Meeting of the ‘A Call to Action’ group and its supporters, October 10th 2012.
St Mary Abbot church, Kensington.
After enrolment at Heythrop College, the meeting of about 350 people gathered
at St Mary Abbot church, Kensington. Derek Reeve gave a brief introduction
with the story of the group from its inspiration for the Association of
Catholic Priests in Ireland through to today’s meeting, the numbers attending
exceeding all expectations.
Derek led us in a song to the Holy Spirit and a moment of prayer to make the
day a positive and spiritual encounter.
The Rev Gillean Craig, the vicar welcomed us to his church, and passed some
complimentary remarks about the Catholics concerning the great social mix who
came to Sunday Mass, the attachment to the life of the church rather than to a
particular individual priest in most cases, and the astonishing commitment of
many Catholic people with sacrifices given for what they hold dear. He
described Vatican II as a great act of courage and gave thanks for our
commitment and vision. He wished God’s blessing on our day.
Joe Ryan then reported on the meeting he and Pat McLoughlin had had with
Archbishop Nichols. The archbishop recognised that something needs to be done,
and after a fruitful conversation said he would like to observe and see how
the group develops.
We moved on to the four guest speakers.
Chris McDonnell, head teacher, spoke of the dream of Vatican II, which had not
come true. He also remarked on the dangerous times in the world as the Council
began, e.g. with the Cuban missile crisis, the US move towards the Vietnam war
etc. It was also a decade of excess and of confusion and doubt. Humanae Vitae,
1968, was a big stumbling block to the vision of Vatican II. Many priests felt
unable to comply, and its issues remain contentious still with many people
following their consciences. Two great changes were Episcopal collegiality and
the use of the vernacular. Great strides were made from the simple Dialogue
Mass that was in use just before the Council. Some people today want to return
to that perceived security. But we are a pilgrim Church in a pilgrim society..
Pot-shots continue to be taken against theologians such as E.Schillebeeckx.
Hans Kung has become dispirited. However, Kevin Kelly saw the Council as a
continuing exercise. He suggested that the bishops were not supporting the
people in their pain at the new translation of the Mass (this received to
spontaneous applause). Church teaching continues to be from a historical
perspective and distorts reality, something Cardinal Martini had said before
He concluded by asking how we make the Church, our Church, the Church of our
children? This is our responsibility.
Two questions were invited. The first queried the lack of mention of the
Pastoral Congress of 1980. Christ replied that it had been an event that was
followed by nothing. It could have implemented Vatican II better, but in
reality it fizzled out.
The second noted that there had been no mention of women priests in his talk.
Chris replied that he had been working on what might be achievable this year.
Catherine O’Donovan spoke next, and gave an account of her personal experience
of the times of the Council and thereafter, which would also be from a lady’s
point of view. During Vatican II she had lived in Rome as a Salvatorean
sister. She had lived through some years of the pontificate of the fairly
remote Pius XII, and then that of John XXIII, who promulgated the Council, and
who was far from remote as he visited people rather than giving only audiences
in his Palace. There were many tears in Rome when this irreplaceable pope
died. She had experienced the very positive time of liturgical changes, new
habits and broader social life. But at this time, women’s position did not
change, as can be seen in that part of Paul VI’s speech which closed the
Council referring to women.
During the Council, a Belgian cardinal had asked why no women were represented
in the Council Chamber, in response to which a token number were invited.
Women are still not sufficiently involved in the real life of the Church (i.e.
beyond flower arranging and cleaning)
The first question to Catherine enquired whether the ordination of women
should not be included in the agenda of today’s meeting. Catherine suggested
that C/E female clergy often show something men lack when helping with
personal situations. She also said that Cardinal Koenig had encouraged women
to get out and to speak up.. She agreed that women’s ordination should be on
She also suggested that Rome is living in the past. She herself is now a
teacher, and she felt that the Vatican does not appreciate how people are
suffering, what they are missing, etc.
Catherine was followed by Tom O’Loughlin, professor of historical theology at
Nottingham, who specialises in the early Church. He began by mentioning that
Catholics are not so well represented in the academic life of his university,
and then made three points:
1. There is a distinction to be drawn between Church as corporation and as
community. It is wrong to see it primarily as corporation. The Church only
works if it is made up of human communities. More than 100/150 in a group and
it suffers; but the 100/150 size prospers. Better tiny churches in villages or
towns than great basilica-sized bodies of people. There is tension between the
corporation and the community, and the clergy have to cope with this and join
in the struggle.
2. Evangelisation is just one model for spreading the Gospel. It is a
structured thing. But the Church grows and reform happens when people make a
decision. There is a personal journey of discovery. This second takes the form
of a one to one encounter and is on a small scale. Evangelisation is
structured but it doesn’t become real until it is personal. Matthew ends his
Gospel by telling his disciples to go out and make disciples, Mt 28:16ff. And
also, in this personal encounter, the teacher changes and there is organic
3. The Holy Spirit is seen by some as only coming within the Church. But Pacem
in Terris presupposes the presence of the Spirit in the world. We should
assume the Spirit is there already. Paul sees the ‘unknown god’ as testimony
to the presence of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not tied to the corporation,
nor to a past (probably imaginary) ‘golden age’. And this all moves us to
The first question asked about ordaining married men at this time when married
C/E convert clergy can be ordained. Tom replied with saying how St Paul
appointed presbyters in his pastoral journey to be presiders. The corporation
of the Church puts celibacy and personal sanctity ahead of the responsibility
of presiding, whereas the first job is that of presiding, and where the Holy
Spirit would call someone (i.e.anyone).
The second question asked whether the Church should know more about the role
of women in the early Church.. Tom noted how we are all creatures of the times
in which we live, and how in the first days of the Church it would have been
unthinkable for anyone but a man to be host at a dinner; (he would be the
presider). But our understanding of host and presider has changed radically
and there is space to bring this to the question of an ordained woman presider
Fr Gerry Hughes SJ, former philosophy teacher and now at Oxford, then spoke.
At the time of Vatican II there was the great notion that the Spirit was
breathing everywhere and on everyone. This squared well with subsidiarity and
with local solutions being the best. But our over-centralised Church does not
Today there is fear. Many parishioners are afraid to talk frankly to their
parish priest, and vice versa. The ‘simple faithful’ have so much to tell and
share! Such sharing is more important than grandiose schemes. Rome has
recently taken concrete steps to keep control, e.g. the dismissal of an
Australian bishop. There are many other instances of this also.
We should try and create an atmosphere where people and priests and bishops
will talk with each other. ‘Call to Action’ should look for and diagnose
solutions without looking for grandiose schemes. It should organise meetings
where people can say what they think and expect to be heard. Authoritarianism
is rife in the Church, and it is the enemy of truth. Fear keeps the lid on
Call to Action could start with non-theological questions, such as
1. What to do with untended parishes. Celebrate Eucharistic services? Place of
women in them? Local people might take charge of local questions.
2. How can a foreign country impose a translation of the Mass on the English-
3. Concerning the appointment of a bishop, the people of a diocese should have
a major say.
But seeking permission concerning subsidiarity is pandering to an
authoritarian culture. The answer is to recognise that dialogue needs openness
with everyone respected.
Martin Pendergast, who lives in a parish where there is no resident priest,
told us how they celebrate services there, but added that he felt sub secreto
correspondence between Rome and bishops was excessive. Gerry contributed that
this sub secreto method was a powerful instrument in the hands of power: truth
suffers, respect for others too; it is contrary to the Holy Spirit.
Groups were sorted out; lunch was taken; groups formed in various places and
discussions followed, until,
Everyone present was thanked for their presence and contribution and asked to
be careful to refer to the group’s website: www.acalltoaction.org.uk
Chris McDonnell spoke again. He said how a lot of listening needs to be done,
and how there are many people who feel they have a right to speak. Priests
vary from their openness to this through to their refusal to discuss anything.
So, how can we talk to each other, including with those who have different
views. When we do we will discover the problems are we are facing.
Why, he asked, are we bothered about upsetting people? Why are we concerned
about being frank? But often people are lone voices and will not speak out.
Not enough forums exist for dialogue/conversation.. And also, you need to be
able to anticipate that when you speak you will be listened to, which often
does not happen.
Concerning structures at national level, Chris acknowledged that they can be
good, but that more local structures might be better because there you can
identify where and why the blocks exist. Slow, gradual steps and possibly are
more possible at the more local level and more likely to produce fruit. Also,
there is more the idea of come and talk. A national structure would serve more
just to give publicity.
There is evidence of the Holy Spirit among young people in parishes, and also
in our society – more indeed than in the Church.
Society shows great commitment to the poor – where the Church may be more
concerned with sex. Gay people and women’s issues receive more attention
outside the Church than inside. The Olympic and Paralympic Games had shown
the Spirit at work among people. There is the way the nation responds to
The hope was expressed that the Spirit had been present at St Mary Abbot, and
it appreciated how much He was needed so that the day did not stop in
Kensington. The Church needs to be more open and to talk about many things,
e.g. sexuality, because it is wanting in responding to life situations.
Tom reflected on why Christianity was so successful during the first 350
years. We tend to think of structural unity in the early Church and not much
diversity. But the early Church was as varied as you could imagine. Diversity
allowed it to put deep roots in very disparate communities. And the trade
routes kept Christians in touch with each other and gave them unity. The
Church should exist in the diversity of the groups it produces, and its unity
flow from that. And this gives a different notion of the problems seen in the
(I haven’t attributed some of the above to Gerry Hughes, as I should have
Pat McLoughlin wound things up. He described the core group, now of 9 members,
emphasised that we are a lay as well as clerical group, how we need to lose
fear and how blind loyalty to the pope is not healthy. We pray for the work of
the synod now meeting in Rome. We are not an issues group and seek to help the
bishops. There is need of conversation/dialogue. We should start work on the
diocesan level and form groups.
A personal post script. We 350 present were probably from the 5% in each
parish etc who generally get involved. As or more important (and challenging)
than meeting with bishops is to galvanise the remainder of the 5% and convert
some of the 95% (who since the time of our Lord went with the flow wherever it