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:
- as they are defined (e.g. in canon law, and by local
- as they actually function, and
- as they ought to be (to fulfill the vision of Vatican
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
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
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
- Emphasize lay involvement as a starting point that is crucial
to the health of the parish and of the Church as a whole.
- 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.
- Work to empower active, collaborative, effective and
representative Pastoral Councils, Finance Councils,
and Safety Committees
in every parish.
- Support Parish Pastoral Councils (PPCs) by providing
resources for formation of PPCs, and sample PPC foundation
- Work vigorously for immediate, meaningful lay
consultation in the process of pastoral selection.
At the diocesan level VOTF will:
- Work to empower and support active, collaborative, effective
and representative Diocesan Pastoral Councils, Finance
Councils, and Safety Committees in every diocese.
- 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.
- 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
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
firstname.lastname@example.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
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