In January, ex-Jesuit Robert Blair Kaiser, co-president of TakeBackOurChurch.org, formally announced the American Catholic Council, “aimed at creating a new kind of Church, both Catholic and American.” The proposal for such a council goes back to the summer 2007 newsletter of the Association for the Rights of Catholic in the Church – ARCC.
Reminiscent of the first Call to Action conference, convened in Detroit in 1976 amid bicentennial high hopes of creating a “democratic Catholic” church, the American Catholic Council will also meet in Detroit in the fall of 2011, the 35th Anniversary of that first Call to Action conference and the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. Again, like the original Call to Action Conference of 1976, the American Catholic Council is being preceded by several years of preparation that include “hearings” and “recommendations” about Church “problems.” [Leonard Swidler, “Proposal for an American Catholic Council,” ARCC Light, ARCC newsletter, May/June/July 2007] This time, however, the bishops will not be participating in the assault.
Kaiser and TakeBackOurChurch.org co-founder Robert Miller are extremely supportive of the idea, speaking about it at Call to Action and associated groups’ conferences for some time, promoting an autochthonous – that is, “native” – American Catholic Church. Being American and therefore, presumably, holding democratic ideals as a cultural birthright, this new, American Catholic “church” would elect its bishops and write a constitution for itself “that carefully puts aside the Rome-based secretive, half-vast, culturally-conditioned legalisms codified in canon law in return for the kind of servant Church envisioned at Vatican II.” [www.takebackourchurch.org/node/3, Mar 25, 2009]
Kaiser and Miller say there will be nothing schismatic about creating an American Catholic Church, modeled after all on “the Maronites, the Melchites, the Byzantines, the Copts and sixteen other autochthonous churches in the Middle East that are loyal to the pope, but glory in their own governance, their own married cl ergy, and their own liturgies.” [www.takebackourchurch.org/node/3, Mar 25, 2009]
None of the autochthonous churches they mention, however, comes with the “ordination” of women and the rejection of diverse Church teachings on a broad range of issues such as contraception, marriage, and homosexuality, etc., which have been part of Call to Action’s platform for decades. And an open letter from Leonard Swidler, one of the people behind the American Catholic Council, suggests that the 1976 Call to Action–Liberty and Justice for All – seeking these changes – be used as the resource document for the ACC.
Knowing this, it’s no surprise that the American Catholic Council is served by Call to Action and the related organization, Voice of the Faithful, activists. For example John Hushon, a Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) board member, and VOTF Vice President Janet Hauter, are serving as ACC co-chairs. Further, VOTF president Dan Bartley obtained a formal VOTF endorsement for the Council.
Call to Action’s Leonard Swidler, mentioned above as founder of the Association for the Rights of Catholic in the Church – ARCC, and one of the primary conveners of the American Catholic Council, has been promoting the idea of an independent church for years. Swidler developed VOTF’s “Constitution” with VOTF founding member Jim Muller, seeking election of priests and other members of the hierarchy, as well as endorsing abortion, contraception, homosexual relations, married clergy and women priests, divorce and a host of other Call to Action “reforms.” [Marianne Keating, Letter to the Editor, Lawrence Eagle Tribune, 11/9/02; Meg Murphy, “Walkout Ends Church Healing Session,” Lawrence Eagle Tribune, 10/31/02]
Committed to “radical inclusivity,” other Call to Action-related organizations forming the core group of American Catholic Council sponsors are Corpus (dedicated to the cause of ending the disciple of priestly celibacy), the Women’s Ordination Conference, and FutureChurch. Other interested groups include homosexual “rights” and peace activists. [americancatholiccouncil.org/updates, spring 2009]
Interestingly, one limit to the Council’s commitment to “radical inclusivity” concerns anyone with a traditional understanding of the Church or its teaching. They are the one group that isn’t welcome:
This qualification decision was made to ensure that groups committed to a pre-Vatican II restoration of a clerical, hierarchical Church or who rejected the roles and responsibilities of all baptized did not attempt to co-opt or abort the Council. We realized that the importance of Vatican II was often lost on Catholics born after the 1950s—but we decided that we could articulate the principles of Vat ican II without focusing on the Vatican Council itself. [americancatholiccouncil.org/updates, spring 2009]