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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.”

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

9 Comments

    • Jim Robertson

      What does that make you a plaid walking zygote for Christ?
      The same old hostile; bitter; right wing jibber jab. They never take responsibility for anything the do.

    • Have you ever noticed that liberal causes win out in the long run (Woman’s Rights, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Obama Care, etc.)? It’s the old white male conservatives that are passing away. Take a look around; the same thing is taking place in the RCC.

  1. Hmmm….Justice and Mercy are only opposing forces in a world without Dignity and Truth. If such a world exists, it wouldn’t be one where the Word had become Flesh. It would be where bunch of old, hippies sat around convinced that the truth went into hibernation for 2000 years until their old college prof taught them the secret that when they eat from the apple they will become like gods naming good and evil.

  2. Lynne Newington

    As a Jesuit Reese [now in from the cold], is oblidged to stand by the pope a smart move by Francis I recall like many no doubt, one of the Jesuits who had sufferd unmercifully during Francis’s time as superior forgiving him too when he became pope, the other one who has since died, never withdrew his claims or has his family.
    Too much white washing for me, good luck to those happy to accept otherwise.
    True about Latin America being mute, but there’s still much historical docummentaion not yet white washed buried away that changes nothing.

  3. Jim Robertson

    Hey! Anyone ever hear about compensating the victims? All the victims? Screw Frank! Same old s#%t; new smiley face. Why does no one mention compensating the victims? Wasn’t VOTF and A Call to Action created to help victims first? Well it’s been going on for three whole decades now. What have they done for victims? Not a damned thing as far as I can see; but validate themselves and SNAP. This is fraud on the scale of Empire. And I’m a compensated victim. Help the injured first not last or never. If victims en mass are not being compensated then really nothing’s being done but obfuscation.

  4. Dunstan Harding

    It seems to serve Francis’ purposes very nicely by exercising selective ignorance, or by being observed as “not fully understanding of the crisis.” A further sign the pope is becoming part of the crisis and not a part of the solution to it.

  5. Jim Robertson

    Pope Francis is a P.R. man/woman’s creation. He’s so “humble”. So “down to earth” and he has a “sense of humor”. The guy’s a creation that cost millions of dollars to create. Anybody who buys him buys mutton dressed as lamb.

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