Monday, April 27, 2009

"Something Exciting and Joyous"

The April 18 Prayer Breakfast
of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform

Note: This piece was first written for and published on the Progressive Catholic Voice website. To leave a comment on this article, please do so here at the PCV site. Thanks.

On Saturday, April 18, the newly formed, Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform hosted a prayer breakfast at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley. The primary purpose of this event was to announce and plan a series of “Synods of the Baptized,” scheduled to take place within the local church over the next two-three years.

Bernie Rodel (pictured at left), a co-founding member of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, notes that the coalition is an “organized mechanism for speaking out.”

“We feel that it is necessary to unite the personnel and talents of a number of local reform organizations, to have a fusion of reform efforts that are organized, methodical, and articulate,” Rodel said. “We realize we need to develop a coalition focused upon action.”

Accordingly, the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) is the “coming together of organizations of concerned and caring Catholics who promote the full participation of the baptized in all aspects of church life.”

Member groups of CCCR include Call to Action-MN (CTA-MN), the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC), Corpus, Dignity Twin Cities, the Progressive Catholic Voice, and Roman Catholic Womenpriests, and the Minnesota St. Joan’s Community, dedicated to women’s ordination.

The coalition’s inaugural prayer breakfast on April 18 drew 160 people from across the Twin Cities metropolitan area and beyond.

A “Kingdom-Centered” Church

Rodel said that one of the first things that the CCCR Planning Committee needed to do was to reclaim and articulate an understanding of Church rooted in the original message of Jesus. It’s a reclamation to which others within the Church – including members of the hierarchy – have been committed. For as Rodel noted on April 18: “We chose to adopt the Asian bishops’ model of Church which took them nearly thirty years to develop.”

In explaining this model, Rodel observed that: “We’re seeing a shift from a ‘church centered’ ecclesiology to a ‘kingdom centered’ ecclesiology. In other words there is a shift from the behavior of the hierarchy which promotes predominately the welfare and triumph of the church as an organization. Everything is made to serve the church’s extension and influence.”

“In the ‘Kingdom-Centered’ church,” added Rodel, “the Reign of God and its values as proclaimed and lived by Jesus are the center around which everything revolves: forgiveness, reconciliation, justice and peace are extended to all.”

Rodel then proceeded to share five characteristics of a “Kingdom-Centered” church:

1. The church must be seen as a “communion of communities” where all the baptized recognize and accept each other as brothers and sisters.

2. In this ecclesiology there is an explicit and effective recognition of fundamental equality among all of the baptized.

3. Since the gifts of the Holy Spirit are gifts to all the baptized, the church has to have a participatory and collaborative nature of all its ministries.

4. The church must have a dialogical spirit since we need to proclaim the Gospel.

5. The church must be prophetic. We must transform this world and point it to the Kingdom that is yet to come.

Vision and Mission

Not surprisingly, a “Kingdom-centered” model of Church undergirds and supports the CCCR’s vision and mission. The coalition envisions a Church “fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus’ core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity, and transforming love.” To achieve this end, CCCR is dedicated to embodying a mission statement that will facilitate courageous and honest dialogue, assure full participation in the life of the church, promote justice and reconciliation in the church, explore Christian/Catholic identity, and witness to the unity of all people of good will while valuing diversity.

Rodel concluded his April 18 remarks by noting that, “as church reform is pursued the greatest temptation is to say that nothing does any good, and one would be better off to take off (both an internal and external emigration). Meantime, where hope is lacking, so is action!” Accordingly, he urged those in attendance to commit to a “Declaration Against Resignation.”

“We think it’s time for the Catholic Church to be transformed from a Roman ‘empire’ into a Catholic ‘commonwealth’,” said Rodel. “We need to ask each of you: Are you ready to move from ecclesiastical domination, from centrism, and from fear to the five values of the Coalition’s understanding of Church? Are you ready to work against disenfranchisement and toward an open Catholicity?

The thunderous applause and cheers from those in attendance clearly conveyed an affirmative answer to such crucial questions.

Many Voices, One Church

CCCR’s April 18 prayer breakfast began with a liturgy entitled “Many Voices, One Church.” This liturgy focused on claiming the “incomparable powers” and “unshackled grace” of baptism as together as Catholics we faithfully respond to the need for reform in the Church.

Part of the liturgy involved participants rejecting ways of thinking and behaving that keep them from God and thus from fully claiming their baptismal authority. These ways of thinking and behaving include dualism; systems of inequality and exclusion (including sexism, racism, heterosexism, and unjust economic arrangements); violence; environmental degradation; and the organization of medieval laws that disallow women, married couples, and same-sex partners from answering their God-given call to liturgical leadership, make it impossible for the Holy Spirit to move among the faithful, and exclude many within the Church from the Eucharistic table.

Participants also acknowledged and reaffirmed what it is they believed in, including an all-loving, inclusive God; Jesus “who became Christ and who calls us to carry out the mission of justice and mercy for all”; the Spirit experienced in the margins of life and in unexpected ways; a universal Church where ministry arises from baptism, charism, and discernment within and by the local church; and an emerging era of “both/and,” of “all of us” – a time, in other words, of “diversity within unity.”

Saturday’s prayer breakfast liturgy concluded with participants anointing one another with oil and acknowledging and celebrating that: “We, [God’s] people, were born of water and the Holy Spirit, and are members of Christ’s body, the Church. As Christ received a priestly, prophetic, and royal anointing, so have we at baptism. With this oil we recommit ourselves to faithfully following our baptismal vocation to reform God’s church in this era.”

Resurrection People

The keynote speaker at the CCCR’s April 18 prayer breakfast was Janet Hauter, vice-president of Voice of the Faithful (National) and co-chair of the American Catholic Council, who began her address to the 160 attendees by noting how scientists have been saying for some time that discovery, innovation, and creativity tend to start in multiple places simultaneously. In other words, when there’s an invention or an initiative in one place, then generally, within a very short period of time, the same invention and/or initiative takes place in one or more other parts of the world.

“That’s what I’m witnessing here today,” declared Hauter. “What I and others have been working on with the American Catholic Council and with Voice of the Faithful, parallels what you have already developed with the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform here in the Twin Cities. In your mission statement, your vision statement, the liturgy that really brought home your message, and the initiatives you are beginning to launch, I see something that is exciting and joyous.”

Hauter said that she was particularly excited because as Catholics we are living through a period where we are hearing very clearly God’s call to become resurrection people. “And as a resurrection people,” Hauter noted, “its time to get off our duff.”

“What’s exciting for me,” she said, “is that this newly founded coalition in the Twin Cities is working on the same reform agenda as Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, and the American Catholic Council.” For Hauter, this is a sign that the Spirit is engineering the movement of church reform in our time.

Furthermore, she noted that for some time now, “we have been saying to the hierarchy that as a Church we need to become inclusive, transparent, and accountable. More and more we’re seeing and hearing parish councils and diocesan groups using these words and insisting that they be made real. We’re making a difference.”

Hauter applauded the work of CCCR – especially its vision and mission statements. “We need to begin with a clear vision of the future. It’s a crucial first step,” she insisted. “You have already done that. Your mission statement is the means to the end, and the end is your vision of the Church.”

Leadership and Community-Building

In addition to establishing a clear vision, Hauter also noted that we “need to find the leaders who can implement this vision in a trustworthy fashion and with respect – with no screaming, shouting, and raised fists. We need to be mindful of the Church’s tradition and respectful of its doctrines. By moving forward together in such ways we will begin making and being the change we long to see.”

The issue of leadership in the reform movement is critical, Hauter said. “I can’t stress enough that if the people don’t believe that we can succeed, then all our efforts will fail. It is crucial that we show them potential and the possibility of a future Church that is inclusive, transparent, and accountable.”

As reform groups continue to emerge and energize themselves and grow, it is important, says Hauter, that the principles of community organizing become paramount to the leadership of these groups.

“Community organizing is a relational model that says you need to meet one-on-one; that you need to know one another in order to lead effectively,” Hauter told the prayer breakfast audience. “As that relational wheel begins to spin, you have people who can ‘sell’ the concept of reform to neighbors, friends, and family. Immediately it begins to grow by concentric circles.”

Intrinsic to this growth, says Hauter, is the “critical issue of communication.” She is adamant that “the more communication that we are able to generate about what we’re doing, whose doing it, how we’re doing it, and what has worked and what hasn’t, then the more faithful we’ll be to the vision of Church we’re striving for and the more successful we may well end up being.

Priest, Prophet, and King

“We have to repackage the dream of Church that Jesus intended,” Hauter insisted. “Jesus did not intend an institution-bound by hierarchical rules.”

Using a business analogy, Hauter said that as reform-dedicated Catholics “we need to create a climate for change because, bottom line, churches are in the relational business – our relation to Jesus, Jesus’ relation to us, our relation to one another.”

“If you focus on the issue of relationship, Hauter advised, “then you understand what it is we’re packaging and it becomes less threatening and overwhelming than looking at challenging the hierarchy.”

“Relationship-building is key,” she declared, “and the baptismal relationship that we have is key. I was thrilled when I heard that CCCR is building upon the foundation of baptism because at baptism we have been named priest, prophet, and king.”

In relation to this important insight, Hauter noted that each one of us needs to “become a new creation.” Change can only start inside of us as individuals first. We need to understand that we are in fact priest, prophet, and king. And we need to pass that truth on to others within our own communal structures.”

The Inevitability of Change

Hauter noted that one of the tragedies of both the sexual abuse crisis and the monarchical view of hierarchical rule that Catholics have tolerated for far too long is that we are losing our Catholic identity. “We have lost the understanding of what baptism truly means,” she said, “and we have become subservient to rules that make no sense.”

In addition, Hauter observed that reform-dedicated Catholics are “being attacked because members of the hierarchy perceive us to be against doctrine.” Citing the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis’ Office of the Vicar General’s dismissive statement about CCCR, Hauter said that this type of reaction “is a very typical and redundant cry of the hierarchy. It’s the only bullet in their gun.”

Hauter observed that there is a powerful fallacy within Roman Catholicism that the Church is incapable of change. Yet such thinking, she insists, is indeed a fallacy.

“Change,” says Hauter, “is not only possible but will happen in our life time.” Yet we have to understand the context of this change, she cautions.

“We need to know our stuff and we can’t afford to be bamboozled by the hierarchy. It’s very easy to know more than they know. They will always come at us with the comment that we are trying to change doctrine. This isn’t necessarily true, but as Tom Doyle says, ‘When change occurs, doctrine will follow.’ We may not be setting out to change doctrine, but the net effect is that that may happen.”

Hauter is convinced that as Catholics we are at a crossroads akin to the “perfect storm.” She notes that there have been fiscal mistakes that have been made across the Catholic world, along with sexual abuse cover-ups. “We are at a time when the vast majority of Catholics are either going to give up or join a church reform movement,” she said. “Our communication of the reform agenda is crucial to get them on board with us.”

Heralding the fact that CCCR’s prayer breakfast began with a “very, very powerful liturgy,” Hauter said that it is “crucial that we stay true to our roots, as the expression of rites and rituals will help us in our mission and work, and will nourish us as we face the dilemmas ahead.”

Next Steps

As Bernie Rodel mentioned in his April 18 presentation , the CCCR is a “coalition focused upon action.” Accordingly, it is planning a series of “Synods of the Baptized,” scheduled to take place in 2010 and 2011.

To help plan for the 2010 synod, CCCR is inviting people to be part of one or more “work/study groups.” The purpose of these groups is to gather people together who share a passion for reforming certain areas of church life. These areas – including official policies and practices – are ones that many have long recognized as being at odds with the Gospel message of love proclaimed by Jesus. These areas include clericalism, the selection of bishops, official teaching on sexuality and gender, and church authority and governance.

The idea is that at the 2010 synod, each work/study group will make their case for reform – offering recommendations and resolutions that will be voted on by the entire synod. In addition, one of the main goals of the 2010 synod is the establishment of a Coordinating Council which will communicate and implement the resolutions and recommendations passed by the synod.

Said another way, this Coordinating Council will be a representative organization – made up of representatives from the various work/study groups – dedicated to proactively communicating the reform agenda of, in time, both the 2010 and 2011 synods with all the baptized, including local church leaders.

At CCCR’s April 18 prayer breakfast, attendees reviewed the work/study groups already established and suggested additional groups. Approximately 100 people signed-up for the group/s they expressed interested in.

The groups already established are:

1. Bishop Selection
2. Clericalism in the Church/Post-Patriarchal Parish Culture
3. Local Church Organizational Change: How to Make It Happen
4. Church Authority and Governance
5. Sexual Orientation, Gender, and the Construction of a Healthy and Informed Theology of Human Sexuality
6. Catholic Identity/Christian Identity
7. Emerging Church/Intentional Eucharistic Communities
8. Catholic Spirituality
9. Ministry in the Service of Mission
10. Communication in a Polarized Community
11. Marriage
12. Social Justice

Other topics suggested for development:

Centrality of Eucharist
Increasing Inclusivity in Scripture and Lectionary
Children, Youth, and Family
Liturgy – Praying as Authentic Communities in Connection with the Universal Church
New Cosmology and How to Ritualize It

Note: For more information about these group and/or to sign-up, call Paula Ruddy at 612-379-1043. See also the CCCR website at

Would you like to comment on this article? Please do so here, where it was first published at the Progressive Catholic Voice. Thanks.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Many Voices, One Church
The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform
A Declaration for Reform and Renewal
The Call to Be Dialogical Catholics
Staying On Board
A Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage
Clearing the Debris

Recommended Off-site Link:
In What Sense Are We Progressive Catholics? - An Offering for Reflection and Discussion