Responding to concerns raised by the faithful about a movement called the American Catholic Council (ACC), the Archdiocese of Detroit issued an advisory to its priests and parishes on October 12, 2010. The group has planned a national gathering in Detroit on the weekend of Pentecost 2011. Noting that the ACC and its national gathering are not conducted under the auspices of the Detroit archdiocese, the universal Roman Catholic Church, or any entity or organization affiliated with the archdiocese or the Roman Catholic Church, the advisory cautioned Catholics “…against participating in the American Catholic Council local listening sessions and national gathering.” The advisory noted the goals of the ACC are largely in opposition to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. There are positions espoused by some of the speakers and organizers which are clearly contrary to Catholic faith. What follows is a resource document addressing this matter in greater detail.
Questions and Answers
Regarding the American Catholic Council
1. The American Catholic Council is being held on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II. Are the positions taken by the ACC consistent with the teachings of Vatican II?
While the ACC upholds some general values affirmed by Vatican II, there are explicit departures from what the Council actually taught. For example, the Preamble to the ACC’s “Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities [CBRR]” states that “distinctions between clergy and laity are functional and arbitrary,” but Vatican II teaches that “the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood differ from one another in essence and not only in degree.”[i] The ACC’s “Declaration for Reform and Renewal” seeks “reform of the governing structures of the Church so that they reflect the better aspects of the American experience” and “a democratic spirit.” Vatican II, however, affirms the “perpetuity” of the hierarchical structure of the Church, which is realized in “the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff”[ii] and “the sacred order of bishops” who have succeeded to the place of the apostles “by divine institution.”[iii] The ACC affirms an alleged “freedom to dissent” from Church teachings (CBRR, no. IV), but Vatican II instructs the faithful to manifest “faithful obedience”[iv] to the Church’s Magisterium and “religious submission of will and intellect” to the teachings of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.[v]
2. The American Catholic Council is being held in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of the Call to Action Conference held in Detroit. Is the American Catholic Council in historical continuity with the original Call to Action conference held in Detroit, October 20-23, 1976?
The 1976 Call to Action conference was sponsored by the U.S. Catholic bishops in conjunction with U.S. Bicentennial of 1976. During the conference, however, special interest groups began to dominate, a reality noted by then Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Cincinnati, the president of the NCCB/USCC.[vi] Subsequently, the NCCB/USCC distanced itself from Call to Action. Some Catholics, though, formed an organization called “Call to Action,” which continued without episcopal support. When a Call to Action conference was organized in Detroit in 1996, Cardinal Adam Maida issued a statement, which warned that “the overall climate of the conference creates the appearance of dissent from Church teaching and practice.”
3. Do some of the invited speakers to the ACC conference hold positions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church?
All of the invited keynote speakers have manifested dissent from Catholic teachings or support for dissenters. Hans Küng has rejected Vatican I’s defined dogma of papal infallibility, and in 1979, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that he “could no longer be considered a Catholic theologian.”[vii] Dr. Jeanette Rodriguez endorsed a letter in support of Rosemary Radforth Ruether’s appointment to a Catholic Chair at the University of San Diego, even though Ruether is a board member of “Catholics for Choice,” an organization that rejects Catholic teaching on the grave immorality of abortion.[viii] Dr. Anthony Padovano has questioned the physical resurrection of Jesus, the virgin birth of Jesus, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the need for an ordained priest to celebrate a valid Mass. He is also active in promoting an “ecumenical alliance” of various schismatic “Catholic” groups such as the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC).[ix] James Carroll is the author of the 2001 book, Constantine’s Sword, which calls for a reconsideration of traditional Christology because affirming Jesus as the Messiah is, according to him, intrinsically linked to anti-Semitism.[x] Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is on record as publicly opposing Catholic teaching against legal abortion, and she chastised the U.S. bishops for their determination to make abortion illegal “even if it derails health-care reform entirely.”[xi] Sr. Joan Chittister is an open advocate of women’s ordination to the priesthood in spite of the definitive Catholic teaching on this subject.[xii] She also supported the right of 23 women religious to endorse a 1985 ad in the New York Times opposing Catholic teaching on abortion.[xiii]
4. Are the participants in the ACC representative of the whole Catholic Church?
In fact, the ACC requires those wishing to participate to fill out a form designed to attract only those who share its agenda. There appears to be no attempt to reach out to Catholics who fully support the teachings of the Magisterium, and Archbishop Vigneron was neither invited nor consulted about the conference.
5. Are there any valid aspirations of the ACC?
All Catholics can agree with the general affirmations made by the ACC regarding the dignity of baptism, the beatitudes, and the sacramental celebration “of God’s love and presence.” These valid affirmations of basic Christian values, however, are obscured by the resistance of the ACC to the divinely constituted authority of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.
6. Is the ACC fostering alienation from the Catholic Church?
Because a counter-structure of ecclesial authority is being set up that stands in opposition to the authority of the bishops, the Pope and the divine constitution of the Church as articulated by Vatican II.
7. What’s wrong with talking about controversial issues that are on the minds of many Catholics today?
There’s nothing wrong with talking about these controversial issues. The question, though, is who has the authority to respond to these issues according to the mind of Christ and the Church. Vatican II states that “bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth.”[xiv] Because the ACC affirms a right to dissent from magisterial teachings, those discussing controversial issues at the conference will be subject to confusion and misinformation about what Catholics can and cannot hold.
8. Why can’t Archbishop Vigneron let people make up their own minds whether they wish to participate in this conference and the listening sessions being held in anticipation of it?
Archbishop Vigneron is not taking away the right of people to make their own decisions. He has, however, issued warnings about the ACC because of his sacred responsibility to defend and uphold Catholic doctrine and guide the faithful with sound instruction. Like a good shepherd he is looking out for the well-being of his flock, and, as a faithful steward, he knows he must “one day render an account for their souls” (cf. Heb 13:17, Lumen Gentium, 27).
[i] Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 10.
[ii] Lumen Gentium, 18
[iii] Lumen Gentium, 20.
[iv] Lumen Gentium, 12
[v] Lumen Gentium, 25.
[vi] Russell Shaw, “Call to Action Conference,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2010 (Detroit and Washington, D.C.: Gale Cengage Learning and the Catholic University of America, 2010) Volume 1, p. 191.
[vii] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Declaration regarding certain aspects of the theological doctrine of Professor Hans K?ng,” Acta Apostolicae Sedis 72 (1980): 90-92
[viii] See “Letter to the University of San Diego Supporting Academic Freedom and Rosemary Radford Ruether” (found on: http://www.womensordination.org/content/view/211/42/ ). The letter was written after the University of San Diego withdrew its invitation to appoint Rosemary Radford Ruether to the Monsignor John R. Portman Chair in Roman Catholic Theology for 2009-2010. Although Dr. Jeanette Rodriguez has been an invited speaker to Church sponsored events, her support for Ruether is troubling.
[ix] Documentation from the writings of Dr. Padovano and the website of Corpus can be supplied.
[x] See review of Constantine’s Sword by Robert Louis Wilken in Commonweal (Jan. 26, 2001).
[xi] Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, “A Call to Catholics,” Newsweek (November 5, 2009).
[xii] In the summer of 2001 Sr. Chittister ignored admonitions by the Church that she not appear as a speaker at the Women’s Ordination Conference held in Dublin, Ireland. See Patty McCarty, “Nuns Firm Under Fire – Women’s Ordination Conference, Dublin Ireland,” National Catholic Reporter (July 13, 2001).
[xiii] See Alphonse de Valk, C.S.B. “Joan Chittister: Disloyalty as Obedience,” Catholic Insight (Jan./Feb. 2002).
[xiv] Lumen Gentium, 25.
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