Monday, June 25, 2007

Catholic group presses pope on celibacy

Voice of the Faithful, the lay group formed in response to the sexual-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, is calling for the Vatican to review the requirement that priests be celibate, saying the policy may have played a role in the scandal.

The position represents a shift in the approach of the organization, which has avoided raising such controversial issues.

It comes as the group faces a budget deficit from a drop in donations.
"It's tough to keep momentum going over a long period of time," said Bill Casey, the group's chairman, "and I think what we need to do is to refocus our organization's leadership and energy. What we have to do is convince the average Catholic that there is a strong continuing need for an independent lay voice in the governance of the Catholic Church."

The 5-year-old group's message - "Keep the Faith, Change the Church" - and nonconfrontational approach attracted 35,000 worldwide members, according to the group.

Voice of the Faithful helped press dioceses into being more transparent in dealing with abuse cases and finances, joined fights to extend statutes of limitation for sexual abuse and persuaded some parish leaders to allow greater lay involvement.

Now, it faces a $100,000 deficit in a budget of about $700,000, and Casey said at an April meeting that the group was in a "stuck position," with arguments over leadership and decision-making.

Some members have long urged embrace of confrontational subjects they consider critical to church problems and priest shortages, like clerical celibacy or ordination of women.

But this summer, Voice of the Faithful will "be calling for the Vatican to do an ecclesiastical review of the celibacy issue," said Mary Pat Fox, the group's president.

Fox said a review was not the same as seeking to end mandatory celibacy and was consistent with the group's principles because research showed "it plays a role in the abuse crisis."

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