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"Faithful St. Louis"?

September 21, 2002

A local effort to spread dissent in the Church, "Faithful St. Louis", is a spin-off of a "reform" coalition of dissident Catholic groups organized in Boston in the heat of the clerical sex-abuse crisis, "Voice of the Faithful". VOTF claims to "represent the 'great middle' of the Catholic Church -- 'the people in the pews'". Its slogan, "Keep the Faith, Change the Church", is deliberately ambiguous. VOTF proclaims it holds a "Centrist Philosophy", and that its goal is "rebuilding the Church, not tearing it down".

The VOTF web site also states, "We have no alliances with issue-oriented interest groups. Our call for lay participation in the governance and guidance of the Church is based on the clear teachings of the Second Vatican Council.... We believe that working with the hierarchy to create structural mechanisms ('structural change') through which lay Catholics can influence the temporal governance and guidance of the Church -- including ... administration at all levels -- will help restore the Church to spiritual and moral health."

VOTF plainly does have "alliances with issue-oriented interest groups" -- it is a revived coalition of dissenting Catholic groups and individuals that have openly proclaimed their intention to demolish the present hierarchical structure of the Church and to change her most fundamental teachings. These "alliances" are revealed in news accounts of VOTF.

Since VOTF's widely-publicized Boston meeting in July, where it is reported that 4,000 people gathered in a church basement in to organize it, there have been efforts to establish chapters in all parts of the country. At least one bishop, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, made clear his objections to VOTF, and has forbidden the group to meet on church property. They have encountered less opposition elsewhere.

In St. Louis, a meeting of "Faithful St. Louis" ("Claim the Promises ... Explore the Possibilities") is explicitly aimed at forming a chapter of the dissident VOTF coalition. Some presenters at the St. Louis gathering, "Ways to Create a Healthier Church", to be held September 21, at Harris-Stowe State College in midtown St. Louis, are high-profile dissenters. None of the sixteen-member steering committee is known for faithfulness to Church teachings.

Sister Louise Lears, coordinator of the steering committee of "Faithful St. Louis" and of the conference, is a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati who teaches health-care ethics at St. Louis University. She is also coordinator of the recently combined St. Louis leftist groups, Center for Theology and Social Analysis and Catholic Action Network for Social Justice, whose address is the same as "Faithful St. Louis".

Sister Louise was among the "women's ordination" protesters during the papal visit to St. Louis in 1999. The radical Call to Action group publicizes this protest on its web site:

"CTAers were among 550 Catholic in a candlelight prayer vigil outside the St. Louis cathedral January 25, the eve of the pope's arrival. Their banner read: 'Catholic women for Justice', a coalition begun by area women after their return November 1 from the CTA conference in Milwaukee. Prayer rather than a protest was chosen in order to be 'lovingly confrontational', said Sister Louise Lears, one of the leaders. But the prayers called for full participation of women in all ecclesial roles, and an end to sexism in the Church.... The event was widely covered on television news in St. Louis and Chicago, and picked up by ABC and NBC national news programs. Press accounts appeared in major dailies coast to coast, including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Kansas City Star and the Dallas Morning Herald.

"While women's issues were central, the prayer vigil also reminded the news media of other church reform goals: just treatment of church employees, participation in selecting church leaders, and remedying the priest shortage. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline read, 'Group seeks democracy within the Catholic Church.' Local groups in the coalition included Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity [FOSIL]; the Sisters of Loretto, and the Center for Theology and Social Analysis. National groups with representatives at the vigil included CTA, the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, the Women's Ordination Conference, and CORPUS." [CTA web]

Catholics for a Free Choice web site also quotes Sister Louise from the Los Angeles Times, "It was ... not a protest rally but a candle-lit prayer meeting intended to quietly underscore the hope that their church will one day admit women to the Roman Catholic priesthood.... 'You might call it lovingly confrontational'".


Robert Schutzius, an ex-priest and a founder of the radical dissident group Association for Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC), been pushing a radical agenda for "restructuring" the Catholic Church for 30 years.

ARCC's June 17 statement on the Dallas bishops' meeting published on its web site states its concern that the bishops' charter "[reduces] all sexual abuse to the same level. This kind of draconian implementation violated the basic Christian principle of forgiveness and will result in harm to good men who have sinned and reformed".

"We are concerned by the lack of debate concerning the annulment of ordination. We are concerned at the relatively minimal involvement of lay people in bodies called to establish policies and effect structural changes. These bodies must be independent of all hierarchical ties and have real authority." (emphasis added).

ARCC also proposes an 8-page "Constitution of the Catholic Church" on its web site ( Extremely ambitious and sweeping in its objectives for "radical equality" in the Church, the 1994 "Constitution" proposes that the pope be elected for "a single ten-year term by Delegates ... chosen as representatively as possible, one third being bishops".

The "Charter of the Rights of Catholic in the Church", endorsed by a spectrum of dissenting groups, is also published on the ARCC web. Among the endorsing groups are Call to Action (CTA), homosexual advocacy groups Dignity-USA, and New Ways Ministry, the Women's Ordination Conference, and CORPUS, a national association for married priesthood.

On the "Faithful St. Louis" web site, Schutzius "urges [people] to spend some time exploring There you will find, among many other interesting articles, a list of Rights of Catholics in the Church and a draft Constitution of the Catholic Church, (the idea was initiated by Pope Paul VI), already adopted by European reform organizations, and introduced at the Boston VOTF conference in July.

Schutzius is hopeful that this St. Louis meeting will jump-start the ARCC goals:

"With these rights and the draft constitution as a background, our forum will focus very quickly on how to implement these rights and accountability on the parish level through the parish council or a VOTF chapter if needed."

Among "Objectives for Discernment" Schutzius lists for his "Faithful St. Louis" session include how to create an "effective and participatory parish council"; "how to gain support for a parish constitution"; and "Communication and interaction with the bishop."

Father Charles Bouchard, OP, a steering committee member for "Faithful St. Louis", is president of Aquinas Institute of Theology. Father Bouchard publicly defends "gay" priests and seminarians. In a May 20, 2002 Newsweek essay, "Gays and the Seminary", he reacted to Bishop Wilton Gregory's comment that "there does exist a homosexual atmosphere or dynamic [in seminaries] that makes heterosexual men think twice. Newsweek reported Bouchard's dismissive quip:

"Such complaints irritate gay clergymen and their defenders. 'I think straight priests and seminarians shouldn't be whining,' says the Rev. Charles Bouchard, president of the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. 'I just don't think it's a big deal.'"

Paige Byrne Shortal
, also a steering committee member and presenter of a session "Lay Pastoral Ministers: Part of the Solution", a pastoral associate in Washington, Missouri, once taught liturgy at St. Louis University, and is locally known for her critique of Catholic teachings. She has publicly criticized the bishops' policy toward sex-abusers as unforgiving. In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article March 12, she lays blame for sex-abuse by clergy to the "private world of clerics" and "secret-society mentality" that "fill priests with distorted ideas about a superior calling". "Maybe the Spirit is leading us as church to create a new kind of priesthood; a priesthood that is part of a ministry that is truly of and for the people -- healthier for all concerned". Her words are reflected in the title of the "Faithful St. Louis" conference, "Ways to Create a Healthier Church".

Mary and Jerry Wuller, who are also presenters, were organizers of a "Town hall" session at Nerinx Hall school in suburban St. Louis following the Dallas meeting that featured Sister Jeannine Gramick, founder of the homosexual advocacy group, New Ways Ministry. Gramick defied both the Holy See and her own religious order to continue her work for homosexual rights. (This summer she left her order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, to join the Sisters of Loretto.)

"She essentially said it is time to speak truth to power", Mary Wuller said of Gramick, as quoted in Webster-Kirkwood Times July 28-July 4, 2002.

Mary Wuller is a local "expert" in lay ministry, who taught for 25 years at the Paul VI Catechetical Institute, five years in the archdiocesan Lay Ministry Formation program, and taught courses at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, according to "Faithful St. Louis".

Among the lay groups participating in the Nerinx Hall meeting were Catholic Women and Men for Justice, Catholic Action Network and the Center for Theology and Social Analysis, groups headed by Sister Louise Lears (among other core committee members are Sister Jean Abbott, CSJ, and Mark Chmiel, who teaches at St. Louis University and Webster University.)

Steering committee member Pam Schaeffer is a reporter for the militantly "progressive" weekly National Catholic Reporter in Kansas City and former religion writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Also on the steering committee of "Faithful St. Louis" is Monsignor James Telthorst, recently appointed pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, former pastor of the St. Louis Cathedral and former director of Liturgy for the archdiocese. Monsignor Telthorst will celebrate Mass for the "Faithful St. Louis" meeting.

Heading the list of presenters at the St. Louis meeting is Barbara Blaine, one of the abuse victims who testified at the Dallas bishops' meeting and president of SNAP, the victims advocacy group whose demands for accountability from Church leaders in the sex-abuse scandals has risen to prominence this year. What Ms. Blaine's own views are on the other key doctrinal issues that are the target of the axis of radical "restructuring" groups that form VOTF is unknown.

It is by now clear that VOTF's agenda-driven coalition of groups and individuals -- in St. Louis as elsewhere -- are cynically attempting to take advantage of the grave wounds the Church has recently suffered to wreak even greater havoc. They have moved quickly to capitalize on the dismay and confusion of many Catholics over the dereliction of Church leaders in confronting the issues that led to this crisis. One may hope that they misread the actual mood of most Catholics toward the Church, and that their appeal will be mainly to aging dissenters. But the Church does not need further assaults from within. VOTF and company must not be permitted to mount in their destructive crusade unopposed.

Helen Hull Hitchcock is founding director of Women for Faith & Family, a St. Louis-based organization of Catholic women, and editor of the liturgical journal, Adoremus Bulletin

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