Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) held its annual Assembly in Hartford on Saturday, and I can report that the mood of the liberal Catholic organization was pretty chipper. It was, pretty clearly, yet another manifestation of the Francis Effect.
Established in Massachusetts a dozen years ago in the wake of the Boston Globe‘s revelations of Cardinal Bernard Law’s cover-up of sexual abuse, VOTF dedicated itself to promoting “structural change in the church” — i.e. an increased role for the laity. Now, thanks to the new pope’s declaration of war on clericalism, it looks like this might actually be happening.
The 200-plus members — mostly from the Northeast but including a few from as far away as Texas and Montana — gathered in the Connecticut Convention Center to hear presentations on the State of the Papacy from North America’s leading Vatican reporter, John Allen, and from North America’s leading Vaticanologist, Thomas Reese, S.J.
Recently translated from the National Catholic Reporter to the Boston Globe, Allen can easily be mistaken for an apologist for whoever happens to be pope. He’s now fully aboard the Good Ship Francis, and he treated the assemblage to a fast-paced overview of the annus mirabilis franciscanus. Bottom line: the new papacy is all about 1) leadership as service; 2) a missionary church; and 3) a re-balancing of mercy and justice in favor of mercy.
From the audience came the question: Would the pope be bringing to justice bishops engaged in covering up clergy sexual abuse as well as showing them mercy? Allen’s answer was that the new Vatican abuse commission was half women, and that everyone on it was only too aware of the need to hold bishops accountable. For all that, he acknowledged that Francis was “not fully understanding of the crisis.”
Taking his turn at the podium, Reese agreed, calculating that because the crisis has been muted in Latin America, “Francis is about 10 years behind us on this issue.” He took his fellow Jesuit to task for inaccuracy and defensiveness in characterizing the church’s handling of the crisis in an interview with an Italian newspaper last month.
Still, Reese, who received a standing ovation, had high praise for the pontiff, not least on that matter dearest to VOTF’s heart. “This is the most anticlerical pope I have ever seen,” he said. “Because he is a Jesuit.”
“We’ve got to give him a chance,” said VOTF President Mark Mullaney. “There’s no alternative.”