Boston Pastoral Planning Head Sponsors Parish VOTF

There have been a few changes in the Office of Pastoral Planning lately that all Boston Catholics should be aware of.  In particular, the newly named Interim Director of this important office, Fr. Paul Soper, is pastor of  St. Albert in Weymouth, which, coincidentally, is one of the few parishes in the Boston Archdiocese that still hosts a chapter of Voice of the Faithful.

Just as a reminder, an extensive pastoral planning process is underway to determine how a new model of Pastoral Service Teams (PST) will be implemented in Boston. The idea is that parishes will be grouped, with one pastor (and perhaps a parochial vicar and deacon) serving anywhere from one parish to 3 or 4 parishes, along with a shared service team to include roles such as business manager, religious education and faith formation director, youth ministry, music ministry, secretary, and maintenance.

The office coordinating all of this is seeing the departure of two key staff members, and Fr. Soper has been named Interim Director for an indeterminate period while they search for a replacement full-time director.

This post is not making any judgments about Fr. Soper. We are not acquainted with him and are not giving any personal commentary about him.  He may be a great person and pastoral leader in his parish. We are reporting that Fr. Soper has a chapter of VOTF in his parish. And that gives the perception that he would likely be supportive of their agenda. We will give you the basic information and you will have to decide what you think of this change.

Bulletin Notice about Pastoral Planning Change (3/18/3012)

Friends –

Many of you heard my announcement of last weekend regarding my new assignment as Interim Director of the Office of Pastoral Planning for the Archdiocese. I apologize to those who were at the six o’clock Mass, when I was at one of the consultation meetings, and failed to make arrangements for that announcement to be made. Sorry.

Just to lay out for you the details in writing, such as I now know them. The Office of Pastoral Planning has in recent years been staffed by Father David Couturier, OFM Cap., and Joshua Phelps, a layman. Joshua got a new job offer last month, and has left the office. Fr. David is being reassigned by his religious community, and will be leaving the office in May. This leaves this office unstaffed during a time when we are taking big steps in finishing our consultations, preparing a proposal to give to the Cardinal, and, if he approves it, beginning the process of implementation in a gradual and organic way. A successor for Fr. David will be sought, but this will likely take a fair amount of time. It seemed to make sense to have someone familiar with the process step in on an interim basis to staff that office. The Cardinal, through Monsignor Deeley (the Vicar General), has asked me to step in to that position. And because of my decision 22 years ago that I would put into the hands of the Archbishop of Boston the decisions about where I would minister, I have, of course, agreed to accept this interim position.

I want to emphasize that I do not know yet any details about how this will impact my ministry at St. Albert’s….

I love you and care deeply about you, and I know that you love me as well. I assure you that that love has sustained me through these recent months and am certain
that it will continue to do so.

Thanks. Paul

Voice of the Faithful bulletin notice at St. Albert the Great, Weymouth

Commentary on 2012 Voice of the Faithful National Conference by Cardinal Newman Society (March 20, 2012)

Voice of the Faithful Holds Conference on Catholic Campus

Last week, the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University hosted the 10th Annual Voice of the Faithful Conference called “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.” The lead speaker of the event was the controversial Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.

Bishop Robinson has been on a tour across America and it was reported last week in the National Catholic Reporter that he “urges change in Church teaching concerning all sexual relationships.”

The Center allowed this conference on campus despite Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport banning Voice of the Faithful from meeting in parishes in the Connecticut diocese. Of course, Bishop Lori cannot force Fairfield, a Jesuit university, to comply but many Catholics would hope that such a strong statement by the bishop would encourage a Catholic college to comply of their own volition.

In fact, just four days before the conference the VOTF issued a statement expressing their “disappointment” that Bishop Lori was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore. They accused him of having “fallen short” in his duties to protect children from clergy abuse.

But VOTF’s invitation to the Jesuit campus should hardly come as a surprise as the Center is directed by the holder of the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Chair in Catholic Studies, Dr. Paul Lakeland, Professor of Religious Studies who also serves on the advisory board of the VOTF.

In 2009, Lakeland opposed the Connecticut bishops by backing a state bill that sought to transfer control of Roman Catholic parishes to lay-run boards.

Although its unclear what the advisory board does, it was formed last year as the clergy sex abuse scandal moved off the front pages of newspapers and necessary improvements were made in how the Church deals with these issues. VOTF was reportedly suffering an identity crisis.

Where to go now? What to do?

Already seen by many as the dissident Catholic group that arose in protest of the burgeoning sex abuse scandal but since then has morphed into what some bishops have called “anti-Church and, ultimately, anti-Catholic “ and a group that “has used the current crisis in the Church as a springboard for presenting an agenda that is anti-Church and ultimately anti-Catholic,” VOTF formed its first theological advisory council, according to a news release at the time.

Unsurprisingly, Lakeland was named to the board. A former Jesuit priest, his book Can Women Be Priests? reportedly sought to refute theological objections to a female priesthood and called for it to be introduced.

In his book The Liberation of the Laity, he wrote: “What we have is an episcopate of men selected more for their commitment to the party line on outmoded ideas about contraception, ordination, and homosexuality, more for their administrative capabilities than for their stature as spiritual leaders.”

Other council members include Francine Cardman, associate professor of historical theology and Church history at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

Cardman has been listed on the website as a supporter of the ordination of women.  She has written extensively on the subject including her piece “Non-Conclusive Arguments: Therefore Non-Conclusion?” in which she wrote, “The rereading of central Christian dogmas in light of the present hermeneutical situation could, on the other hand, even come to require that women be allowed the possibility of ordination.”

She was quoted in USA Today concerning the apostolic visitation on nuns, arguing that the inquiry should be seen “as part of a much older tradition of misogyny in the (C)hurch and especially distrust of women who are not directly and submissively under male, ecclesiastical control.”

William D’Antonio, fellow of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, was a signatory of the letter in support of the nomination of the pro-abortion rights Kathleen Sebelius. That letter was the brainchild of a group called Catholics United which was described by Archbishop Charles Chaput as having “done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.’”

D’Antonio is also the co-author of eight books on the sociology of religion, including Voices of the Faithful, the subhead of which is “Loyal Catholics striving for change.”

Also on the board is Christine Schenk, CSJ, the executive director of FutureChurch, a national organization committed to female ordination and ending priestly celibacy.

The advisory council, according to a VOTF press release, is there to “advise VOTF’s board of trustees on issues relating to its mission and goals, offering analysis and recommendations solicited by the board, and will counsel the board on issues it feels are pertinent to VOTF’s success.”

Bishop Robinson Banned from Speaking in Los Angeles by Cardinal Mahony

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has barred a controversial Australian bishop from speaking in his California archdiocese.

In a May 9 letter to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary of the Sydney, Australia archdiocese, Cardinal Mahony invoked the Code of Canon Law to explain that he had decided to “deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

Cardinal Mahony took action just as the Australian bishops’ conference issued a public statement warning of “doctrinal difficulties” in Bishop Robinson’s new book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. The Australian bishops noted problems with Bishop Robinson’s treatment of “the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, the infallibility of the Councils and the Pope, the authority of the Creeds, the nature of the ministerial priesthood and central elements of the Church’s moral teaching.”

This article further details the Mahony communication to Bishop Robinson:

In his letter, Cardinal Mahony said he had recently learned of the Australian bishops’ statement about the bishop’s book.  He also said he had learned that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, has urged Bishop Robinson to cancel his U.S. visit.

Cardinal Mahony requested Bishop Robinson to cancel his visit, citing Canon 763 of Canon Law.  The canon pertains to a bishop’s duty to safeguard the teachings of the Church in his diocese.

“Under the provisions of Canon 763, I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” the cardinal wrote.  He also urged Bishop Robinson to cancel his entire speaking tour and to work with the Australian bishops’ conference, saying he would expect him to “follow exactly” their recommendations.

For Cardinal Mahony to have banned a speaker in his diocese, you know something must have been problemmatic. This suggests a bit of a problem with VOTF.  Yet Bishop Robinson spoke at the Paulist Center in Boston that year (where the current VOTF President was the local VOTF chapter lead), and Robinson also spoke at the VOTF conference in 2012..

To present a more complete perspective, here are some articles that give more information about Fr. Paul Soper and his background:

Interview on The Good Catholic Life: May 27, 2011

New Pastor at St. Albert comes Home to Weymouth: Patriot Ledger Feb. 2009

Meet our Priests: Fr. Paul Soper: The Boston Pilot: Dec. 5, 2008

The position of Director of Pastoral Planning–interim in nature or permanent–is a very important one, with responsibility for how parishes are grouped, what the plan looks like to be implemented, implementation and perhaps even some input on pastoral assignments for the new PSTs.  The person in the position should enthusiastically support everything the Catholic Church believes and teaches.  Hopefully, that is the case for Fr. Soper.   That Fr. Soper has a chapter of VOTF in his parish is objectively factual information.  It gives the perception that he would be supportive of the VOTF agenda.  BCI believes that presents a source of concern which the Boston Archdiocese should address.  What do you think?

19 Responses to Boston Pastoral Planning Head Sponsors Parish VOTF

  1. jbq2 says:

    PST issues are being implimented in St. Louis on a surrepticious basis. This is not just an issue that Boston is facing. It is coming from the Conference of Catholic Bishops and women and gays are the impetus. Sister Carol Keehan is caught up in this without a doubt. The Gospel is not the impetus. As Malachi Martin has made it very clear, the issue is one of social justice and the interaction between government and religion..

  2. Devoted Catholic says:

    It all fairness it is possible that the VOTF group was there before he was pastor. They are most likely from experience with VOTF very small in numbers and do not have much influence. The VOTF in these years do not have a lot of influence. However they are a group of very angry Catholic people.

  3. Linda Ballard, OSC says:

    well I do know Father Soper…and I worship at Albert the Great…a couple of things…Fathe Soper is about fairness, and openness. All voces must be heard. All people must be cherished. The Catholic Church is the widest and most loving option that God has for God’s people and it show in everyhting he says.

    Pasotral planning is about listening to the people of God – he always listens – even when the opinionsare not his own; even when they hurt…why? because leading means first being a shepherd willing to die for the sheep

    he is about evangelization..forgiveness…and taking care of the poor

    and…having worked har to stay a parish – so is Albert the Great.

    Father Soper welcomes VOICE because his people do – he leads gently and with love- he allows people to express themselves as Catholics and trust that by staying close to Jesus – close to sacrament – that God willindeed prevail

    and – while I can see many reasons why Albert the Great might be angry – I have experienced more positive engergy from Albert the Great – and less fear and less anger than many other parishes where I have prayed

    nothing is perfect

    the hardest thing would be have to lose one of the finest pastors in the diocese to a commission

    I do trust that Father Soper could actually make it work – but Braintree feel very far from holy ground


    • Boston Priest says:

      You’ve writing a very nice testimonial about your experience at St. Albert with Fr. Soper. I don’t know Fr. Paul personally, but want to comment on something you said and also ask a question.

      Jesus is the Good Shepherd as we know from John 10. A shepherd tends his flock day and night. He gathered the sheep into a sheepfold–a pen, a cave, or area backed by stone walls at night–for their protection. The shepherd guards his sheep from harm. He had a genuine loving concern for what belonged to him. In John 10, Jesus tells us how the shepherd cares for his flock, protecting them from weather, thieves, and predatory animals.

      John 10 also tells us how thieves and wolves come to destroy the sheep. But the good shepherd is there to save them. The passage teaches us that even though Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy God’s people, Jesus is there to protect, love, and save us from destruction giving us eternal life.
      “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
      Jesus came not to just to be the hired keeper, who would make sure all in the flock are happy and fed, but as the one and only one, who was and is, totally committed to us — even to His own death and resurrection. Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down His physical life for us, as we celebrated last weekend in the Passion and resurrection.

      If Fr. Paul’s a good listener and lets everyone’s voice be heard, that’s nice in Pastoral planning. But if he allows the Voice of the Faithful and their agenda in the parish, is he simply a discussion group moderator making sure everyone’s voice is heard and expressed, or is he serving as a shepherd and leader and chasing away the wolves and thieves so as to protect the flock? To lead his parishioners to holiness, it’s not sufficient for the shepherd to let everyone express themselves and do their own thing as they please. Most Catholics want and need their priests to challenge everyone in the parish and the Church to a holier way of life. That means you can’t just let everyone sit around the table and sing “Kumbaya,” but instead, the pastor needs to clearly instruct as to what is right and wrong, and chase away agendas that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church—which I have not doubt whatsoever VOTF clearly brings.

      So my question for you is, if Fr. Soper welcomes VOICE, with all of the rest of the agenda the and their President bring, which role is Fr. Soper playing? Is he acting as a ministry facilitator or discussion group moderator whose approach is mainly keeping everyone “in play” and feeling good, or is he acting as an icon of Jesus Christ, who, as the Good Shepherd was willing to chase away the wolves and thieves so as to protect the flock and who laid down his life for us sinners? If he’s not willing to keep VOICE and their agenda out of the parish, then I think we know our answer.

      May God bless you and all today on this, the Feast of Divine Mercy!

    • Mary Reilly says:

      I’m troubled by the presence of Voice of the Faithful at any parish and thus, I’m also troubled by Fr. Paul leading the pastoral planning efforts even on an interim basis.

      VOTF Weymouth hosted the virulent anti-Catholic speaker, James Carroll two years ago at St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, no doubt with permission of the pastor, Fr. Soper:

      In case people aren’t familiar with James Carroll, I suggest you read this:

      “James Carroll Takes a Swing at the Church
      Published Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | By The TAC Editors

      Left-wing Catholic dissident James Carroll wrote a scathing attack on the USCCB for the Daily Beast blog, accusing the bishops of a “new know-nothing fundamentalism” and drastic shift to the political right for adhering to basic Catholic principles on abortion, the deliberate destruction of an innocent human life, which is an intrinsic evil. I don’t know what disturbs me more: the article itself, or the outpouring of vicious, no-holds-barred anti-Catholic hatred that follows in the com-boxes.

      Carroll whines as if the entire moral platform of the USCCB is literally dictated by officials from the Republican Party, which anyone who is actually familiar with their positions on a number of issues from immigration to health-care reform (which they strongly support, minus abortion funding, to the chagrin of many conservatives) knows is somewhere between hysterical and brain-damaged. Carroll longs for the days when the Catholic Church in America was, at least in his one-sided view, completely subordinated not to the Republican political agenda but the Democratic one.

      As much as it pains Mr. Carroll and other leftist dissidents, the Church is not in a period of irrevocable decline, even if the pressures of the secular culture manifest themselves in opinion polls from time to time. On the contrary the Stupak amendment, whatever its eventual fate may be, was a victory for the pro-life movement and a victory for the Catholic Church, a testament to its continuing endurance and importance in our culture and political process.

      Yes, Mr. Carroll, we have a right to be heard, not as conservatives or liberals but as Catholics, and no, Mr. Carroll, we will not eviscerate our basic beliefs about the sanctity of human life in order to become servile political puppets.”

      If hosting a talk by James Carroll is an example of Fr. Soper’s value system in allowing people to “express themselves as Catholics” then I’m really frightened about where pastoral planning is going. Are they going to appoint new pastors of the PSTs with Fr. Soper as the model pastor?

      (Apologies to BCI for the length of my comment. I couldn’t say it in less space!)

      • Linda Ballard, OSC says:

        Perhpas it is the reality that I am an active and faithful convert that I am far less fearful of Catholics who struggle..and sometimes complain…and yet are faithful, tithing active people even when they disagree with the Church at points. All that is Magesterium is not absolute…all that is not of God will fade without our battery; all that is holy will continue – because it’s God’s Church – to begin with. There is simply enough room in a Catholic church to lvoing hold those who struggle with issues in the Church. It was a white knuckled “my way or the high way” that cause the break with the orthodox and with the Reformation – and what did that cause? People who haveless of a need to care what we think. Anyone inside our Church – not matter how much we disagree with them is more closely bound as brother and sister tna those who have diecided that they do not want our fellowship at all.

        We are too strident about many things…an not always Jesus things. As a local Church we do not bend over backwards for peace or justice or mercy or those in prision – and yet Jesus said we should – we edit …Rome edits Jesus..sadly more from fear than from holiness…more from fear than from a genuine desire to covert everyone to Christ Jesus

        And that is the greatest point – all people should come to know Christ Jesus and HIM CRUCIFIED – each time we send people away we leave them without LIFE…we are not called to judge a world …we are Baptized..we are called to be forgiveness and lead people to Redemption – redemption does not start by sending people away – it begins by bringing people in and then lovingly helping them along the WAY –

        Churches are not declining because rules are not strict enough – they are declining because we who claim Christ as Savior are not believable enough – they will know we are Christians because we FIGHT – mostly each other …we are hugely not forgiving..on both sides…and while I don;t agree on many of the issues of VOICE – heretic is an unholy word to use on a brother or sister for whom Christ died – when no modern Catholic – American or otherwise can actually claim to embrace the full – challenging breadth of the call to disicpleship that should cost – but rarely does – cost us everything.

        While we look to make our Church THE Church – the wholeness and fullness of Christ that it was intended to be ( and has not yet become) – we should focus more on walking together..learning from one another – and changing minds gently…it can be done even in Boston (jury is still out on whether we will ever learn to sing)

        Do not be afraid! Peace be with you

  4. HappyCatholic says:

    Thank you, BCI! Lets sink this guy before he gets his sea legs about him and has a chance to be effective. Keep up the great work in knocking these guys off their stride!

  5. David S. says:

    I have always been puzzled by the name of the organization “Voice of the Faithful.”

    Who, or what, do these whiners and malcontents purport to be “faithful” to? They are certainly not faithful to the Pope and Magisterium.

  6. Lazarus' Table says:

    Not all VOTF groups, it seems to be, are alike. There is a VOTF chapter at St Eulalia in WInchester which seems to be more interested in helping resolve the ‘problems’ of the church (abuse, naughty priests, unaccountability, indifferent laity and clergy, etc etc) than fostering rebellion against church doctrine, practices, etc. It is an intelligent group with an orthodox understanding of ‘mission’. The pastor, Father Nestor, provides wise counsel and direction, and the goup is a positive influence on the parish and community. It has annual barbecues/get-togethers for priests to affirm the priests and priesthood in general. If any parish had to have a VOTF group, it would definitely welcome a group such as that found at St. Eulalia; they are a group of intelligent laypeople who want to do their part to help the church and their priests.

    • Angry Parish Council member says:

      I don’t see how any Catholic parish, pastor or laypeople could sponsor or affiliate with Voice of the Faithful. Their original focus was dubious and their current agenda sounds like Call to Action under an updated name. Was there no better candidate even on a temporary basis?

    • jay says:

      With all due respect for Fr. Nestor and the VOTF group at St. Eulalia’s, it’s puzzling why these well intentioned people at St. E’s affiliate themselves with a virulently dissident organization.
      They have no credibility as being in concert with the Magisterium and its leaders and speakers show little respect for the orthodoxy of Catholic teaching.
      There are other avenues to register disapproval with the excesses of “abuse, naughty priests, unaccountability, indifferent laity and clergy, etc. etc.”
      BCI is certainly one of them. I would ask that they disassociate themselves with dissent personified and begin helping to resolve their issues unencumbered by a hopelessly argumentative and dying entity.

      • Lazarus' Table says:

        Jay, you know not of what you speak. St Eulalia’s group isn’t interested in ‘registering disapproval’; they take positive action to help, inform, affirm, support. They take the Gospel seriously and try to live it. They lead by example. They are too busy doing good to post on sites like BCI. And BCI isn’t an entitely edifying forum; a review of some posters show not all of them take seriously Jesus’ injunction against judging others nor his command to love our neighbor as ourself.

  7. VOTF is a heretical group; they’re not faithful to the Magisterium. Ought to get rid of them.

  8. Lazarus’ Table,

    After looking at the review of the Voice of the Faithful conference speakers and Board members, do you think VOTF supports and believes everything the Catholic Church believes and teaches?

    This article cites a VOTF talk in Winchester where VOTF criticized the bishops’ fight to keep the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, as it had been defined across all cultures and religions for thousands of years:

    Click to access Lay-group-says.pdf

    “Post told reporters, “It is discouraging to see the archbishop using archdiocesan resources to run this campaign against gay marriage”

    Do you think the above information and what we covered in our post still suggest VOTF is comprised of orthodox Catholics?

    You described the group in Winchester as “an intelligent group with an orthodox understanding of ‘mission.’ If so, why would they affiliate themselves with VOTF, whose leaders, advisors, and conference speakers are not known for orthodoxy, and who have reputations for dissenting from Catholic Church teachings?

    Regardless of what you may think of BCI or those commenting here, it does not make sense to BCI why orthodox Catholics in Winchester, Weymouth, or elsewhere would affiliate with VOTF.

  9. Alice Slattery says:

    The question that needs to be asked is :Does Cardinal O’Malley know exactly what Ron duBois,Vice president of Voice of the Faithful, told the parishioners of St. Albert’s parish who attended the April meeting in the Church Hall at the invitation of Fr. Paul Soper who stated in the parish bulletin that ” Ron duBois, National Vice President of Voice of the Faithful will brief us on the direction of VOTF and answer any questions we may have as the Weymouth affiliate.–All are welcome”?
    Will Ron duBois give Cardinal O’Malley a copy of his talk? Will the secretary who took the minutes of the meeting give Cardinal O’Malley a copy of the minutes? If a recording was made of what transpired at the meeting and/or report ,will that recording and/or report be given to Cardinal O’Malley? Will Fr. Paul Soper make certain that all of the information that transpired during the Apr. 10 meeting be given to Cardinal O’Malley? Only if Cardinal O’Malley is thoroughly informed of exactly what happened at that meeting can he address what is happening in Fr. Paul Soper’s parish under Fr. Soper’s invitation to have his parishioners receive instruction and direction from the leaders of VOTF. This kind of direction will inform Cardinal O’Malley as to the direction Fr. Paul Soper intends to expect from all of the parishes under his jurisdiction as the newly chosen Interim Director of the Office of Planning for all of the parishes in the Boston Archdiocese. In the name of transparency, these plans which were advanced at the Voice of the Faithful meetings should be brought to light by publishing them in The Pilot for all pastors and parishioners to see for themselves. No secrecy about these plans should be allowed. Secrecy destroys trust.

  10. Alice Slattery says:

    Correction in above first sentence: It should be : Does Cardinal O’Malley know exactly what Ron duBois, Vice President of Voice of the Faithful,told the parishioners of St. Albert’s parish……….. Sorry for the misspelling!

  11. LostSheep says:

    Why are we so worried about this one issue now, but there have been, and still are, St. John’s Seminary Trustees that are active members of VOTF? These laity are guiding the formation process from the very top!

  12. Mack says:

    I have concerns about VOTF too, but I don’t know anything about Fr Soper so I can’t comment on that connection. But I was glad to read what he said about wanting to be faithful to his promise to obey his bishop about where he would minister. That’s a good sign, especially in an age when there’s so much defiance of Church authority.

  13. Stephen says:

    I get it now! Pastoral planning is code for
    Catholic community organizing!

    I hope there is felt and glue sticks to make enough well intentioned banners to take our minds off the fact that we are in the midst of the great apostasy.

    Could somebody please love bomb me out this reality.

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