Dissent in the Ranks

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Father Thomas Doyle.
Father Thomas Doyle.

The dissident “Catholic” group, Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) is recovering from a scathing essay written in January by Father Thomas Doyle, the group’s first “Priest of Integrity” award recipient. The exchange between them exposes dissent in their ranks and signifies a victory for tradition.
Father Doyle was a key political figure when the first clerical abuse cases made national headlines in 1984. At that time, he was the canon lawyer at the Vatican Embassy. Accused of taking advantage of the situation to line his own pockets and regarded as a loose canon, he lost his job, but remained engrossed in the issue.1

A Match Made in Heaven

He saw the scandals as a way to destroy the Church’s hierarchical form and impose a “radically egalitarian” structure. Thus when scandals again hit the headlines in 2002, Father Doyle allied himself closely with the dissident Catholic organization, VOTF, then in formation, and became the group’s first “Priest of Integrity” recipient. The match seemed made in heaven, since one of the association’s stated goals is: “To shape structural change within the Catholic Church.”2
The group’s web site demonstrates their desire to level the Church’s hierarchical structure, going so far as to: “Work vigorously for immediate, meaningful lay consultation in the process of pastoral selection.”3

However, after five years of association, Father Doyle now wishes to divorce himself from VOTF, which he now considers helplessly naïve in their attempts to effect structural change, by working within the Church. He states this and a lot more in a January essay, titled: VOTF and the Reform of the Governmental Structure of the Catholic Church.4

The Essay

He begins by explaining that in the post-Conciliar years, the Church underwent many “progressive advances,” only to be followed up by “regressive retreats.” He complains that since the reign of Pope John Paul II, the Church has been on a “restorationist path,” that is “restoring the Catholic Church to the splendor of the pre-Vatican II days when bishops were princes, the pope was the emperor and the lay people kept their mouths shut and their wallets open.”

Emblematic of this “regressive” path is the reintroduction of the traditional liturgy and “young conservatives” who “seem to play at church as if it’s some sort of surreal dress-up game.”

His cynical tone continues, as he rails against this “restorationist path,” which he blames for the clergy sex abuse scandal of 2002. He praises the early years of VOTF, when their primary focus was to use the victims as an excuse to promote change. However, he now believes they are off-tracks, since they continue to promote structural change from within the Church.

This is unrealistic since: “Its simply impossible for any such change to happen unless it starts at the top. The Catholic Church is a monarchy. Period!”

He feels that the Church has strayed far from the path chosen by Our Lord, even affirming that if Our Lord had been: “dropped down to earth during the early days of the Reformation…Martin Luther would have ended up the pope and the Roman church bureaucracy would have been vaporized.”

According to Father Doyle, VOTF has betrayed their original mission, by merely paying lip-service to their “priests of integrity” and broadening their venue focusing on Church financial crises and other issues to promote their agenda, whereas they should only focus on sexual abuse victims. In his words:

If the local VOTF chapters can’t make support and defense of victims their first priority, they should close down. If the national leadership equivocates or cowers in fear of what the bishops will think if they take strong and courageous stands, they need to quit. A word of wisdom from my military days: Either lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.

He finishes the emotionally charged essay, explaining that he will no longer work within the Church to effect structural change, because he does not: “want to spend any more time trudging through what can best be described as a swamp of toxic waste.”

His future work will be to change the Church through legislation from the outside. Father Doyle has already been active in seeking a retroactive extension on statutes of limitations in various states. These extensions force innocent Catholics to pay for decades old abuse cases. He claims that this has worked in the past by forcing priests and bishops to come: “face to face with powers greater than themselves like the law enforcement agencies or the civil court system. That’s where the change will take place.”
Last, he inveighs against organized religion:

The hope is in the ever-increasing number of deeply committed men and women who are being compassionately present to people in need and in pain. These are the men and women of any denomination or belief system or of no denomination but still with a powerful belief system who work with each other to get right to the heart of Christ’s message without stopping at any denominational door to get approved by any bishop in order to express charity.

The full text of Father Doyle’s essay can be read at: http://www.votf.org/vineyard/Jan31_2008/doyle_essay.html

The Response

VOTF responded to the slight with a letter to Father Doyle. In it, they express their respect for Father Doyle, but strongly disagree with his suggestions that they abandon all goals other than the so-called “survivor support” for victims. They respond: “We fear that your call to abandon efforts to influence church decision-making amounts to a surrender of the church, its parishes, and its ministries to the evils of clericalism and hierarchical power.”

However, they agree that the main problem with the Catholic Church is: “the clerical nature of the institution, and restriction of power to the ordained.” They end asking Father Doyle to remain their friend, even if he disagrees with them.

Dissent: a Clarion of Victory

Faithful Catholics should follow this exchange with great interest and relish it. It is a clarion call of dissent in enemy ranks and signifies, at least in part, a victory for the Church.

Although the struggle continues, if things were progressing according to Father Doyle’s designs, he would not be discontent. His admission that the Church is unchangeable, not only in Her doctrines, but in the hierarchical nature of Her power, is a confirmation of Christ’s governance of the Church.


  1. http://votf.org/
  2. http://votf.org/Structural_Change/structural.html
  3. http://www.votf.org/vineyard/Jan31_2008/doyle_essay.html
  4. The full text of VOTF’s letter can be read at:

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