Call to Action, Call to Insanity

Author: Carol Lloyd


by Carol Lloyd

An estimated 3000 persons gathered at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare Hotel in Chicago this past 4-6 November for the annual Call to Action (CTA) Conference. The cool, rainy weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of the "democratic church" supporters as they clung to every word uttered by the leaders of this movement.

The movement toward a "democratic church" seems to be relying heavily on support garnered through lay involvement in "Small Faith Communities" (SFCs). The establishment of SFCs appears to be happening throughout the nation and may be related to the increase in church closings in many places.

Virginia Hoffman of Loyola University, Chicago, who travels widely speaking on "revisioning church" chose as her topic at this year's CTA Conference, "Small Faith Communities: A Grassroots Revolution."

Hoffman focused on "housechurches" which are "not authoritarian . . . completely participatory" with everybody sharing in the duties of the community. In flat contradiction to defined doctrine dogma, she said, "in the beginning of the Church, there was no hierarchy; there was no clergy. Jesus did not ordain the 12 apostles at the Last Supper, as the myth goes . . . there was no ordination, period. Jesus connects us all to God. Now, we're all a priestly people . . . called upon to continue His ministry in the world . . . (which) is not primarily offering sacrifice in the Temple . . . (but) a change in the perception." Hoffman shared that "acting out a different vision of church is how the revolution happens, and house-church is one of the places that does it." Obedience to all the Church's teachings presents an "unhealthy image." Jesus, at the Last Supper, did not institute the Mass, and she regards an ordinary meal as "Eucharist." Feminists in the Church should be very supportive of the Housechurch concept, says Hoffman, and she identifies women as the leaders in this movement.

The CTA Performing Arts Group presented a musical skit regarded as "the ideal creation spirituality recipe." It was titled "Earth Awakening." This presentation opened with cast members tossing beach balls to the audience, who seemed very eager to join in this juvenile pastime. One of the balls, a poorly inflated globe of the Earth, finally ended up on the stage very misshapen, an apparent symbol of the world's condition. The theme dealt with ecology and the plight of the poor. A solution for ecological problems lies in the education of children to the realization that the "Earth is our mother." They are to recognize the "interconnectedness" of the world and its people. A global system of government, a "New World Order" working through the United Nations was suggested to provide a "worldwide protection agency controlling global, rampant forces." This presentation was filmed by a crew from "[60] Minutes" who also recorded other sessions throughout the conference. Some of the footage was aired in January.

The conference officially opened Friday evening with a so-called prayer. It said, "In the beginning, God's water broke [laughter was heard around the room] and a world was born. Then God laughed and the rains fell. The oceans filled and the rivers ran . . . the seasons danced in circles as people sang and the children played and women and men fell into each others' lives. Oh, it was Paradise! Come drink deep of the Presence of our Creator in the faces around us, in the waters before us, on this day that is ours . . . to live."

The keynote address, "Authentic Conversion: Turning the World and the Church Upside Down," was given by Edwina Gateley. She effectively used her British accent to charm the audience, which listened in rapt attention as she cleverly attacked the Church. She began by referring to an article in the which described her as a "devout Catholic with the tongue of a pagan tart." She said she was "okay with the pagan tart, it's the devout Catholic that worries me." As a "devout Catholic" in earlier times, she took her "white, male British Catholic God" to Africa, where she discovered that "God is big (and) will not be contained in boxes . . . in walls . . . and behind barriers." She lamented, "we are part of a Church, which far from being on a journey . . . has built a marble institution, created an exclusive hierarchy, declared an inviolable set of rules and regulations, chosen four out of over two hundred gospels written, closed the canon, set down how we are to worship, named the popes in charge, declared Who God is and mandated revelation as final in Jesus." But not to worry: "today in this generation, people are beginning to question, because all is not well. Something is wrong; basically unhealthy. And the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, Wisdom/Sophia, who is free, is rocking the boat .... Let's be honest ... thousands and thousands of Christians are in spiritual limbo, having lost confidence in the Church that was once central in their lives and now, increasingly, is losing the last vestiges of credibility in a world hungry for meaningful spiritual leadership .... People are hungry not for religion, but for spirituality, and their questions and their searchings remain unanswered." She continued, "We grow . . . develop . . . and become and our image of God grows with us." People, in the Church, who are lacking self-esteem "question a church which bases so much of its theology and sacramentality on sin and guilt and unworthiness and places more emphasis on sexual morality than on compassion and justice." She said the Church's mission is "bound up with the environment, on which all of us depend for survival." She called for a commitment "to Yahweh, and to justice and to a New World Order and to equality and to a democracy where people share and people are treated as equals. That's the first commitment . . . standing for an alternative vision for justice and peace."

Isis and Osiris

Rosemary Radford Reuther, "Roman Catholic" feminist, and Fr. Bill Callahan, co-founder of the Quixote Center, teamed together to present "A Democratic Catholic Church: Moving from Words to Action."

Reuther began by referring to the appointment of thirty cardinals by the Holy Father as an insurance that his "autocratic pattern of the Church will carry beyond his own death." She considered the "stacking" of cardinals as a means to "assure a conservative successor" but said the Holy Spirit is a "trickster" and perhaps this would not happen. The Vatican's rejection of the inclusive translation of the Bible was blamed for causing an "increasing polarization" in the Church.

Reuther credited "popular church movements", such as CTA and other "Catholic" organizations for "renewal" with being the "bearers of the authentic gospel in the time of hierarchical apostasy." These organizations, by using their "independence" can "create all kinds of alternative ministries and activities . . . to keep the pressure on the institution, to keep up the protests" and to establish "a base for some authentic Christian praxis and understanding." She said "a great deal of work needs to go into developing base communities or intentional Christian communities and networks of peace and justice, because much of the agenda will be carried by them."

In order to form a democratic church, one needs to "delegitimize the autocratic, monarchical pattern . . . always protest acts of repression and injustice . . . figure out how to gather funding for alternatives . . . (find) religious orders (which) can work democratization within their framework."

Fr. Bill Callahan said "people of the Church must help to create a more democratic church . . . our culture has a resonance, I believe, of democratization, sharing decision- making, and we are at a culturally resonant moment. I believe that's what Vatican II was saying when it re-emphasized the people of God in the face of the centralization of the previous centuries; when it talked about subsidiarity, participation, shared responsibility, pluralism and inculturating the faith in Jesus Christ according to the culturally resonant gifts of each culture. Our task . . . to show the democratic participation and the construction of the freedom to participate fits very well with living our faith in the modern era in the United States. We will, when we move democratically, move in the direction of our cultural charisms." In addition, Callahan stated, "The system is ready to crumble . . . systems crumble much better if there are at least people marching around those walls; everybody down with a rock pick, working on their part of the wall . . . it is time . . . to deliberately set out as happy democratic workers in this Church to found a vast network of small, intentional communities with democratic participation and decision-making in ministry, including Eucharistic ministry, where the necessary experience in small groups, with role modeling of a married priesthood .... It is important for these communities to move forward with married priests, with women priests. It's time for us to network with those within the institutional church."

Fright at the Right

Robert McClory, Call to Action board member, journalist and teacher at Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, spoke on '"The Right Wing Movement in Catholicism."

"The right is a variation or really an expression of fundamentalism - a movement or tendency stressing strict, literal adhering to a set of basic principles or to some rock-like person or foundational information upon which one can base one's life or upon which one can have a sense of certainty."

A Catholic fundamentalist "lean(s) exclusively and absolutely on the authority of one person, say the Pope, the Vicar of Christ (and) the teaching authority of the Church, as an absolute."

McClory finds the right "so sincere . . . [but] there is a temptation to make fun of them" although he's "not so amused anymore" because of many changes within the last year. The right "is winning . . . feeling triumphant."

Specific changes included:

* the issuance of by the Holy Father;

* the formation of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" who are "in total agreement on the legal protection of the unborn. They talked about protecting our vibrant market economy . . . capitalism should be allowed to run rampant . . . [they agreed] to undertake evangelistic efforts against religions which are hostile to the claims of Christ . . . in particular, the Muslim religion";

* a "summit of anti-gay groups . . . ecumenical anti-gay groups . . . (who) spoke of a conspiracy of the gay movement to destroy families . . . [and called] for more aggressive action";

* the Pope's statement that women cannot be ordained;

* The Cairo conference, where the "Vatican found itself . . . in an uncomfortable alliance with a minority of countries . . . all notorious for human rights violations and all proclaiming the inferior status of women";

* release of the Catholic Catechism;

* the rejection of the inclusive translation of the N.R.S.V. Bible, and

* the Vatican-ordered investigation of New Ways Ministry."

McClory defined fascism as an "organization or regime that exalts monolithic, absolutist doctrine that is overseen by a centralized, very tight, autocratic government which is headed by a dictatorial leader which imposes severe social and intellectual regimentation and forcibly suppresses all opposition." He said this is the "direction the Church is moving."

Naming names

McClory revealed that Catholics for a Free Choice was offering a book, , which identifies specific persons and groups involved in the "Catholic right."

Among those mentioned are the Catholic Campaign for America (whose members include William Bennett, Pat Buchanan, and William Simon), Cardinal O'Connor, Fr. Jospeh Fessio, S.J., Phylis Schlafly, Alphonse Matt (editor of the ), and Catholics United for the Faith (which "on the local level, may be the most effective organization in interfering with liberal tendencies in the Church"). Their work led to the investigation of Archbishop Hunthausen. Rosemary Radford Reuther says there is "no other group that has more direct impact on her and the organizations that she was invited to talk to." CUF was credited with "bombarding the Vatican about Fr. Curran . . . and getting him ousted from Catholic University." And they have been "extremely active in condemning Archbishop Weakland."

Other groups and persons mentioned were: Tom Monahan (owner of Domino's Pizza), Fr. Richard Neuhaus, Auxiliary Bishop Austin Vaughn, Dr. Jack Willke, Tom Roser (a business executive), the Knights of Malta, the Knights of Columbus, Opus Dei ("secretive organization . . . Catholic Mafia"), the Alliance of Catholic Women ("very opposed to any kind of choice in matters of sexuality"), the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Catholics United for Life and Lambs for Christ. Mother Angelica is the "voice for a brand of Catholicism that can only be described as strange."

"Ungodly Rage" by Donna Steichen was said to "attribute everything that is liberal . . . to diabolic error."

Speakers and sponsors

There were three other persons scheduled as speakers for the CTA Conference, who were unable to attend: Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who cancelled at the last moment "because of a previous commitment," Sandra Schneiders, and Fr. Canice Connors of St. Luke Institute, a "leading treatment center for priest-pedophiles." A Fr. Tom Economus spoke in his place about "Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse;" he is the executive director of the Victims of Clergy Abuse Linkup.

Other speakers included Fr. Michael Crosby, Sr. Joan Chittister, Fr. Patrick Brennan, Bernard J. Cooke, Charles Curran, Sr. Maureen Fiedler, Matthew Fox, Jeannine Gramick (New Ways Ministry), Mary Hunt, Anthony Padovano, Steve Torma (Creation Spirituality), James Hug (Center of Concern), and Sr. Fran Ferder ("Toward a Renewed Theology of Human Sexuality").

The following are just a few of the more than 50 co-sponsors of the 1994 C.T.A.: Association of Chicago Priests, Brothers for Christian Community (Warren, Mi.), Catholics Speak Out (Hyattsville, Md.), Center of Concern (Washington, D.C.), CORPUS (national association for a married priesthood, Morris Plains, N.J.), Conference for Catholic Lesbians (New York, NY), Dignity (Chicago, New York, and national), Federation of Christian Ministries (Upper Darby, Pa.), Friends of Creation Spirituality (Oakland, Ca.), The Green Nation (San Jose, Ca.), Loyola University Ministry (Chicago), National Assembly of Religious Women (Chicago), Parish Renewal Consulting Services (San Francisco), the Sisters of Divine Providence/Pittsburgh, and the Sisters of St. Joseph/Albany, N.Y.

Playing dress-up

The conference booklet invited everyone to "bring a stole to wear at the Eucharist . . . to emphasize that by Baptism we are all called to ministry." Stoles were sold in the exhibit area for those who did not bring their own.

Carol Lloyd writes on Church (and antiChurch) affairs for HLI.

Taken from the February 1995 issue of "HLI Reports." To subscribe contact: HLI Reports [7845] Airpark Road, Suite E Gaithersburg, MD 20879