Bridgeport diocese head to meet with Voice of the Faithful

Bishop Frank Caggiano has agreed to meet with lay diocese organization Voice of the Faithful (Laureen Vellante)

Bishop Frank Caggiano has agreed to meet with lay diocese organization Voice of the Faithful (Laureen Vellante)

The new head of the Diocese of Bridgeport, which includes Darien and other Fairfield County towns, continues to make strides in open communication as he strives to ‘build bridges’ within the diocese.

Bishop Frank Caggiano was originally set to meet with the Bridgeport chapter of the Voice of the Faithful at its public meeting Thursday night, marking the first time the head of the diocese has attended a public meeting with the organization since it was formed in 2002. The meeting has been postponed due to the upcoming storm.

“The Bishop shares VOTF’s commitment to zero tolerance for children abuse as well as a healing outreach to those who were abused and affected in any way by the crisis,” Diocese Communications Director Brian Wallace told The Darien Times.

The Voice of the Faithful began in Massachusetts as parishioners’ response to allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen. Reports of sexual abuse hit a crisis level nationally in 2002, according to Connecticut Magazine, with reports of misconduct involving hundreds of Roman Catholic priests and thousands of young victims. There were 23 lawsuits involving sexual abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport alone.

Roman Catholics in Fairfield County soon followed suit, organizing affiliated chapters at St. Jerome Parish in Norwalk and St. Paul Parish in Greenwich. After the St. Jerome affiliate wrote to then-diocese head Bishop William E. Lori, he responded by prohibiting Voice of the Faithful from meeting on Catholic Church property. The Hartford Courant reported in 2003 that Bishop Lori issued a statement that the group’s goals “were not in keeping with church teaching.”

The group incorporated as the Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport in February 2003, according to its website.

In this “evening of conversation with the bishop,” Bishop Caggiano will discuss the major issues facing the diocese and his plan to convene a diocesan Synod in the fall of 2014. Historically, the Synod process convenes the Christian faithful to offer assistance to their bishop for the good of the whole diocesan community.

“The bishop recognizes that the challenges now confronting the diocese have changed greatly since the last Synod was held in 1981, and he believes that the time has come to develop a pastoral plan, in conjunction with leadership on every level of the diocese, that will address the challenges facing us today,” the VOTF said in a statement.

The Voice of the Faithful was active in its criticism of the diocese and how it handled finances after a local pastor in Darien was accused of and eventually convicted of stealing more than $1 million from Darien’s St. John Parish. The Rev. Michael Jude Fay died of metastatic prostate cancer in jail in 2009 at the age of 58 — 10 months into serving a 37-month sentence for the crime.

According to Dan Sullivan of Voice of the Faithful, the group requested to meet with Bishop Lori several times before he left the diocese in 2012 to take over in Baltimore, Md., but were never granted the opportunity. Since Bishop Caggiano took over in the fall, Sullivan said two of the group’s directors have met with him in person.

Sullivan said Bishop Caggiano is aware that the group is not permitted to meet on Catholic church grounds and said he thinks the group will eventually ask permission to do so.

Diocese communications director Wallace told The Darien Times that “one of the first things Bishop Caggiano did after arriving here was to reach out to the Voice of the Faithful, and in four months he has had several conversations with the VOTF leadership.”

“I believe he appreciates the candor and cooperation of VOTF members in our diocese and is looking forward to a positive working relationship with them,” he added.

Wallace pointed out that in Bishop Caggiano’s installation homily in September, he spoke about building bridges to people in Fairfield County, and that Thursday’s meeting “is a good example.”

There are many things Bishop Caggiano can change moving forward, Wallace said, adding that the ban on meeting on Catholic church grounds could be one of the topics discussed at the meeting to be rescheduled.

In August, Bishop Caggiano told The Darien Times he felt the church was heading into a new era led by Pope Francis.

“The Catholic Church has gone through a period of difficulty in the last few years, but we are beginning to see a new chapter in the church,” he said.

“Pope Francis has the simplicity, the humility, the directness,” Caggiano said.

The pope has taken several unusual steps, including choosing the name “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi, a new choice by a pope, because the saint is a lover of the poor. He also has opted for a Vatican guesthouse rather than the papal apartments to live in a community environment.

If Bishop Caggiano lifts the ban on allowing the Bridgeport chapter to meet at Catholic churches, the Diocese of Bridgeport will be in the minority. According to Voice of the Faithful’s national headquarters, most chapters, with approximately 30,000 members nation- and world-wide, are not allowed to meet at Catholic churches.

“This is a big deal. We’ve been favorably impressed by Bishop Caggiano’s willingness to open a dialogue with us, and are hopeful for the future,” added Sullivan.

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