This response didn't ring true, for I was certain he already knew a great deal about us. A priest supportive of VOTF had told us that Bishop Edyvean had downloaded materials from our website. Newspapers, magazines, and television networks from all over the world had reported on our movement.

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 only phoned one parish.

My first reaction was appreciation that he had acknowledged an unpleasant truth. But now that it was confirmed, I was also amazed-astonished, really-that a bishop would act against some of the most enthusiastic core Catholics in his archdiocese who were acting in compliance with all the rules of the Church.

"We're concerned," he said.

Concerned? About mainstream lay Catholics who want to help their church through a crisis? I felt a great sadness, for 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. For the sexual abuse scandal demonstrated flaws in Catholic Church governance that could only be corrected by the establishment of a powerful, democratically guided, presence of the laity.

After that, young Father O'Connell weighed in again, his tone hostile, accusing us of having called for the Cardinal's resignation. I said we had not done so; that although many of our members felt the Cardinal should resign, we as an organization had not endorsed the idea. I told him that on the night of the vote about the Cardinal I had led one of the most difficult meetings of my life; that I had insisted upon a rule which thwarted the will of 90 percent of our membership.

"You had no business even considering the question," Bishop Edyvean interrupted.

"Our members wanted to consider the question," I said, adding that we had every right to do so.

Mary Scanlon Calcaterra was surprised by the tone and direction of the meeting. She had come expecting Bishop Edyvean to be penitent. She thought he would admit the Church had a problem. She thought we would go in with a good faith offer of assistance and the bishop would welcome our help. Mary listened in amazement as the bishop and young priest spoke, "giving the impression that they knew everything and we knew nothing."

Mary then spoke up. She wanted to convey to Bishop Edyvean how important the church was to her personally. She told of having gone through the shattering experience of divorce and then following through with the process of getting her marriage annulled. She said that it had been helpful to submit to the rules of the Church. "It was a very healing process," she said. "It helped me move on."

She said that Voice of the Faithful had many members who were on parish council, served as lectors, sang in the choir, or taught religious education classes. They were deeply committed to the Church, she assured the bishop, but wanted to deal with the scandal head-on. One way to do that, Steve interjected, was for us to help financially. Steve explained that we had established what we called a Voice of Compassion Fund to raise money from the many people who were unwilling to donate directly to the archdiocese. Steve explained that we wanted to donate the money we were raising to the archdiocese with the stipulation that it go to charitable rather than administrative costs.

This set Father O'Connell off yet again. He said we had no authority to raise money and we should not do it. We were amazed by this because we were well aware that donations to the archdiocese were down sharply as a result of the scandal. We were collecting money that people were not willing to give to the Cardinal's appeal.

I asked Father O'Connell why we shouldn't raise money.

He replied that only the archbishop has the power to raise money. It wasn't about money but principle, he said. Then he gestured with his hands, lowering one down below the level of the table. "For us, money is down here," he said, then held his other hand high above his head and added, "and principle is up here."

Mary was taken aback. "The dismal failure of the Cardinal's Appeal will mean that it will be impossible to provide for the poor and needy in the archdiocese."

Father O'Connell then replied in a way that left us dumbfounded.

"Then they will have to go without," he said.

There was a stunned silence in the room. Did he say what we thought he said? It was the most revealing moment of the meeting. For it was an admission that power was what truly mattered; the Cardinal must have the power to raise money and he would share that power with no one, even if the consequence was that the poor would suffer.

It was a scandalous statement, and Bishop Edyvean surely knew it. He added nuances and tried to soften what this arrogant young priest had said.

We returned to less controversial issues and sought to bring the meeting to a close. I suggested that we agree to hold another meeting to see if we could find some common ground. Bishop Edyvean agreed. I raised the question of the media--there was a great deal of press interest in the fact that this meeting was being held. This led to our agreement that we would tell the press that we had a productive session and would soon meet again. Again, the bishop agreed.

We left the chancery at about 5:40 in the evening. A few minutes later, Mary was driving in her car when she received a call on her cell phone from a reporter seeking a comment on the meeting. Given our agreement to issue a joint statement, Mary was shocked by the statement that had been issued by the archdiocese. It stated that Voice of the Faithful would work under the direction of the Cardinal. The release was issued around 5:20 P.M.-while we were still in the meeting!

Mary felt we'd been had-completely blindsided. It was as though this were some sort of political campaign and the archdiocese was interested not in an honest dialogue about the crisis but in scoring points against us in the newspapers.

"It was my first personal experience of having been betrayed by the Church," Mary said. "I was stunned."