By JENNA BUZZACCO
Naples Daily News
Originally published 5:25 p.m., Monday, March 16, 2009
Updated 6:12 p.m., Tuesday, March 17, 2009
NAPLES — The local arm of a faith-based organization cannot celebrate its annual Mass in a Catholic church.
The group, Voice of the Faithful of Southwest Florida, recently was denied access to the sanctuary of St. John the Evangelist, 625 111th Ave. N., for its annual Mass. The Mass, said president Peg Clark, is held each year to pray for victims of sexual abuse and for the future of the Catholic church.
“This was a total unexpected surprise,” Clark said. “I thought they’d never ban us. We were caught absolutely dumbfounded. We are devoted and devout Catholics.”
The Rev. John Ludden said he made the decision based on his knowledge of the group, but had nothing to do with the people involved in the organization.
“I know some of the people who come to Mass every Sunday are part of the group, and by no means does this mean they are not welcome to the church,” Ludden said. “We are here to foster faith, to nurture it.”
Clark said she put in a request to use the church for its annual Mass a little more than a month ago. After several weeks without hearing from the church, Clark said she called tried to contact Ludden to see whether they could use the church’s sanctuary.
Clark said she never got in touch with Ludden, but another board member spoke to him. That conversation, Clark said, ended with Ludden saying the organization was not welcome to celebrate the Mass in his sanctuary.
Clark said Ludden’s message was that the Eucharist was “so sacred that the Voice of the Faithful would compromise it.”
“It tore the rug from underneath us,” she said.
Ludden said he said no such thing, but did say he was concerned the group would “stand in contradiction for what the Mass is all about.”
“In terms of the Eucharist, the Mass for Catholics is the sacrament of unity,” Ludden said. “The bottom line was I viewed the Eucharist as (a symbol of unity) and the Voice of the Faithful stands in stark contrast (of that).”
Ludden said he was concerned the organization as a whole because “they’re becoming a group within the church that are aligning themselves with other groups that ... don’t trust the hierarchy and want to change our structure.”
Voice of the Faithful was founded in 2002 as a listening group in the basement at St. John the Evangelist in Wellesley, Mass., in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. The lay organization has grown over the years, and now has thousands of supporters across the United States.
Jessica Lillie, director of communications for the national organization, said this isn’t the first time an local affiliate hasn’t been allowed in a church.
Lillie said it was disappointing to hear that the pastor wasn’t allowing the group to use the church.
“We are the Eucharistic ministers, the parish musicians, the lectors, the CCD teachers (and) the pastoral and finance council members who constitute the backbone of numerous parishes,” Lillie said in a statement Friday. “It is shameful that any pastor would seek to deny the Eucharist to such faithful members of the church, or worse to defame those members by claiming they cannot be in the presence of the Eucharist.”
This was not the first time the local branch of Voice of the Faithful has been banned from a Naples-area church. In 2008 the group was banned from having its lecture series at St. John the Evangelist. According to a March 2008 report in the Naples Daily News, the Diocese of Venice said the speakers were prohibited from speaking in a Catholic venue because the speakers “repeatedly expressed positions which contradict the Church’s teachings and doctrine.”
Ludden’s decision not to allow the organization access to the church isn’t stopping the group from celebrating its annual Mass, though. Clark said the organization was able to rent out space at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church, 1225 Piper Blvd., for the Mass.
The service will be held in the church’s sanctuary, Clark said.
“We will have the Mass in the appropriate venue,” she said.
Clark’s also hopeful that the organization will be back in a Catholic church for next year’s service.
“We are determined,” she said. “We will have Mass in a Catholic church (next year.)”
The Southwest Florida branch of the Voice of the Faithful will celebrate its annual Mass at 3 p.m. March 26 at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church.
Related Document: Statement by Peg Clark, President of Voice of the Faithful (.pdf)