10 Jun 2011

Catholic reform groups hold conference in Detroit, Archbishop warns priests who attend could be defrocked

Detroit Free Press   -  June 8, 2011

Liberal Catholics pushing changes in the church to gather in Detroit


Calling for more democracy within the Catholic Church, liberal Catholics from around the world are coming to Detroit this weekend for a conference to help revitalize what they say is an archaic institution in need of reform.

Sponsored by the American Catholic Council, an organization of 30 Catholic reform groups across the U.S., the conference is three years in the making and comes on the 35th anniversary of a gathering in Detroit to talk about church reforms led by then-Cardinal John Dearden, the former archbishop of Detroit.

The conference is expected to call for more democratic decision-making in the church and the possibility of allowing women into the priesthood, as well as married priests. More than 1,800 have already registered, organizers say.

The council wants to "engage all Catholics in the United States in a dialogue about what the problems of the church are," said co-organizer John Hushon, a Catholic attorney from Florida.

But Catholic leaders warn that the gathering at Cobo Center is not sanctioned by the church, as the 1976 event was. So they're supporting a conference in Livonia for conservative Catholics planned for the same weekend.

In a letter sent Friday to local priests and deacons, Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron cautioned Catholics to stay away. In particular, he warned clergy not to attend a Sunday mass at Cobo, saying that anyone involved could be defrocked.

Dueling events show schism

Two competing visions of the Catholic Church's future will play out in metro Detroit this weekend with separate conferences -- one liberal, the other conservative -- that are expected to draw thousands.

The liberal one, sponsored by the American Catholic Council, is set to be one of the biggest gatherings of left-leaning Catholics in years, a three-day event that will attract high-profile critics of the church and about 2,000 Catholics from around the world to Detroit.

At the same time, the Archdiocese of Detroit is supporting a more conservative conference in Livonia, which will feature speakers who will critique the American Catholic Council's vision and explain the church's views.

In a letter sent Friday to local priests, Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron revealed the tensions the conference is causing.

Vigneron said he made "attempts to engage in a dialogue with (the American Catholic Council) about this planned event," but "the organizers of this conference have not replied to me directly."

He cautioned Catholics, especially priests, to stay away from the conference, saying the council may have a mass that violates church teachings. Also, the archdiocese released a detailed critique this week that says the council's gathering contradicts church beliefs.

Council organizers said they will not violate church policies.

The competing conferences come at a time of growing concern about people leaving the Catholic Church. Almost one of three people raised as Catholic in the U.S. have left the church, according to a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Catholics have experienced the greatest percentage-point loss of members of any major religion or denomination.

Both sides agree there's a problem, but they disagree on the solution. At the heart of the conflict is this question: What does it mean to be Catholic in the 21st Century?

The council is pushing for lay people to have a greater say in church decision-making, which is often top-down. And many are calling for women, gay and non-celibate priests, along with more of an emphasis on social justice issues rather than abortion or anti-birth control efforts. On Sunday, it plans to endorse a 10-point list of rights and responsibilities for Catholics.

Kathy Chateau, 54, of St. Clair Shores will be at the liberal conference in Detroit because she said she's fed up with the church's views on women and what she calls its lack of accountability over issues such as child abuse.

"The hierarchy of the church treats us like children, saying we can't discuss things, that things are off-limits," Chateau said. "But as adults, we have to be able to discuss things, we have to be able to talk about every issue."

Diane Korzeniewski, 49, of Warren supports the Livonia conference, saying that the council's members are not really acting as Catholics.

"The American Catholic Council ... is using the Catholic name in a disingenuous way ... with open dissent from authentic Catholic teaching," said Korzeniewski, who blogs on Catholicism at http://te-deum.blogspot.com . "The American Catholic Council can't redefine Catholicism."

Deborah Bloomfield, 60, of Wyandotte, one of the organizers of the Livonia conference, said that many in the council appear to be uninformed about the Catholic Church's teachings. She said they "want to undermine" the Catholic faith.

"They want the Catholic Church to change," she said. "But truth doesn't change."

Others say the church needs to change to survive.

Matt Jatczak, 31, of Livonia, head of the metro Detroit chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), will be at the American Catholic Council's conference, calling for the Catholic Church's leadership to be more open about child abuse by priests.

Jatczak wants local Catholic leaders to stop blocking proposed legislation in Lansing that would change the statutes of limitations for abuse claims. Catholic officials say the bill would be a radical departure from established policies, cause financial problems and be unfair because it doesn't target governments.

"In order for the church to retain their current credibility, they must do a far better job," Jatczak said.


Copy of letter sent Friday by Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron warning priests and deacons to stay away from a liberal conference in Detroit held by the American Catholic Council. If priests attend the Council’s Sunday mass, they could be defrocked, Vigneon writes.

My dear brother priests and deacons,

As you may be aware, a group calling itself the American Catholic Council will be meeting at Cobo Hall on the weekend of June 11 and 12. Despite my attempts to engage in a dialogue with them about this planned event, the organizers of this conference have not replied to me directly. I have a number of concerns about this event and caution any Catholic against participating for reasons expressed already in previous communications sent by the Archdiocese.

Of particular concern is the "Eucharistic Liturgy," noted on the schedule for this conference on Pentecost Sunday, June 12. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council instruct us, "Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop, to whom is committed the office of offering the worship of the Christian religion to the divine Majesty and of administering it in accordance with the Lord's commandments and with the Church's laws, as further defined by his particular judgment for his diocese." (Lumen Gentium, 26). I take my role as moderator of the liturgy for the archdiocese (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22) very seriously. To confirm the legitimacy of what they had planned, the ACC had been asked to provide details regarding this liturgy. The response received was ambiguous, and there are good reasons for believing forbidden concelebration will take place by the laity and with those not in full communion with the Church.

In order to fulfill my responsibilities, so clearly enunciated by the Second Vatican Council, of fostering of communion with both the local and the universal Church, I am compelled to caution any priests or deacons who may be considering participation in this liturgy. It is not being celebrated with my permission as required by the law and the good order of the People of God. Further, clergy should be aware of the impact of forbidden concelebration with those who are not in full communion (canons 908 and 1365). This is a serious delict, for which recourse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is required, and which may result in dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, 2001 and 2010).

I ask that you pray with me for the unity of the Church. As we commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin in this upcoming Solemnity, may the Holy Spirit come afresh on all of us, keeping us united in the love of God and keeping our attention and energies focused on the task of sharing Christ in and through His Church.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend

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National Catholic Reporter -  June 11, 2011

Hans Kung urges peaceful revolution against Roman absolutism

'few people realize how powerful the pope is,' Kung said

By Jerry Filteau

DETROIT -- Famed theologian Fr. Hans Kung has called for a “peaceful” revolution by world Catholics against the absolutism of papal power.

He made the call in a video message June 10, the first evening of a conference in Detroit of the American Catholic Council.

“I think few people realize how powerful the pope is,” Kung said, likening papal power today to the absolute power of French monarchs that the French people revolted against in 1789.

“We have to change an absolutist system without the French Revolution,” he said. “We have to have peaceful change.”

Kung, who was perhaps the most famous of the theological experts at the Second Vatican Council nearly 50 years ago, was born in Switzerland but spent most of his life teaching at the University of Tubingen, Germany.

Now 83, Kung is ecumenical professor emeritus at Tubingen and rarely travels for health reasons, so his message to the ACC was delivered in the form of a half-hour videotaped interview with American theologian Anthony T. Padovano, conducted last year at Kung’s home.

John Hushon, co-chairman of the ACC, said the conference, being held June 10-12 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall had more than 1,800 registered participants, from at least 44 states and 13 foreign countries.

In the interview with Kung, played on two giant screens in one of the convention center’s main rooms, the theologian predicted change in the church despite resistance from Rome. Vatican II “was a great success, but only 50 percent, he said.

On the one hand, he said, many reforms were realized, including renewal in the liturgy, a new appreciation of Scripture, and other significant changes such as recognition of the importance of the laity and the local church and various changes in church discipline.

“Unfortunately the council was not allowed to speak about the question of celibacy, about the question of birth control and contraception. Of course, ordination of women was far away from all the discussions,” he said.

“Many documents of the council are ambivalent documents because the Rome machinery -- the Roman Curia -- was able to stop any movement of reform, to stop it not completely, but half way.”

“What also I did not expect,” he added, was “that we could have such a restoration movement as under the Polish pope, and the German pope now.”

When asked what reasons he had for hope of reform in the church today, he answered that hope today is “sometimes a little difficult” in the face of a restorationist hierarchy, but “the world is moving on, going ahead, with or without the church” and “I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is stronger than the hierarchy.”

Referring to current crises in the church -- clerical sexual abuse of minors, the shortage of priests, alienation of women and youth -- he said, “Humanity learns most by suffering” -- whether in the church or in the recent U.S. economic crisis. Even though many economists and others saw the economic meltdown coming, “it was not possible to have a law in Congress before the catastrophe,” he said.

He said he thinks at least some Vatican officials are similarly recognizing that change is needed in the church.

“If we do not learn now, we have to suffer more -- more priests will be leaving, more parishes will be without pastors, more churches will be empty” and more young people and women will leave the church or dissociate internally from it, he said. “All these are indications, I think, that we have to change now.”

Chief sponsors the American Catholic Council are three independent Catholic groups seeking changes in the church: Voice of the Faithful, CORPUS and FutureChurch.

Hushon said when the ACC was formed three years ago it sought to create a “big tent dialogue among all” sectors of the U.S. church, independent of partisan or ideological lines, but “group after group, bishop after archbishop, said no, or ignored us.”

The divide was highlighted last October when Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit warned his priests and people against participating in the ACC conference.

It was exacerbated further June 3 when Vigneron threatened to laicize any priest or deacon who participated in the ACC closing liturgy Pentecost Sunday, June 12, saying, “There are good reasons for believing forbidden concelebration will take place by the laity and with those not in full communion with the church.”

In a pre-meeting exchange with NCR Hushon denied the claim and documented it with correspondence in which the ACC told the archdiocese that “there will be only one presider, a priest in good standing.”

The ACC chose Cobo Hall as its venue because this year is the 35th anniversary of the bicentennial Call to Action conference, a national gathering of Catholic laity sponsored by the U.S. bishops, was held there, with Detroit’s Cardinal John Dearden as presider and host.

The 1976 conference, despite its flaws, has been credited with providing groundwork for and impetus to the bishops’ economic and peace pastorals in the 1980s as well as greater attention to racism, minorities, family life, people with disabilities, respect for human life and a wide range of other pastoral and social justice initiatives developed nationally or in dioceses in the ensuing years.

[Jerry Filteau, NCR Washington correspondent, is covering the Detroit meeting. Watch NCRonline.org for updates.]

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Catholic theologian says secrecy, misogyny and resistance to reform in wake of clergy sex scandals will doom the church

Head of church-backed probe into Belgian clergy crimes says the Pope must set an example and resign

Dublin Archbishop says church self-centred, arrogant, failed children and rarely empathised with their pain 

Irish priest says cover-up of clergy abuse "goes right to the top in Rome"

Irish priest calls for Archbishops and investigators to pin blame on Vatican for central role in global clergy crimes crisis

How can Pope John Paul II be a saint when thousands of children were raped or molested by priests under his leadership?

Pope John Paul authorized 2001 letter to all bishops praising French bishop for hiding rapist priest from authorities

1963 letter by church expert on pedophile priests shows Pope Paul VI and Vatican officials ignored warnings to expel problem priests

Leaked confidential letter reveals Vatican's intention to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities

Trial of priest charged with sex abuse of boys in Rome as recently as 2008 undermines Pope's promises to protect children

Catholic dissidents protest at Vatican to urge change, Pope calls in priests to celebrate year of priesthood

Pope & Church tested by children's voices crying out for accountability and justice long after childhood 

Cover up of sex crimes by Chilean priests an example of how the church has handled abuse allegations globally 

Vatican officials, including future pope, refused to defrock "evil, remorseless sociopath" priest until 9 years after his first conviction for sex crimes

Why should the pope and other church officials get away with violating the rule of law and the rights of children?

Pope's promise to restore the purity of Catholicism almost impossible with scandals implicating entire church hierarchy

8 years after Malta priests charged for child sex crimes survivors still waiting for justice from state court and Church tribunal

Ottawa priest who served time for sex abuse of girls still saying mass, parish priest and congregation unaware of his past

Lawsuit forces Minneapolis Catholic prep school to release names of 17 monks credibly accused of child sex crimes


  1. Pope denounces dissident priests who question celibacy, ordaining women

    NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press April 05, 2012

    Pope Benedict XVI issued a blistering denunciation Thursday of priests who have questioned church teaching on celibacy and ordaining women, saying they were being selfish in disobeying his authority.

    Benedict made the rare and explicit criticism from the altar of St. Peter's Basilica in his homily on Holy Thursday, when priests recall the promises they made when ordained.

    In 2006, a group of Austrian priests launched the Pfarrer Initiative, a call to disobedience aimed at abolishing priestly celibacy and opening up the clergy to women to relieve the shortages of priests.

    Last June, the group's members essentially threatened a schism, saying the Vatican's refusal to hear their complaints left them no choice but to “follow our conscience and act independently.”

    They issued a revised call to disobedience in which they said parishes would celebrate Eucharistic services without priests, that they would let women preach, and they pledged to speak out publicly and frequently for a female and a married priesthood.

    The group now claims more than 300 Austrian priests and deacons as well as supporters in other countries, and its influence has grown to such an extent that top Austrian bishops met with Vatican officials in January to discuss how to handle them, Italian news reports said.

    So far, neither the Vatican nor the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn have publicly imposed any canonical penalties on them.

    In his homily, Benedict said the dissidents claim to be motivated by concern for the church. But he suggested that in reality they were just making “a desperate push to do something to change the church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas.”

    “We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date,” he said. “But is disobedience really a way to do this?”

    He said Jesus always followed true obedience to God's will, not “human caprice.”

    And he rejected the dissidents' idea that the church had been “fossilized” since the Second Vatican Council, saying that on the contrary, the growth of new religious movements in recent decades showed the vitality and true renewal of the church called for by the 1962-65 Vatican II.

    Holy Thursday homilies are often a bit unusual in that the pope uses them to issue direct messages to priests. In 2006, for example, Benedict read a letter written by a cleric who was killed as he prayed in Turkey.

    And on Holy Thursday in 2002, Pope John Paul II broke his silence over the explosion of the U.S. sex abuse scandal, denouncing the sins of priestly abusers and the “grave scandal” that was casting a “dark shadow of suspicion” over all priests.


  2. Vatican announces silencing of Irish liberal priest Father Tony Flannery

    By ANTOINETTE KELLY, IrishCentral Staff Writer April 6, 2012

    Father Tony Flannery, a Catholic priest who has been outspoken in his criticism of the abuse crisis in Ireland, has found himself under investigation by the Vatican for his liberal views.

    Founder of the Association of Irish Priests, Father Flannery told TheJournal.ie that the Vatican has contacted him to inform him of the investigation.

    The effect of the investigation was immediate. This week The Irish Catholic newspaper reports that Father Flannery had to cease writing his monthly column in the Redemptorist Reality magazine in response to news of the investigation.

    The Irish Catholic writer Michael Kelly reported that, “It is understood that while Fr Flannery has the support of his superiors in the Redemptorist Order, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome has expressed disquiet about some of his articles and publications.

    “It is believed that the views which have come under most scrutiny are Fr Flannery’s opposition to the Church’s ban on artificial birth control and his support for the ordination of women.”

    Last year, Father Flannery welcomed Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny's hard hitting criticism of the Church's decades long mishandling of the child sex abuse scandals in Ireland.

    The investigation is seen by critics as a crackdown on the association, which has been described as a 'dissident group' by more conservative members of the Church.

    In recent months, the association has called for changes in the Church, including its theology on sexuality. Some of the association’s priests contend that priests should be allowed to marry and that the Church should permit the ordination of female priests.

    A Redemptorist, Flannery is a native of Attymon, Athenry in County Galway, Ireland. He is the youngest in the family of four. He has two brothers: Peter, who is a fellow Redemptorist at Esker Monastery in Athenry, and Frank, the Fine Gael Director of Organisation and Strategy.

    The crackdown comes on the heels of the Vatican ordered Apostolic Visitation, which found evidence of what it called a 'certain tendency' for Irish priests to hold opinions that conflict with those of the orthodox Magisterium, the Catholic Church’s teaching authority.

    In a sign of hardening attitudes, the Visitation participants underlined that any dissent from the formal teachings of the Church were 'not the authentic path towards renewal.'

    Under the current circumstances, Father Flannery has been effectively silenced, with no indication of how long it will last.

    On Holy Thursday Pope Benedict issued a very direct statement which slammed those priests who refuse to conform to church teachings.