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GARY | A national organization advocating change within the Roman Catholic church wants local parishioners to use the group's website to tell church fathers who should be the diocese's next bishop.

"Church law encourages all Catholics to express their views on Church matters that concern them, and this includes who their new bishop may be," Nick Ingala, a spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, said Tuesday.

However, Debbie Bosak, communications director for the Gary Catholic Diocese, said she is skeptical of the the group, which first formed a dozen years ago in response to the sex abuse scandal of recent years.

"They are not an official organization of the Catholic Church but rather a dissident group of lay Catholics with an agenda," she said.

Ingala said Voice of the Faithful, headquartered in Newton, Mass., supports "survivors of clerical sexual abuse, recognizes priests of integrity and seeks to shape structural change in the Church," and wants greater participation in bishop selection.

He said the group's motto is, "Keep the Faith, Change the Church."

"That change-the-church part really does create some opposition," he said, adding his group isn't challenging the pope's authority to name bishops.

The Most Rev. Dale Melczek, who has been Gary's bishop since 1996 submitted his letter of resignation eight months ago, but remains in charge while the selection process is ongoing.

Bosak said, "The bishop remains very healthy and active and very engaged in his ministry at the diocese in Gary. He is in no rush, and I presume the people making these decisions are concerned with dioceses that are more in need, for instance the Diocese of Chicago, where Francis Cardinal George is very ill."

Ingala said local Catholics should use this time to express their views to Pope Francis' representative to the United States, U.S. Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo M. Viganò, who coordinates the search for new bishops.

Ingala said Vigano usually consults only with other bishops and lay members close to bishops. He said his group hopes to bring in a wider group of laity through their portal at www.votf.org/bishop.

He said Catholics can use it write to the church about their views on the outstanding needs and opportunities in the diocese; the ideal qualities and qualifications of the next bishop and the names of priests who would be excellent candidates.

"What has happened over a couple thousand years of church history is that the selection process has become narrowed. The general laity has been kind of excluded from the process," Ingala said.

Bosak counters, "The websites to 'make your voice be heard' goes directly to their own organization rather than the Apostolic Nuncio. There is no assurance that he will receive it, nor that it will not be edited in some manner."

Ingala said the Voice of the Faithful will forward all comments to Viganò, who "has assured Voice of the Faithful that all input reaching him from individual Catholics via the web portal will be reviewed" and that “serious observations may well be incorporated in the developed confidential process.”

Bosak said, "The Vatican has a well-tried procedure in place for replacing bishops and the nuncio will seek the opinions of many — both clergy and lay — but it is all done confidential so that those consulted might speak freely."

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.