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The Providence Journal
Providence – Voice of the Faithful, the organization of reform- minded lay Catholics spawned by the priest sex-abuse scandal that erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston five years ago, will hold its third national convention beginning Friday at the Rhode Island Convention Center.
The two-day event, featuring more than 30 workshops and talks by such luminaries as the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, is expected to draw between 500 and 700 participants, according to the group’s president, Mary Pat Fox.
The number is only a fraction of the 4,200 who turned out for Voice of the Faithful’s first convention at the Hynes Convention Center in 2002, but organizers say that should not be seen as a decline.
They observe that when that session was held Catholics were still reeling from revelations over Boston Cardinal Bernard Law’s practice of transferring clergy found to be abusing children to other parishes where they continued the abuse.
“I think in 2002 people were infuriated,” says Fox. “They were filled with anger and a sense of helplessness and were trying to find ways to respond.”
But with a membership that has expanded to 150 affiliates and 42,000 registrants across the country, leaders say the group no longer needs to look to mass meetings to push for reform. Rather, they are engaged in the more difficult and less glamorous task of trying to ensure every parish and diocese has an active pastoral and financial council.
Donna Doucette, the group’s executive director, says this week’s convention in Providence will be an opportunity for participants to share ideas on what has worked for them in their effort to bring about structural change.
Topics to be explored in more than 30 workshops: strategies and tactics the laity can use to protect their parishes from being closed; priesthood in crisis, a strategy for collaboration and starting a conversation about issues affecting the priesthood; the election of bishops; dealing with anger and examining ways to transform it; and best practices for preserving parishes in a time of fewer priests.
While the group is still under a ban in certain quarters – banned, for example, from meeting in Catholic parishes in the Fall River Diocese, and from holding meetings in Boston parishes that they hadn’t met in before – many other bishops have welcomed the organization. Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has written a letter extending his greetings to the group. Given that the bishop will also be at the convention center Friday to attend the annual St. Joseph Hospital ball, some organizers are hoping that the bishop will find time to leave his event in the rotunda to greet the Voice of the Faithful members in person.
Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio has conducted a study on the Voice of the Faithful and has found them to be an extraordinary lot:
their Mass attendance is twice that of other Catholics; they are more likely to be lectors, religious education teachers or Eucharistic ministers. A third of them are also members of the Knights of Columbus, 70 percent went to parochial school and 57 percent attended Catholic college.
Besides Father McBrien, who will deliver a keynote address Friday night, other featured speakers include poet, theologian and writer Edwina Gateley, and Judge Michael Merz, the chairman of the national review board set up by American bishops to help them monitor their response to sexual abuse.
The event will conclude with a liturgy at 5 p.m. Saturday and a profession of faith. The registration for the event, including a Friday night reception and Saturday lunch, is $100 and can be made at the door. The fee for attending only Friday’s events including the reception and lecture by Father McBrien is $80.
(C) 2007 The Providence Journal. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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