Sunday, December 8, 2002

Protestants reaching out to Catholics in wake of scandal and inviting VOTF to meet in their churches

Some Protestant clergy have agonized about whether to allow Voice of the Faithful to meet on their property because they wanted to avoid harm to local Catholic-Protestant relations. Many Protestant ministers are friendly with their Catholic counterparts through clergy associations.

''We get along very well with our Roman Catholic friends, and I wanted to make sure that we were not going to do something that would jeopardize that relationship, so I called around a bit to see if it would be offensive,'' said the Rev. Jeffrey H. Walker, rector of Christ Church, an Episcopal parish in Greenwich, Conn. ''But with the great deal of pain these people are in, we thought it was the right thing to do. They asked to meet here because they're not allowed to meet somewhere else by the bishop of Bridgeport, and it is our hope that if they can find a place to meet they can bring some reconciliation in the future of the Catholic Church.''

Leaders of Voice of the Faithful are conflicted about how to respond to Protestant clergy. Voice of the Faithful has been banned from meeting in Catholic churches in seven dioceses, as well as in any parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston that did not have a Voice of the Faithful affiliate by Oct. 12. The group's national officials, based in Newton, say they have no problem with local affiliates meeting in Protestant churches.

''The fact is, these [Protestant churches] are our brothers and sisters, and they've shown a lot more fortitude and compassion and tolerance than our own church,'' said Luise Cahill Dittrich, a Voice of the Faithful spokeswoman. ''We are not afraid of the company we keep, and we are grateful that they have taken us in. But if we wanted to be Protestant we would be Protestant - it's pretty clear this movement is Catholic.''

But some local leaders around the nation fear meeting on Protestant property will give ammunition to critics who have portrayed Voice of the Faithful as disloyal to their church.

'We came to a consensus that we would avoid meeting in Protestant churches, because we want to go out of our way to make sure we're not sending a message that people in Voice of the Faithful are dissidents, or in any way divisive,'' said Sheila Peiffer, regional coordinator of Voice of the Faithful on Long Island.

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