As summer draws to a close, I would like to share with you some of our successes this past year and describe the projects we have on the horizon. As one of our donors, you are directly responsible for the success we achieve. We hope you will continue this support and consider helping us achieve new successes in 2008-2009 – we are working towards three major new initiatives that are critical to helping transform our Church.But first, a look back. As many of you are aware, the effort to raise funds for an ad during Pope Benedict’s recent visit was a resounding success. In a little more than a week, we raised enough to place an ad in the New York Times, to place a few ads in smaller venues, and to sponsor “rolling truck” ads in New York and Washington.As a result of this effort, VOTF caught the attention of the media before the Pope arrived and positioned ourselves to be “opinion givers” and commentators when he arrived. VOTF and our mission, along with our call to Transform the Church, gained space in more than 200 media outlets here and abroad. It introduced VOTF to Catholics who did not know us before, and many of them joined our ranks.I am personally convinced that the attention our ad received also influenced Pope Benedict’s addressing the clergy abuse scandal at every stop on his U.S. itinerary. Our Voice was heard and it made a difference! We followed the ad with a petition, signed by more than 8,000 Catholics, asking the Pope to translate his words into action by treating survivors with justice and compassion while holding bishops accountable.The papal visit, however, is only part of the story. Prior to that, our October 2007 convention in Providence, R.I., drew hundreds of VOTF members. Our newly completed Accountability Campaign helped elevate the words “transparency” and “accountability” to common usage in Church governance and ministry. Work across by VOTF members led some dioceses to report finances more clearly and openly.Our efforts to reform statute-of-limitation laws concerning child sex abusers fueled changes in Delaware and Kentucky and aids ongoing reform efforts in a dozen other states. Other work to support survivors focused new attention on the effectiveness of child-safety policies in parishes and dioceses.The pursuit of justice and compassion for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, along with the protection of children, continue to be overriding concerns for VOTF. But we also must begin to address the underlying clerical culture that enables sexual abuse of children and allows the cover-up of abuses to continue.This focus includes three major initiatives which are critical if we are to inspire transformation and renewal in the Church.
The first initiative is a program already well under way: a review of the impact that mandated celibacy has on today’s priests and on us, the laity. This two-year plan aims to examine both the benefits and the drawbacks of mandated celibacy and to join with other Catholics in asking the Vatican to review its policy on requiring celibacy for the priesthood. It’s part of meeting our goal to support priests of integrity.We cast this study as a clear-eyed assessment of the current state of the priesthood—the challenges so many of today’s priests face, alone, as their ranks dwindle and demands on their time increase—as well as an assessment of what it means for Catholics to be denied the Eucharist because there are fewer priests, fewer parishes, fewer schools and communities. Can we still be a Eucharistic people in the 21st century if current trends continue to reduce the numbers of the priesthood?
The second major initiative aims to gather dozens of individuals and groups across the entire spectrum of American Catholic thought to participate in a Lay Synod. This will be a huge undertaking, not just in the planning and logistics but also in bringing together dozens of groups who pursue vastly different agendas.But that’s what Voice of the Faithful should be about—making a space for the voices of all Catholics to be heard: to rise together in prayer, to disagree respectfully on issues both spiritual and structural, to make it clear that we, the baptized People of God, will speak up for the Church we all seek to improve.We think no one group on the American landscape can mount such a meeting alone. We are already securing agreements from others to join us in the planning of this momentous event. VOTF will take the lead in setting up planning sessions, arranging teleconferences, and developing educational programs that will prepare Catholic laity to participate in the meeting.
Education and information exchange are key to a third major initiative coming into focus this new fiscal year: the examination of women’s roles within the Church. Spurred by a realization that the issues of sex, gender and clericalism inherent in Church culture all contributed to the sexual abuse of children and its cover-up, we are calling for a Church-wide re-examination of women’s roles in ministry and governance.We are in the earliest stages of planning for this effort. We already know that the planners envision a major affiliate-wide information and education program. After all, we cannot discuss women’s roles today if we lack adequate knowledge about roles in the early Church and the subsequent development of those roles.Each of these projects will demand resources beyond those we have now developed. To continue the progress made to date, to build on the successes of this past year, to capture the promises offered by our new initiatives, we must rely on you again.Please consider making a Leadership level gift or pledge this year of $500 or more. Your generosity helps to build the foundation that will fund these new programs and maintain the resources we need to support survivors, support priests of integrity, and help shape structural changes to ensure that sexual abuse of children in our Church will never happen again.We are deeply grateful for the support you have given in the past. We hope that our efforts to date will inspire you to continue this support. You continue to be in our daily intentions.Respectfully,