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In July 2002, the VOTF Representative Council created a working group to define what VOTF means by its Goal 3. This Structural Change Working Group (SCWG) initially consisted of nine faithful and active Catholics, young and old, male and female, from four states – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, In July 2002 the SCWG began working to clarify church structures:

  1. as they are defined (e.g. in canon law, and by local statutes)
  2. as they actually function, and
  3. as they ought to be (to fulfill the vision of Vatican II)

The SCWG reviewed the documents of the Second Vatican Council, applicable canon law, and diocesan synod documents. The group also consulted with Fr. Ladislas Orsy, S.J. in an effort to ensure that its conclusions are sound, and that none of its statements could be misunderstood. Fr. Orsy has been retained as a professional outside consultant in canon law and related matters by VOTF.

VOTF does not seek any change in church doctrine. The problems which have come to light in the present crisis are more truly cultural than structural ones. .This fact does not make the changes that we seek easier, but more difficult, since changing hearts and minds can be more of a challenge than changing rules, even in the Church. The crisis has shown us flaws in the human institutional life of the church, and, as faithful members of the church, we have a right and a duty to work to correct them. This working paper represents the first steps in the process of developing recommendations for change in our church, not the last word. We are pilgrims on a journey with no map to follow as we begin down the road, but we are trying to follow the advice of John Paul II in his letter, On the Threshold of a New Millennium, to “listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes”.

The group’s initial conclusions were presented to the VOTF Representative Council, and on September 26, 2002, the Council unanimously approved an initial working document on Structural Change. This first draft was put on the VOTF website, and provided to our membership and to the U. S. Bishops for comment. A second draft of the working paper incorporating the comments that were received was presented to the Council at its meeting on January 23, 2003. It was unanimously approved by the Council at the meeting on February 22, 2003.


Structural Change Statement

Statement of Principle: VOTF is motivated by the conviction that the whole Church should respect the dignity and intelligence of all its members (clerical and lay), and acknowledge the right and responsibility of the laity, flowing from their baptism, to use their God-given gifts for the good of the Church.

Goal: To shape structural change within the Church: We respect the teaching authority of the Church and recognize the role that the hierarchy should exercise in discernment. It is essential, however, that all the people of God be involved in this process of discernment. We will therefore devote ourselves to advancing meaningful and active engagement of the laity in the life of the Church.

Approach: We seek to achieve this goal through prayer, dialogue and education involving clergy and laity. Our approach is to work from the parish* level upwards, both because it is necessary, and because it is possible. We recognize that it is on the level of the parish and in the context of parochial norms that our children have been grievously injured. We believe that, if we can make our local faith communities models of consultation and openness, analogous changes will follow at higher levels.

In order to move toward the vision of the Second Vatican Council, we believe that it is vitally important that the faithful of each parish engage in, and enthusiastically support the formation and actions of Pastoral and Finance Councils and Safety Committees. We must empower the laity to protect our children and all the people of God.

At the parish level VOTF will

  1. Emphasize lay involvement as a starting point that is crucial to the health of the parish and of the Church as a whole.
  2. Work to enhance education on the rights and responsibilities of the laity and clergy, and provide educational support and resources such as a primer on Church structure.
  3. Work to empower active, collaborative, effective and representative Pastoral Councils, Finance Councils, and Safety Committees in every parish.
  4. Support Parish Pastoral Councils (PPCs) by providing resources for formation of PPCs, and sample PPC foundation documents.
  5. Work vigorously for immediate, meaningful lay consultation in the process of pastoral selection.

At the diocesan level VOTF will:

  1. Work to empower and support active, collaborative, effective and representative Diocesan Pastoral Councils, Finance Councils, and Safety Committees in every diocese.
  2. Work to create and support Pastoral Councils, Finance Councils and Safety, Committees on intermediate levels, such as vicariate and region if the diocese is so divided.
  3. Work vigorously for immediate, meaningful lay consultation in the process of pastoral selection.

*Parish throughout this text refers to both intentional and geographical communities of faith.

Resources for Formation of PPCs
You can obtain information on Parish Councils and how to start one by visiting www.cppcd.org, the Web site for the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development. Just click on info@cppcd.org at the bottom of the home page. This will put you in contact with CPPC Director Maria Rodgers O'Rourke. Maria has agreed to furnish you with the name of the person in your diocese who is responsible for this activity. In dioceses where there is no designated director, she can provide the name of someone who can help.

Sample PPC foundation documents:
Many diocesan models are powerful embodiments of the vision of the Second Vatican Council. They can be found on diocesan websites throughout the country. One example can be found here.

After the Structural Change Statement was approved by the Representative Council, the SCWG expanded to more than 20 members and began working to implement the recommendations which had been approved. In order to work for change in every parish in the U.S., the SCWG recognized that a national discussion on these issues was needed. The SCWG therefore established the Structural Change Network (SCN). The SCN (which may be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SCN_VOTF/) was launched on September 8, 2003, and has more than 75 members across the U.S. It provides a forum for sharing insights about the state of our church and successful strategies to enhance lay participation at both the parish and diocesan level.

Resources for Formation of PPCs





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To provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church.


Our Goals

1. To support survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

2. To support priests of integrity

3.To shape structural change within the Catholic Church.

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