2003-02-08 / Community

Voice Of The Faithful Draw 250 To Legion Hall Meeting

Banned from using church facilities by Bishop Daly and the church hierarchy, the local Voice of the Faithful organization held a meeting at the American Legion Hall in Rockaway Beach last week and drew an overflow crowd of more than 250 residents who came to hear about sexual abuse by priests and the church’s reaction to the problem.

Sister Sally Butler, who works with abuse children in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, set the tone of the meeting.

"What’s happening here tonight, is that we are rising from the ashes," she said. "I have hope because I see hope in this room."

"You can do anything," she added. "The Bishops have only as much power as you are willing to give them."

Sister Butler pointed out that one of the problems she and others faced in terms of getting justice for those who were abused years ago is the statute of limitations.

She urged those in the audience to write to state legislators, asking that they pass a bill to extend the time limit on those crimes.

"We have to demand the right to address those heinous crimes that the Bishops covered up long ago," she said. "We can no longer keep the silence of the victims."

Father John Powis, one of the founders of the "Voice of the Ordained," told the crowd, "The church is the hierarchy and the people together," and that the church leaders today have forgotten that fact.

"It is sad that they have gone back to the old pyramid, where the leaders at the top have all the power," he added.

Powis called for an elected lay board in each parish, a board that would control the finances of the parish.

"You have to realize that the hierarchy doesn’t get it," Powis said. "The fact that you are meeting her at the American Legion rather than in a church proves that they don’t get it."

Steve Lieber, a Rockaway resident who is the leader of the local organization, congratulated all those who attended and asked for their support.

Ann Heiss, one of the local organizers of the new organization, summed up the feeling of those in the audience with an ending hymn.

"Arise for your slumber, a new day is dawning," she sang.

Not everybody at the meeting was pleased with the presentation, however.

One young man who asked not to be identified, stormed out of the meeting before it was over.

"This is evil," he said. "This is disobedience to the church."

Local Voice of the Faithful President Steve Lieber speaks to the crowd at the meeting as local organizers and speakers look on.

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