We Are Church Intl.

Report on the American Catholic Council (Detroit, 10-12 June 2011)

by Vittorio Bellavite of “Noi Siamo Chiesa” Italy


Rome, July 2011

Back in 1976, in Detroit, a great Congress of the American Catholic Church took place. Its leader was Cardinal Dearden, bishop of the city and President of the U.S. bishops Conference. At this meeting 1300 were delegates with 1000 observers. It was called "Call to Action" and there were great plans for the renewal of the Church, noting that many statements of the Vatican 2 Council were in line with the rights and obligations of United States (which celebrated its two-hundredth anniversary in the same year). Now the big projects have stalled; the progressive bishops were replaced by others more in line with the thinking of the Magisterium; the shortage of clergy and pedophilia scandal [and many others], have changed the landscape of American Catholicism.

Driven by the difficulties of formal structures, growth of grassroots organizations independent of the hierarchy took place, being explicitly linked to Vatican II Council, similar to organizations that we have in Europe. On the feast of Pentecost in Detroit (10-12 June), these organisations formed the American Catholic Council (ACC) with explicit reference to the original meeting 35 years ago, not only in content but also in the same city, at the same convention center and a similar number of participants (about 1800), from all over the USA.


The radical difference in comparing the meeting with1976 was that the hierarchy was absent, distant and hostile! The bishop of Detroit, bishop Allen H. Vigneron urged Catholics in the diocese not to participate at the meeting, specifically warning priests from taking part in the final Eucharistic celebration, with the usual threat of disciplinary sanctions. The major sponsoring organizations, who have all learnt to ignore threats, were the Voice of the Faithful (started in Boston as a result of the pedophilia scandal), Future Church (engaged on with the problem of ministries, especially woman’s), Call to Action and Corpus (an association for married priests).

The meeting began on Friday 10, was well organized, alternating meetings of participants into 19 workshops over a whole mass of the themes of reconciling Catholicism. In addition, 27 “ action groups for reform" investigated practical ways of possible future initiatives. The speakers were all very effective and passionate. The most famous being Matthew Fox, theologian and writer who has written 95 theses nailed to the Wittenburg Cathedral, a Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, author of many books, well known in the secular world and also in Europe, Anthony Padovano, of Corpus and link with our European networks. A filmed interview with Hans Kung pointed out grafically that this Council is very close to what is happening in Europe. The focus on liberation theology has been demonstrated by the call Jeanette Rodriguez, who teaches in Seattle, but is of Ecuadorian origin.

What has surprised us in Europe has been a strong and explicit declaration of belonging to the Catholic Church, in a situation where, for the disappointed and concerned, it would be easy to find other Christian denominations, or even new independent churches, as well as those calling themselves Old Catholic. This bond remains and tends to express itself through a strong reproach to the ecclesiastical structures of having abandoned the Council V.2 and then the line that he almost put out of a genuine evangelical position. Relations with their bishops are almost non-existent. The calls, for example, to Pope John XXIII were very frequent and free speech against the Vatican is part of a widespread attitude, that Italy could rattle a few.

The main axis of the reports and interventions focused mainly on the problem of democracy in the Church, or rather its being the antagonist in every aspect of individual concerns and issues of the faitfull, the “dispensation” of sacraments, the organization and realisation of pastoral care and education activities. It is not difficult to suppose that this attention is consequential to the rights of the individual being written into the DNA of the people of US. It is inevitable that parishes and dioceses collide with the hierarchical and authoritarian system that exists in the “top down” approach to laity.

The pivotal moment of the ACC was the proclamation of the "Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsabilities". The report was prepared by a hundred meetings last year in all States and this text, approved by acclamation at the meeting, is still considered a text in progress, subject to further additions. The reading of ten points of the Bill and introductory text demonstrates, at best, the sensitivity of this Council and of Catholicism in this area. It can be said that the issue of social justice is only hinted at in the last point ("social justice in the world") and there are no explicit references to the problem of peace and war (in a country that has ongoing wars and bases military around the world). This seems to me an omission. Women's participation at the Council was seemingly dominant, very few young and noticeably absent Latinos (they are the new contribution to the catholic Church in the Southern states in the U.S.)

The Mass concluded the meeting on Sunday. The rhythm of the liturgy was not very different from the traditional ritual pattern (the customary prayer for the pope and the archbishop of the diocese were also said!). However, the homily was delivered by a woman and songs and prayers created an atmosphere both intense and engaging. 1500 present wore a large red stole, the symbol of the common priesthood of the faithful, with a written "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love".

There was a European delegation of nine people, two British, three Dutch, two Germans and two Italians, was agreed in Barcelona in early May at the joint meeting of the European-Network-on-the-Move and IMWAC (International Movement We Are Church). These two networks, which have complementary goals and act in a coordinated manner, for the first time in an organic manner by establishing relationships with organizations overseas, thus twinning. The overseas delegation was welcomed cordially . The intervention of Christian Weisner, Germany, the spokesman for the delegation, was warmly. This evident mutual sympathy is motivated not only by our proximity of analysis and of purpose within the Church, but also by the growing consensus, and now shared by ACC, for the project "Vatican Council: 50 Years" to be launched in Europe in 2008 by the abovementioned two networks. This aims to commemorate the anniversary (October 11, 1962) and the conclusion (8 December 1965) of the Council V.2.The project provides plans to conclude with a global meeting in Rome in December 2015. We not only intend to coordinate the many initiatives already begun but want, together, to elevate the revolution that was contained in the Council by reflection on the promises and vision not yet realized. More so, in the light of the new situations that face the Church today