Power In The Pews

Mary Ann Keyes is a retired preschool teacher and grandmother of four. Steve Krueger is a financial consultant. Maura O'Brien is a lawyer. But when the priest abuse scandal broke in January, they joined fellow Roman Catholics to launch Voice of the Faithful and became nothing less than revolutionaries. "I love this church," says Keyes, 62, who once worked as a missionary in Alaska. "It has always been a central part of my life. But I decided that I'm not going to my grave with the church in the shape that it's in for my children and grandchildren."

As a grass-roots movement, VOTF has proved that power in the church can come from the pews as well as the pope. The most dramatic development was the resignation earlier this month of Boston's embattled cardinal, Bernard Law, after VOTF and 58 Boston-area priests publicly demanded he step down. The revolt is far from over. What began in Wellesley, Mass., as a discussion group in a church basement quickly grew to 25,000 members and 100 chapters from San Francisco to Nashville. VOTF insists it has a baptismal obligation to be active in church life. Members say they will no longer accept the old model of "pay, pray and obey," and want nothing less than structural reform of the church.

The church hierarchy isn't pleased with VOTF's high-profile protests. At least 10 bishops--worried that the group is a divisive force--banned VOTF from meeting on church property. The Vatican dismisses VOTF as liberals capitalizing on the scandal to further its own agenda. But VOTF's leaders are not intimidated: donations keep pouring in, and people from as far away as Ireland and Australia are discovering votf's Web site www.votf.org) and starting new chapters. "Our agenda is what we say it is," says Jim Post, votf's president. "To support survivors, to support priests of integrity and to work on changes to ensure that this never happens again."