First comes the news that Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), the group that was founded during the height of the Church sex abuse scandals, is on the ropes economically. Bill Casey, chairman of VOTF's board of trustees, said that after meeting in an emergency session on July 9, the board decided it was faced with two choices: either cease operations or make an emergency appeal to members. He said the board is hoping to raise $60,000 by the end of this month to pay operating expenses for July and August. An emergency letter of appeal was sent to VOTF members and supporters. The group has already had to cut salaries and contracts and, if money doesn't start to come in, they will have to close their Needham, Mass. office and operate on a volunteer basis.
Second, as VOTF is languishing, a new group, American Catholic Council, is being born.
The first three names on American Catholic Council's Articles of Incorporation are officers and a trustee of VOTF: Daniel Bartley (President, VOTF), Janet Hauter (Vice President, VOTF), John D. Hushon (Trustee, VOTF). Also listed is journalist and former Jesuit priest Robert Blair Kaiser, author of Clerical Error (the story of the late Malachi Martin), A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future and, most recently Cardinal Mahony: A Novel in which Kaiser posits a concept of an "American Catholic Church" similar to the vision articulated by this new organization. Other signatories to the Articles of Incorporation are Dr. Leonard Swidler, a professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University, and Arline Nosse, who has been involved in a variety of philanthropic endeavors in the greater Cleveland area and who sits on the board of FutureChurch.
In its initial declaration, the American Catholic Council says:
After years of dialogue and experience with the often-unrealized reforms set in motion by the Second Vatican Council, the American Catholic Council, a coalition of representatives of organizations, communities and individuals, calls for a representative assembly of the Catholic Church in the United States to consider the state of our Church.
We do this because the Signs of the Times reveal a serious deterioration in the life of the Catholic Church in our country: We see:
- Closed parishes, broken communities, and unavailable sacraments.
- Sexually-abused children and young people and ineffective clerical response to correct this institutional sin.
- Dwindling financial support and widespread fiscal mismanagement.
- Paternalistic, monarchical leadership that is often unresponsive, repressive, and ineffective.
- A seriously compromised social justice mission–because internal institutional justice is lacking.
- Catholics abandoning the Church with demoralizing frequency.
- A community starved for a spirituality that fits our modern lives, consistent with out maturity, experience and education.
We acknowledge co-responsibility for these conditions for no community can be governed without its implicit or explicit consent. We “consent” with financial and personal support, with participation, or, often, with passivity.
We do not challenge the faith we were given or the essential beliefs of our creeds and councils. We do know that this faith is not tied to the governance structure of any one historical period or culture. We seek a Church in which all the baptized have an effective voice in decision-making and a ministry worthy of their calling.
We are wise enough to know that we shall never have a perfect Church. We do not, however, want to be far from a Church that is free and honest, even if it is one in which we are called at times to uncomfortable accountability and responsibility.
We seek a Church that is inclusive, compassionate, trustworthy, and representative.
We seek a Church that actively listens to the Spirit in its people and that worships and evangelizes in the fullness of that inspiration.
We seek a Church that addresses the spiritual hunger of all Catholics, including marginalized and former Catholics.
We seek to multiply the bread of the Eucharist so that a malnourished Catholic Community can encounter Christ with all the healing power of his sacramental presence through the preservation of parish community and a radically inclusive theology of ministry.
We seek reform of the governing structures in our Church so that they reflect the better aspects of the American experience: a democratic spirit, concern for human rights, freedom of speech and assembly, and a tradition of participation and representation.
AND WE SEEK TO DO THIS NOW...
Signatories to this declaration include the following organizations: Voice of the Faithful, FutureChurch, CORPUS, Women's Ordination Conference, National Coalition of American Nuns, Dignity USA, New Ways Ministry, Call To Action, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, We Are Church, and Catholics for Choice among others.
American Catholic Council plans to hold a national meeting on June 10-11 (Pentecost), 2011 following a series of local assemblies with a view to bringing together Catholics who want to reform the Catholic Church or at least bring it back to the spirit of Vatican II.
The ACC's actions have already drawn fire from traditional Catholics. Deacon Keith Fournier writes: "I have come to a conclusion, we need to do more than simply report on the dissenters who seek to change the Church rather than change themselves. We need to respond with an informal coalition, perhaps called “Catholics by Choice”; representing Catholic Christians who knowingly choose to embrace the fullness of the Christian faith found within the full communion of the Catholic Church with gratitude, fidelity and evangelistic zeal. I am one of those Catholics and I invite the global readers of Catholic Online who share this desire to consider a response to this newest effort to dissent from the Church."
Fournier says we need to stand up and say: "I am proud to be Catholic". Well, Deacon, I am proud to be Catholic too but that doesn't mean I can't see, denounce, and try to address the problems in our Church. Being "proud" is more than just sitting quietly in the pews while watching good theologians being silenced, gays excluded, women treated as second class, priests leaving in droves, vocations steadily declining, and parishes closed down because we cannot be bothered to reenvision the priesthood. Pride alone will not stem the flow of Hispanic Catholics to the evangelical sects because their needs are not being addressed by the Roman Catholic Church. This kind of "love it or leave it" pride does not lead to a Church that is universal and thriving but more like the Marine Corps slogan: few, proud, but semper fidelis. But those who are driving miles every Sunday to find an open Catholic church or who cannot take communion because [insert one of myriad reasons here] are asking: Faithful to what? And to what end?