In her new book, Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful is Changing the Church, Tricia Bruce, a former researcher on the CARA staff and now currently an associate professor of sociology at Maryville College, details the founding and perpetuation of the Boston-based Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). She analyses the precarious boundaries of an intrainstitutional social movement – that is, a movement within the confines of an already existing social institution – through the use of field interviews with movement participants, excerpts from popular and scholarly articles, and documents from both the movement and the arch/dioceses where VOTF has a presence.
Bruce begins the book with the early days of VOTF, citing early newspaper sources investigating the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and the outraged parishioners at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Wellesley, MA, the birthplace of VOTF. During the early days of this movement, Bruce points out, the importance of the movement’s Catholic identity was crucial. She argues that the group has a “desire to reform church structures while being seen as faithful, committed Catholics” (p 22). In this early phase of the movement, VOTF “instigated discussion around church leaders’ handling of abuse while simultaneously affirming the authority of the institutional church” (p. 28). VOTF organizers were angry at the clergy sexual abuse crisis and cover-up, but they were also faithful, life-long Catholics.
Bruce describes the growth of the movement from the parish in Massachusetts to other areas of the United States and the reception received there. While some VOTF affiliates were given permission to meet on parish property, others were met with resistance on the part of the Church leaders in their area. Because of a weak national organization, VOTF affiliates were individually seeking legitimacy in their local diocese. Thus, Bruce asserts, “local dynamics and personalities caused affiliates to use different tactical approaches” stemming from “differences in diocesan cultures” (p 76). She profiles four affiliate groups: Boston, Washington, DC, Suburban Virginia, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and the challenges and tactics each took to advance the goals of supporting priests, supporting victims of abuse, and changing church structure.
Within the context of the VOTF organization, Bruce looks at the demographics and Catholic identities prominent among members. She notes that most members are middle to upper class, well-educated and white. They are mostly life-long Catholics who have the shared experience of the changes brought about by Vatican II. It is that cohort event that Bruce points to as the catalyst for organizing VOTF in the wake of the scandals. Bruce argues that Vatican II served as a “testament to the possibility of institutional change in a church that had been previously seen as immutable,” (p 82) and that it was this example in which religion “became a window through which to view the world and a tool with which to enact change” (p 83). The members of VOTF had seen the Church change in Vatican II, and because of this experience, knew that the Church was capable of changing again.
This book would be a good read for Catholics who have read about or heard about lay movements in reaction to the clergy sexual abuse scandal and want to learn more. It is also recommended for social movement scholars and those interested in hierarchical structures within the Church.