Call to Action: progressive Catholics hold a convention

Along with a couple thousand others, I spent the weekend in Milwaukee attending the annual convention of Call to Action (CTA), a beleaguered group of progressive Roman Catholics.  The conservative retrenchment of the Vatican and the American bishops marches on, and one wonders what the future holds for Catholic progressives.  I met hundreds of interesting persons with fascinating stories: former priests and nuns who are now married, many gays or parents of gays, and numerous women who have recently been ordained to the priesthood or who are anticipating ordination in the near future.

“What,” you ask, “women ordained as Catholic priests?”

Roman Catholic Womenpriests is a movement less than a decade old that began with the 2002 ordination of seven women (six Europeans and one American).  Since then, the movement is growing rapidly (despite excommunications), and I can attest to a sense of vibrancy at the Womenpriests’ booth that attracted an earnest crowd.  One of the priests at the exhibit told me that their booth at the 2008 CTA Convention attracted a few curiosity seekers, but overall the mood was “don’t get too close to these excommunicated dissidents”.  Last year, at the 2009 CTA convention, she reported that the fear of contagion had dissipated and the curiosity level had increased dramatically.  This year, the Womenpriests booth was filled with visitors who had moved beyond curiosity to genuine interest.  Their US map with red and green dots signifying locations of ordained womenpriests and pending ordinations was a hit with many asking for more specifics so they could attend a nearby Eucharist celebrated by female clergy.

Are progressive Catholics coming to the realization that their future lies outside the patriarchal hierarchy and beyond the control of the Vatican?  If so, where?  If not, how can progressive Catholics effect reform within the existing conservative power structures?

Enter the American Catholic Council.  The Council also had an energetic presence at the CTA conference, passing out brochures inviting all to a Pentecost gathering next June.  CTA is one of the member organizations of the Council, which also includes other Catholic reform organizations.

American Catholic Council is a movement bringing together a network of individuals, organizations, and communities to consider the state and future of our Church. We believe our Church is at a turning point in its history. We recall the promise of the Second Vatican Council for a renaissance of the roles and responsibilities of all the Baptized through a radically inclusive and engaged relationship between the Church and the World.  We respond to the Spirit of Vatican II by summoning the Baptized together to demonstrate our re-commitment. We seek personal conversion to renew our Church to conform to the authentic Gospel message, the teachings of our Church, and our lived context in the United States. Our reading of the “signs of the times”, as we experience them in the US, our plan and our agenda are set out in our Declaration.  We educate; we listen; we facilitate discussions and encounters; and, we build toward an American Catholic Council  that will convene in Detroit over Pentecost weekend in June of 2011.  At this Council we hope to proclaim our belief in the Rights and Responsibilities of US Catholics.

June 10, 2011.  Mark the date.


21 Responses

  1. […] Call to Action: progressive Catholics hold a convention ( […]

  2. Obie,

    I don’t understand “progressive Catholic”. What are they progressing towards? Self-rule? Jesus Christ? Liberal American social causes?

    Isn’t progressive Catholic an oxymoron?

    • I’Il take a stab at it David – fulfilling the promise of Pope John XIII’s aggiornamento vision for Vatican II.

    • Frank,

      But, at what point does progressive become undisciplined, chaotic, and no longer catholic and Catholic? At what point have the the windows and doors of the Church been open long enough? How much cold, wind, and rain do we let in for the sake of aggiornamento?

      • The concept of being a Catholic is part of an ongoing, evolving process. It has been so since the beginning of the Church.

        I see no chaos or change away from being “catholic” due to Vatican II. Instead, I do sense fear and anxiety from more traditionalist Catholics (perhaps maybe you David?) who do not trust the followers of the Church but only the hierarchy — and a hierarchy that is increasingly becoming reactionary, static and intolerant..

        • Frank, thanks for noting how central the concept of progress is to our faith as Catholics. It’s built into the gospels, with Jesus’s proclamation of the reign of God, to which the church is called to move forward throughout history, never perfectly realizing the reign of God.

          And as Paul VI announces in the opening line of his encyclical Populorum progressio, “The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church.”

        • Bill,

          Populorum progessio talks about the genuine development of people. “Progressive Catholics” as described by Obie tend to focus upon causes.

          • David, you stated, “It strikes me that ‘progressive’ is an empty spiritual term. It is more of a political term coined by a political faction to encourage a cause.”

            Pope Paul VI states, “The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church.”

            He states that in an encyclical entitled Populorum Progressio.

            On this point, who is right? You?

            Or the pope?

          • Bill,

            I think Obie is using “progressive” in a much different sense than the Pope. Obie’s “progressive Catholic” doesn’t describe a spiritual division within the Church. Its common principle seems to be more of freedom from Vatican control than a Gospel principle based upon some discernable spiritual component. That is not to say that any of the causes of progressive Catholics don’t deserve spiritual attention. But, “progressives” seem to have an unhealthy amount of political activism against “un-progressive Catholics”.

            “Progress” as described by Pope Paul VI and expounded upon by Benedict XVI (Truth and Charity) means the development of moral conscience towards a unified vision of our shared humanity. For example, is it really “progressive” to be able to abort unborn humans? What are we progressing towards?

            Progress/change is not morally indifferent.

          • But I wasn’t talking about how Obie used the term “progressive.”

            I cited your own statement. You said, “It strikes me that ‘progressive’ is an empty spiritual term. It is more of a political term coined by a political faction to encourage a cause.”

            That’s what you say. And then we have Pope Paul VI saying, “The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church.”

            You denigrate the term, because you take your talking points from the rabid political right of the U.S. He lifts it up as a term central to the understanding of what it means to be Catholic.

            No one is denying that progress has to be evaluated from a moral standpoint. Your comment foolishly attacks and discards the term itself.

            Either we take our talking points from the dumbed-down, far from Catholic rabid right. Or we take them from the gospels and the church.

            Which is it, David? Which is it for you?

          • Bill,

            “Progressive” doesn’t have to be an empty term if it used properly, and, if used in some meaningful context. But, self-describing yourself as a “progressive” Catholic is usually meant to imply a particular political agenda – abortion rights advocate for example.

            The eugenics movement was once thought to be a progressive idea by many people, especially by people in Nazi Germany. It turned out to be quite regressive.

          • But, David, here are your precise words:

            It strikes me that “progressive” is an empty spiritual term. It is more of a political term coined by a political faction to encourage a cause.

            But where’s what Pope Paul VI says:

            The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church.

            Since your words flatly contradict the papal statement, I have to conclude that you take your political cue from somewhere else than papal teaching.

          • Bill,

            OK. Let me clarify. “It strikes me that Obie’s use of the term “progressive” is an empty spiritual term. He and many others use the term “progressive” to denote a political cause, or causes.”

            Progressive Catholics is an oxymoron. All Catholics should be interested in progress of peoples all over the world in the sense of Pope Paul VI in Popularum Progressio, and further explained by Pope Benedict XVI in Truth and Charity.

            Does that explain my position sufficiently?

          • David, you say, “Progressive Catholics is an oxymoron.”

            And yet Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical called “On the Progress of Peoples,” which opens with the statement, “The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church.”

            And that encyclical notes that it is citing and building on Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius XII’s radio messages to the world in 1942, 1943, and 1953, and Pope John XXIII’s two encyclicals,Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris.

            Every one of those papal documents describes progressive economic and social reform oriented to economic and social justice as an ongoing task in which all Catholics are required, by the nature of their Catholic faith, to be involved. To take only one example among many:

            Paul VI writes in Populorum Progressio (par. 8) that the growing gap between rich and poor nations threatens the stability of the world, and is caused by economic injustice of those controlling markets (e.g., groups such as those defended and promoted by our U.S. Chamber of Commerce). He writes (par. 23) that the right of every human being to sustenance, to the basic necessities of life life food, shelter, work, healthcare, etc., is an overriding right to which the rights of property and free trade must be subordinated.

            He even writes (par. 24),

            No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, “as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.”

            Here, he’s echoing Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, who states (par. 22),

            Therefore, those whom fortune favors are warned that riches do not bring freedom from sorrow and are of no avail for eternal happiness, but rather are obstacles; that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ – threatenings so unwonted in the mouth of our Lord(10) – and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all we possess.

            Drawing on his predecessor’s encyclical, in Quadragesimo Anno Pius IX stresses the “social character” of ownership (par. 49, 101), and the obligation for just societies to see that wealth is used in such a way that it serves the needs of everyone in society, and not only of wealthy elites. Leo states (par. 101),

            But it does violate right order when capital hires workers, that is, the non-owning working class, with a view to and under such terms that it directs business and even the whole economic system according to its own will and advantage, scorning the human dignity of the workers, the social character of economic activity and social justice itself, and the common good.

            In Mater et Magistra, Pope John XXIII explicitly states, as that masterful encyclical opens, that he is writing to remind all Catholics of the inherent connections between Catholic faith and social progress. Like his predecessors, in both Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, he specifically defines the progress to which all Catholics are called to help orient their societies as creating a more economically and socially just society, in which some people have far more than they need, while others lack the basic necessities of life, and in which some have power and others are excluded from power.

            This encyclical caused the conservative American Catholic, who was strongly allied to the owning elites of this country, which did not wish to hear messages about sharing their wealth and power with others–William F. Buckley–to say that the church may be his mother, but is not his teacher: mater, si; magistra, no.

            Clearly, one cannot read all of these papal documents, one after another, and conclude that “Catholic progressive” is an oxymoron. The oxymoron is precisely the opposite: Catholics opposed to progressive ideologies.

            Clearly, one cannot be a faithful Catholic who claims to take church teaching seriously and ignore this significant body of progressive teaching oriented to social justice. Since you are a faithful Catholic who takes church teaching seriously, and since so many Catholic groups in our society have lost sight of this important aspect of Catholic teaching, perhaps you can help organize study groups to help your brother and sister Catholics understand what it means to be a Catholic–what it means for our lives of discipleship in the world.

            The Knights of Columbus would be a wonderful place to start with such study groups, since I have the impression that many Knights of Columbus are also allied to the Chamber of Commerce, whose core values and agenda conflict radically with all the encyclicals I have cited above. Those values and that agenda could not be more oxymoronic for Catholics. You might remind your brother Knights, in these study sessions re: Catholic social encyclicals and social justice teachings, that we need to form our consciences according to church teaching and not according to political soundbytes brought to us by groups antithetical to Catholic teaching, like the Chamber of Commerce.

          • Bill,

            How does your idea of a “progressive” Catholic fighting for gay rights, women priests, and doctrinal changes within the Catholic Church fit into the idea of Catholics working towards progress of peoples by adopting Catholic ideals of social justice?

            The former is a misappropriation of the term progressive. And, it seems to be done for the wrong reasons, namely to promote a political agenda within the Church.

          • David, I hope you’ll read the documents I’ve cited. It’s important that we Catholics educate ourselves in the complex world in which we live today, when many ideological currents compete for our attention and claim to be articulating the values of the gospel and the Church. Educating ourselves helps us hear what’s authentic in these claims and discard the inauthentic.

            When you do study those papal documents about social justice, you’ll see abundant material in them to justify efforts by lay Catholics to defend and promote the rights of all human beings–in order to build a truly just, truly inclusive, truly humane society. And that will explain to you why a large percentage of Catholics in the developed nations defend gay rights (since gay people are human beings, and Catholics are committed to human rights for all), women’s rights (ditto), and the rights of the laity in the church to participate in discussions of the formation of doctrinal and moral teaching (ditto).

            The challenge is to justify opposing human rights for all and call oneself a faithful Catholic. Not vice versa.

          • Bill,

            I am generally in favor of civil same-sex marriages, women priests, and more involvement of the laity in decision-making. That said, it doesn’t mean that I am a progressive. Depending upon how the issues are promoted, the ideas can be Gospel-progressive, or Gospel-regressive.

          • David, honestly, I don’t care what you choose to call yourself.

            But when you mount ill-informed attacks on the term “progressive” and dismiss it as unCatholic or anti-Catholic, and when one papal encyclical after another says precisely the opposite, then I will certainly respond to you. Because I think it’s very important for us American Catholics to inform ourselves about the rich resources of our Catholic tradition and what we really do believe.

            And not take our cues from soundbytes offered to us from politicized movements that have no connection at all to the Catholic church, and no intent to understand or respect its core values.

            As an example, the Chamber of Commerce has done nothing but seek first to block and then to undermine health care reform in this country that makes minimal health care accessible to all citizens. But the pope recently reminded us that health care is a universal right and humane societies have a strong moral obligation to provide minimal health care for all.

            This seems to imply that any Catholic associated with the Chamber of Commerce needs to challenge that organization’s understanding of health care, no? And perhaps to resign from the organization if it continues to serve as a political front for those trying to roll back access to minimal health care for all citizens?

          • Bill,

            I choose to call myself a Catholic who believes in social justice concerns. I believe that progress is related to creating a more just and fair society for everyone, especially the poor and the marginalized.

            I think organizations like the Chamber of Commerce can lend some economic reality to the social problems that we face. For the most part, businesses, especially small businesses, really do care for their employees. Sometimes, like in times like these, we work longer and harder than our employees, and we make less money.

      • Frank,

        I will admit to feeling anxious about “progressive Catholics” and from others, such as Obie who want me to believe that “progressive” equates to faithful.

        First, I don’t accept that the hierarchy, on the whole, is increasingly reactionary, static, or intolerant. Reactionary, static, and intolerant are not empirically verifiable terms; they are subjective judgments. I do not accept that the hierarchy is opposed to the spirit of Vatican II. While there might be some truth in appearance, much of the dissent has passed well beyond the intentions of Vatican II. Finally, I can’t accept the idea that being more traditional equates with obedience to the hierarchy. Free, thinking, rational people can arrive at the same conclusions as the hierarchy. The Vatican isn’t just inventing rules.

        Morevoer, I don’t accept that progressive Catholics are undisciplined, chaotic, or un-Catholic – yet.

        I say “yet” because it does not appear that progressives are evolving with the Church, but rather are evolving AGAINST a substantial part of the Church. For better or worse, the Vatican and its officials have become a significant part of the administration of the Church. I would maintain that the teachings and spiritual leadership are also an integral part.

        In a sense I trust the followers of the Church. However, while many of them are not supportive of the Vatican, many of them are supportive. So, that doesn’t help much. All it does is create anxiety about what it means to be “Catholic”.

        Perhaps most importantly for me is looking for the Holy Spirit in the words and actions of the progressives. Is it done in the spirit of making the Church better, stronger, and more faithful? Or, is it run like political elections – mean, dishonest, and disparaging of others? Are these folks who call themselves progressives (on the whole) trying to “progress” the Church, or are they trying to “progress” their own political or administrative agenda? And, are they doing it by attacking the Vatican, and anyone who may express some support?

        I hear so few positive comments about the Vatican coming from the progressives that I wonder how the movement can be considered universal in the true meaning of Catholic. For example, what about Pope John Paul II’s defiance after the invasion of Iraq? Would that be possible with a Church without a head? What about Pope Benedict’s last 3 encyclicals which were brilliant, lucid, and positively universal in principle and scope? Surely, both Popes have demonstrated that the Holy Spirit is working within them, at least at those times.

        It strikes me that “progressive” is an empty spiritual term. It is more of a political term coined by a political faction to encourage a cause. The implication is that is you aren’t progressive, then you must be regressive. “Defiant” or “disobedient” might be more accurate.

  3. […] Call to Action: progressive Catholics hold a convention ( […]

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