battle is Joinedp. 223
Chapter 11 The Cardinal Resigns but the Challenge Persistsp. 253
Chapter 12 How We Can Change the Church--Togetherp. 283
Acknowledgmentsp. 309