Planning For The Millennium: Where Is The 'Amchurch' Heading?

Author: Paul Likoudis

Planning For The Millennium: Where Is The "Amchurch" Heading?

By Paul Likoudis

Thousands, if not millions, of Catholics across the country are currently engaged in parish or diocesan planning programs, devising parish mission statements or charting a diocesan "vision" as the Church prepares for the third millennium.

But where, precisely, are Catholics heading as they wade through a sea of guidelines and projects pouring forth from their chancery headquarters?

Or, from another angle, where are the Catholic lay faithful being pushed as the "fourth wave" of renewal in three decades hits the Catholic Church?


In March, Chicago will play host for the Great Lakes Pastoral Ministry Gathering's 21st annual conference, "Come Feast at the Table," a three-day event for parish leaders featuring leading "Amchurch" reformers, such as John Buscemi, Richard Sparks, Pat Livingston, et al.

Among the subjects: Theologian Fr. Peter Phan (a Catholic University-based critic of ) on celebrating the Eucharist around a round table; William Bausch on moving the parish into the next millennium through "a retrieval of the wisdom tradition, and the New Age and the Third Age of the parish of the future"; Sr. Regina Coll, C.S.J., on ministering to women and women in ministry; sex educator Fr. Richard Sparks, C.S.P., on "moral decision making."

St. Anthony Messenger Press, a principal organ of dissent for nearly 30 years, has launched a new publication now being heavily marketed to parishes. Entitled , a part of the "Follow Me: Disciples for the 21st Century" parish renewal program copublished by St. Anthony Messenger Press and Msgr. Philip ("Common Ground") Murnion's National Pastoral Life Center in New York, the new publications features such longtime dissenters and critics of traditional Church teaching as Dr. Brennan Hill, Dolores Curran, Fr. Richard Rohr, Jose Hobday, Mary Luke Tobin, Evelyn and James Whitehead, et at.

It's the old dissent establishment continuing to set the agenda for the Church.

In the Diocese of Evansville, Ind., Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger has engaged his priests and people in a vast downsizing project, to plan for the coming priest shortage when, it is estimated, there will be only 44 priests to serve 73 parishes in a mere eight years.

In the Diocese of Dodge City, Kans., Bishop Stanley G. Schlarman unveiled a plan to reduce the number of parishes from 57 to 41 over the next eight years, and created 17 "clusters" to be served by 24 priests in the 58-county diocese. The plan follows a "self study" by each parish council.

In the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., Bishop Matthew H. Clark and his chancery staff have ordered each parish council to devise a parish "vision" statement, to plan on clustering with neighboring parishes in anticipation of a severe priest shortage within a few years, and to come into compliance with his distorted "vision" of the Church.

And as part of his efforts to create an "inclusive" Church, he will be chief celebrant and homilist at a "Mass for Lesbian and Gay Catholics and their Families and Friends" at Sacred Heart Cathedral on March 1st, 1997.

In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, religious educators are receiving indoctrination from staff at the Archdiocesan Office of Worship to institute the archdiocese's new "provisional guidelines" for "preparation and celebration" of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which embody neomodernist notions of personal sin, particularly the idea that mortal sin is "relatively infrequent."

These six examples illustrate what might be called "the program" already under way in numerous dioceses, as "pastoral planning" and "sacramental revisionism" accelerate and the American Church prepares for the turn of the century and the new millennium.

What's The Model?

But the model the Amchurch is following, agree a number of critics, is the Episcopal Church.

One particularly sharp critic of the Amchurch's modus operandi who requested anonymity explained the preoccupation with planning and institutionalizing neomodernist theology this way:

"The Amchurch has decided to imitate its cultural icon: the Episcopal Church.

"The Church of England has always been our colonial master. It forged the path we are now treading: the feminist agenda, women priests, women bishops, parish autonomy, doctrinal irrelevance, moral chaos, rationalization of the sexual revolution. . . .

"It leads to a Church with an excessive clergy and no flock, living on government largesse. It's a phony facade that serves the cultural elite, providing a religious patina for their weddings and funerals, while nominal Christians become 'soap opera people.'

"San Francisco under Archbishop John Quinn set the pace. There, Mass attendance dropped 60%, there's an abundance of clergy, and the moral climate earned the city the epithet, 'Sodom on the Bay'."

One manifestation of the attraction of the Episcopal "model" is the astonishing popularity of the novels of Albany (inactive) priest Joseph Girzone, who will be among the featured speakers at Roger Cardinal Mahony's religious education congress in March.

In his latest book, , released at Christmas, Girzone tried to help people overcome the idea that God punishes them for their sins. Too many people, he told , believe in a punitive God. "When you are wrong, you commit sin.... God's not happy with me.... That's a terrible way to go through life.... For Jesus, being holy is nothing but being a beautiful human. He was gentle kind, and caring. He had the highest of ideals. He had beautiful dreams. He was simple as a dove and sly as a fox....

"No one tries to really understand Jesus as a person, what He thinks, what He feels, or what His understanding of God is. I'm convinced that what we share is the authentic Jesus. It's not something we concoct."

(Significantly, Girzone and Sr. Dorothy Ederer were preaching their version of Jesus in China last year, at the same time that the Communist Party intensified its persecution of the underground Catholic Church.)

Our Amchurch critic continues: "Look who's the paradigm bishop in Girzone's : He's a man who aligns himself with the Episcopalians and Lutherans. He says, 'Look, we don't have to be a shabby, foreign church anymore. Let's join with the Episcopalians.'

"Girzone is becoming a cult figure; there are Girzone study groups; Catholics are buying his books in bulk. And what's his message? Contraception is okay; divorce is okay; religious indifference is a virtue; practically speaking, the hypocrisy of Vatican officials is the only sin. Why would Cardinal Mahony-or any bishop -promote Girzone unless Girzone were part of 'the program'?"

A Sign Of Failure

There are, however, other ways to explain the obsession with planning for the future, with micromanaging parishes from downtown headquarters, with issuing new sacramental guidelines embodying the latest thinking from the dissident (as do the Archdiocese of Indianapolis' new guidelines for Penance).

One is that Church leaders do not know how to confront the reality that the Church is "in retreat" all around them.

"Despite all their plans for renewal, their change agents, their control of institutions, and their money," said an expert on recent Church history in Rochester, "they are failing.

"Plans like Bishop Clark's are 'cries of desperation.' He has been a bishop for almost 20 years, during which time he's pushed for ordaining women, protected [Fr.] Charlie Curran and other dissident theologians, advanced the homosexual agenda, and what's the result? He has a priest shortage, he's losing his flock, he's closing parishes, and he's grabbing for pages from the corporate management style handbook trying to find a strategy to keep the whole kit and caboodle afloat.

"He's running out of money and people, but he's so committed to changing the traditional Catholic Church that he has to keep the bureaucratic wheels grinding on to change the liturgy, change catechesis, change morality, change the entire concept of Church enshrined in the new ."

In his project to bang all parishes and pastors under chancery control, Clark is managing to alienate even his liberal priests. As one told : "Why doesn't he just run my parish from a computer in the Pastoral Center?"

Aside from the issue of control, however, there is the fundamental problem that the new "vision" of parish being "articulated"-not just in Rochester, but across the country-is a construct at odds with both canon law and which defines parish as:

" '. . . a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular Church; the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop' (Code of Canon Law, 515.1). It is the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday Celebration of the Eucharist. The parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the of the liturgical life: It gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ's saving doctrine; it practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love."

In ordering parish councils to develop "vision statements" to manifest their compliance with the essentially "womanchurch" goals of his diocesan synod, Clark didn't provide the simple definition of "parish" in the Catechism, but rather demanded that parishes show what steps are being taken to prove they are becoming "a community known for its warm hospitality . . . a welcoming community that actively includes all members . . . that is ready to wrestle with the difficult issues of the day with a radical spirit of faith."

A concrete example of what "faith" parishes are expected to promote in the Diocese of Rochester is provided in the 30-page publication given to all parish council members:

The report advises parishes that the staff of St. Bernard's Institute is available for adult education programs, with its "on the road" program, where Clark's top theologians sanction contraception and homosexuality.

An example of how "pastoral planning" is burdening parishes can be seen in the parish mandates for complying with synod goal three: "To recognize and value the dignity of women in the Church and society."

Parishes must show the diocese's pastoral planners that 50% of all parish ministries are staffed by women, that parishes provide "evidence of progress in: reducing violence toward women, reducing the poverty of women, being inclusive in our language and in our images of God, recognizing and celebrating women's spirituality, women in leadership positions."

Parishes are also to submit reports showing that income disparity among men and women is decreasing and that a portion of the parish budget is dedicated to providing education and training for women to prepare them to be pastoral administrators, pastoral associates, pastoral ministers, and pastoral liturgists.

Yet another example of Bishop Clark's theology and ecclesiology is present in his recent pastoral letter on the Eucharist, in which he called on parishes to begin a planning process to ensure that they remain "eucharistic communities" even when there is no resident priest.

He managed to write an entire pastoral without once mentioning the term "Sacrifice of the Mass." Already, "Communion services" conducted by women are multiplying in the diocese.

No Sin But Sexism

It's true that Catholic Americans seldom hear about sin in homilies or see the word in their newspapers or religion texts. The concept of "sin" cannot be totally abandoned, however, and so it is being reworked, as the "provisional guidelines" recently issued by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis show.

The guidelines were written to make Rite II-the communal Penance service-the norm in the archdiocese, and their inspiration is "Second Thoughts on the Rite of Reconciliation," an article published in by John E. Price and R. George Sarauskas.

Price and Sarauskas contrast the "old emphasis" on confession with the "new emphasis" on reconciliation. For example, "sin" in the "old emphasis" was "individual-solitary-acts-specific-often- mortal," whereas the "new" is "social-ecclesial-lifestyle- disharmony-relatively-infrequently-mortal."

The "old emphasis" of "morality" was "laws concerning things to avoid (bad actions)," while the "new emphasis" is "how to live positively in response to the Spirit."

"Feelings" that prompted recourse to Confession in the "old emphasis" were "guilt, sorrow, shame," while in the "new" they are "warmth, hope, healing, conversion."

In addition to promoting the "new theology" of Price and Sarauskas, the authors of the Indianapolis model also provide a detailed program for communal Reconciliation services, which downplays individual Confession and provides for a common penance: the singing of a song, such as

The guidelines also contain a section, "A Word About Sin," which explains sin according to dissenting theologian Bernard Haring.

While downplaying the traditional understanding of mortal sin and implying its rarity, the authors also describe a new "development in the understanding of sin....

"Individual participation in worldly structures of sin can tear down human dignity, violate human rights, and contribute to oppression and abuse. Catholics are called to take a stand against these realities and join in efforts to change them. Indifference to social evils or refusal to act on behalf of justice for all is a [emphasis added] for all Christians."

While the document pays "lip service" to the teaching of on sin with a single footnote, it completely glosses over the Church's teaching on the gravity of individual mortal and venial sins.

The War On The Catechism

Another dramatic illustration of the institutionalized opposition to in the American Church is St. Anthony Messenger Press' new publication

The significance of this project was powerfully expressed by a reader in Michigan who wrote, "Now, since we're all softened up after the past 30 years, it looks like they're coming in for the kill.

"Already, two of the three parishes in my neighborhood have announced plans for in-house groups to start meeting in Lent '97 with facilitators using this program....

"It looks like Cardinal Bernardin's Common Ground guru Msgr. Phil Murnion, found someone with a printing press, but it doesn't look like a project that was put together in just a few weeks!"

Indeed, "written for everyday Catholics," is the work of Brennan Hill, a professor of theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, and his wife Marie, associate director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's Family Life Office.

Brennan Hill is also one of the leading critics in the United States of , and coauthor of -described by Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn and K.D. Whitehead as "one of the more significant responses to the Catechism from the catechetical establishment." (See elsewhere in this issue William Doino's comprehensive review of the Wrenn-Whitehead book )

Hill's , they said and their reviewers agreed, is for the religion teacher who does not intend to read the Catechism, and its purpose, say Wrenn and Whitehead, is to "modify, undermine, and even nullify what the Catechism itself says."

Wrenn and Whitehead especially target the various ways undermines and nullifies the Catechism's teaching on sin, penance, and Confession; but that is hardly its only problem. Throughout the , Hill and his coauthor William Madges subvert Church teaching on Scripture, the divinity of Christ, the Pope and bishops, the sacraments, sexual morality, and the indissolubility of marriage.


As America's 60.2 million Catholics prepare to enter the third millennium with fewer priests, fewer religious, an increasing loss of Catholic identity at Church hospitals, colleges, and schools, decreasing Catholic solidarity, and rapidly declining Mass attendance, they are unequipped intellectually and spiritually to be a countercultural force against the secular state.

An ominous development is the growing fear among faithful and increasingly marginalized Catholics that they will face actual persecution by the leaders and ideologues of the American Church, who can no longer ignore or tolerate any resistance to their plans and programs.

As one observer said, "If the bishops don't act against the dissenters who are destroying the unity of the Church, they will have to act against faithful Catholics, just to prove they are doing something.

"It's time for faithful Catholics to start acting. For 30 years we've been trying to hide or ignore the postconciliar disintegration, and things have only gotten worse. Now it is time to engage ourselves in the process and planning strategies, in order to give witness to authentic Catholic truth-and to challenge disastrous pastoral policies."

This article was taken from the February 6, 1997 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price: $35.00 per year; six months $20.00.