Voice of the Faithful’s mission is “to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church.”
VOTFI members do not seek to change essential church teachings – the teachings that lie at the summit of what theologians call ‘the hierarchy of truths’. In line with Vatican II, VOTFI seeks to establish the right of lay people to express their opinions freely ‘on those things which pertain to the good of the Church’ (Vatican II document Lumen Gentium § 37).
VOTFI seeks especially an active role for lay people in Church decision-making related to finance, personnel assignments, and policies that protect our children, honour the rights of victims/survivors and their families, and support due process for the accused.
The documents of the Second Vatican Council proclaim that lay Catholics have a right – indeed a responsibility – to become active in the guidance of the Church as “the people of God.” We believe that Catholic lay people must become involved by studying the causes of recent scandals and by working collaboratively with the clergy to ensure that we have a voice in creating and participating in procedures that protect our children, prevent future misuses of power, and ensure the vibrant life of our church.
Lumen Gentium means ‘Light of Nations’. As the great Vatican II document on the church it proclaimed that lay people have a right to communicate their pastoral and spiritual needs to their church leaders ‘through structures established for that purpose’. (LG § 37)
Almost five decades after the end of Vatican II, and many years after Pope John Paul II called upon the Irish bishops in Rome to introduce ‘structures of belonging’ (1999), no such structures have yet been established in most of Ireland. A fear of assembling the people of God, for any kind of decision-making, paralyses our bishops. At the same time too many bishops and clergy have expected that lay Catholics will go on forever deferring to their greater wisdom on every aspect of church life. Parish priests are not even yet obliged by church rules to have pastoral councils, and an incoming parish priest may freely dissolve any such structure that has been set up by his predecessors. This makes committed lay people despair, because nothing they build or achieve at present in their parishes can achieve any guaranteed permanence. They too are workers in the vineyard, but cannot be sure at present that their parish work – i.e. in establishing and attending Bible study groups – will not be entirely futile and fruitless in ensuring the continuity of faith.
And while in some dioceses there appears to be a lavish expenditure of church funds on the refurbishment of church property, there may be in the same dioceses a serious shortfall in the provision for adult education and the development of youth ministry.
In 1987, when a world synod (gathering of bishops) was held in Rome on the role of the laity in the church, Irish bishops told the Irish lay organisation Pobal that they did not need to be advised on the needs of the Irish laity! Still today no church fora exist in most dioceses for the open expression of the views of lay people on the whole host of issues that challenge our church in Ireland at diocesan and national level. Although there are diocesan conferences for clergy, no such structures exist for lay people, and in most parishes the people of God are never convened to discuss the critical issues facing the very survival of our church. This has meant that bishops have too often failed in their responsibility to maintain close contact with their people in order to retain their trust and interest. So, sadly, that trust and interest has, for far too many of our fellow Catholics, completely evaporated.
Now that Irish bishops have committed themselves to catechetical reform in their strategic document ‘Share the Good News’, it is even more important that this situation should change. If parishes and families are to assume more of the responsibility for passing on the faith, our bishops’ irrational fear of assembly must be exorcised.
Lumen Gentium also gave to lay people a specific role and task in the church – ‘the consecration of the world to God’. Although we lay people are already commissioned for that task by our baptism and confirmation, our leaders have never convened us to discuss together what it might involve. That task still awaits us.
We believe that this high ecclesiastical insult to the intelligence of the Irish people of God is one of the major reasons for the falling prestige of Catholicism in the period since 1965, and for the large scale defection of our younger generations. Although we are educated to a high level for our secular roles, our church role, as seen by too many of our bishops, is still merely that of docile children – to ‘pay, pray and obey’. This failure to respect the intelligence of lay people, and to invite us into a full adult relationship, is directly contrary to church teaching on the equal dignity of all, and a failure in the solemn duty of bishops to lead their people to Christian maturity. Too many seem not to want us to reach Christian adulthood – because that would oblige them to behave as leaders-by-example – witnesses ready to respond to constructive criticism – rather than aloof, autocratic and unquestionable administrators content with a mere facade of leadership.