Facing De Facto Schism:

Los Angeles’ Call to Unholy Action

by Stephanie Block

It probably comes as no surprise to the participants of this conference that the Church is at present dealing with an internal schism. The now-deceased prelate, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, indirectly acknowledged this fracture through his promotion of the Common Ground Project which sought to provide hostile elements within the Church some sort of legitimacy - to give them a forum in which they might present, as equals, their various heresies and mutinies. The Common Ground Project was roundly repudiated, most notably by Cardinal Law, even as the dissidents themselves had earlier been denounced by the heroic Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska.

This schism - which has been alluded to, and warned about, and worried over by innumerable Catholic writers and thinkers - is here. Let’s not deceive ourselves. In dozens of dioceses around the United States, and around the world for that matter, large numbers of quasi-Catholics no longer believe what the Church believes, nor do they teach what the Church teaches. However, in many of these same dioceses, the schismatics and heretics operate from positions of power and authority.

As the nature of this schism is internal, it requires that those who love the Church make a very objective examination of each local diocese to identify those elements in it which are not Catholic, regardless of how they are paraded before the faithful. Those un-Catholic ideas, movements, and local organizations which operate from within each diocese, sometimes with the express blessing of the bishop and usually sustained with Catholic money, must not only be identified, but must be exposed. And not only must they be exposed, but they must be stopped, using all the charitable and God-given means the Christian has at his disposal. This is scripturally and canonically mandated.

Today we will examine in some detail the spiritual health of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. This Archdiocese is a spiritual mother to an enormous and diverse urban population, so it is not surprising - however deplorable - that one finds that the schismatic forces here are very strong, are well-organized, and are deeply entrenched.

Particularly, one can point to the Call to Action community in the Archdiocese. It is from this Call to Action community that the Archdiocese draws a number of speakers for its infamous but influential annual Religious Education Congress, which was held last weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center. It is also from this Call to Action community that a number of prominent Los Angeles Archdiocesan leaders operate. Therefore, a closer look at the Call to Action offensives, particularly as they intersect with the Archdiocese, would be valuable.

Call to Action: What is Call to Action? Twenty years ago, in late October 1976, the United States Catholic Bishops held a three-day Conference in Detroit. Delegates from across the United States came together to rubber-stamp nine position papers on eight predetermined topics.

The position papers had been prepared well in advance of the Conference by committees who based their "findings" on ideological prejudice. Hand-picked, "progressive" participants and tightly controlled use of the microphone during the Conference ensured that the orthodox voice would be stifled and that the nine position papers would be ratified. This is a standard technique of Alinsky-style organizing, so it was not surprising to learn that the organization of this first Call to Action Conference was choreographed by the Alinsky disciple, Monsignor Jack Egan of Chicago.

The nine position papers adopted by the 1976 Detroit Call to Action Conference were designed to raise an expectation among the faithful for a reconstructed, democratic Catholic Church, designed along humanistic lines. The Call to Action position papers demanded that

    divorced, remarried couples might receive Holy Communion;
    women be ordained as priests and as bishops;
    the Church reverse its doctrine about contraception;
    the Church mitigate its doctrine about abortion;
    the Church revise its defense of right to property and reasonable profit, and
    the Church be restructured non-hierarchically and democratically.

Twenty-two years later, Call to Action continues its openly rebellious and dissident positions against Catholic Church teaching on morals and discipline. On Pentecost 1996, Call to Action, with an openly stated mission to "reinvent the Church from the ground up," launched its "We Are Church: A Catholic Referendum." This referendum - this petition - contained a distillation of all the major Call to Action positions:

The Call to Action "We Are Church" referendum sought a popular, "democratic" selection of bishops and priests. Its objective is to reverse the organization of the Church, in which moral and teaching authority flows from Jesus Christ through the Pope to the Bishops, who have their authority only in so far as they operate in concert with the Pope. "Popular selection" of priests and bishops inverts this order, placing ultimate authority and power in the "people," rather than in God.

The Call to Action "We Are Church" referendum called for female ordination. The Catholic Church, however, has categorically affirmed its inability to alter the all-male priesthood. The Sacraments are not man-made rituals whose elements can be deleted or added at will. Rather, they have been instituted by Christ - by God Himself. Their elemental structures are essential - not accidental - to them. Ordinations of female priests are invalid and therefore invalidate all the other sacraments.

The "We Are Church" referendum called for a lifting of the discipline of clerical celibacy. This is a disciplinary issue. In the oriental Catholic rites, and in a few, isolated instances when married Anglican priests have converted to Catholicism, marriage in and of itself has clearly not been an obstacle to the priesthood. The Church, however, has looked to its priesthood to be an icon of Christ, living in imitation of Him, and visibly representing Him on earth. The discipline of clerical celibacy contributes to the "consecrating" - that is, the setting apart for holy work - of the ministerial priesthood as no other discipline can. But the Church could permit priests to marry. The real question in regard to married clergy, as raised by the distribution of the "We Are Church" petition, is whether it is appropriate for the laity to use political pressure tactics to strong-arm changes in the religious life.

The "We Are Church" referendum called for a change in the Church's moral stand concerning birth control, homosexuality, and other sexual issues. The Church and Scripture are unequivocal in proclaiming the unchanging, moral facts. Among these are that homosexual activity is an objectively disordered act; that birth control is intrinsically evil; and that willful abortion is an abomination.

The Call to Action "We Are Church" referendum called for a greater Church emphasis on social justice and environmental issues. This would be wonderful if the proposed actions had been based on the Church’s beautiful teachings on social justice and Catholic Action. These teachings explain that genuine social justice requires that it be constructed on Christ's truth and Christ's charity. Synthetic attempts to achieve "social justice" apart from Christ are destined to become cruel and perverse parodies. Call to Action members support a wide range of man-made "social solutions," most of them ideologically Marxist or liberationist, including the Alinsky-style organizations such as PICO, ACORN, and the Industrial Areas Foundation, of which all have local affiliates in the Los Angeles area, and all of which are heavily subsidized by the Catholic Church.

The Call to Action "We Are Church" referendum demanded so-called "freedom of speech" for Church theologians and bishops. The Church, however, does not deny any theologian or bishop the right to speak as conscience dictates. She does insist - quite reasonably - that dissenters not speak in Her name, as if their ideas represented Catholic thought. However, this is unsatisfactory to the dissenters. Call to Action-associated theologians and bishops - Kung, Curran, Untener, Gumbleton, and their like - want to retain the advantages of Catholic affiliation, while teaching a foreign doctrine. They want institutional approval for their amputation of the Church from the Faith.

As a corollary to the assertion that theologians deserve the right of "free speech," the Call to Action "We Are Church" referendum asserts that primacy of conscience must be respected in all moral decision-making, as if it is the conscience and not reality which determines right and wrong. In listening to Call to Action speakers around the country, it is apparent that there is little concern about the duty to ensure that the conscience is well-formed, and no apparent understanding that the measure of that well-formed conscience is to be found in the Church’s teachings. Rather, the Call to Action dissidents dogmatically assure us that adherence to Church teachings is pharisaic and that the individual is the measure of his own conscience.

In the light of such an agenda, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska excommunicated all Call to Action members within his diocese. By contrast, in Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahony has been reported [quote] "to hold no position on Call to Action…"

Yet, the Cardinal’s position of "no position" works in the organization’s favor. The Call to Action We Are Church petitions have been distributed freely around the Archdiocese, under the Cardinal’s very nose. For instance, We Are Church petitions were made available at the 1997 Fourth Annual Conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministries, where Cardinal Mahony celebrated Mass and attended the main banquet. As Cardinal Mahony held "no position" on Call to Action, he made no attempt to deter the petitioners.

We Are Church petitions were also promoted in the Archdiocese at Call to Action’s first West Coast Conference, held in August 1997, where future initiatives were planned to spread the Call to Action agenda. According to a promotional article in The Tidings, the West Coast Call to Action Conference featured:

    Michael Crosby, who challenges priestly celibacy and the papacy.

    Dr. Patricia Martens Miller, whose sex education materials provide children with detailed descriptions of morally forbidden behavior, using values clarification techniques to guide the child in making moral decisions.

    Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of News Ways Ministry, which promotes official Church acceptance of homosexual activity. And

    It featured a "liturgy" at which God was referred to as "Mother and Father." At this liturgy, the words of the consecration were said by the entire assembly, and the female-lay homilist accused the Vatican of "withholding" bread from homosexual persons. This is a clear distortion of the truth, as the Church has never denied the Eucharist to any homosexual person per se, except for the reasons She denies it to anyone - when they have fallen from grace.

One might argue that much of Call to Action’s activities are out of the sight and experience of the average Catholic, and this is true in many dioceses. In Los Angeles, however, Call to Action is permitted to function in the "mainstream" of the Archdiocese’s activities. A sampling of the Call to Action dissidents participating in the annual Los Angeles Archdiocesan Religious Education Congress is staggering: In addition to the above mentioned Call to Action speakers, Michael Crosby and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the Religious Education Congress has hosted Call to Action’s:

Father John Heagle and Sister Fran Ferder, who have taught that homosexuality is not a deviance, but a healthy alternative lifestyle.

Dolores Curran, who writes that the Church is an unjust and un-Christian power structure.

Sister Jose Hobday, a disciple of Matthew Fox and his creation spirituality. Hobday has been quoted as saying that Catholic teachers "should forget about any church doctrine prior to twenty years ago…cut the spiritual and emotional umbilical cord to the Church and start in a new direction."

In 1996, the Conference speakers included Call to Action’s Diana Hayes, who has said: "to ordain women into the Christian Church as it is presently constituted is to make them part of the oppressive structure which abuses and distorts its power and authority …. Dismantling the entire house [of the Church] is needed, from within and without, using tools of our own creation."

Call to Action’s Bishop Kenneth Untener who addressed the recent 1998 Congress, has openly and unabashedly come out in support of women priests and of "reopening the dialogue" on contraception.

How many dossiers of Congress speakers does it take before the pattern of dissent rouses Catholics to protest? When does it become apparent that those who are in authority - whose duty it is to preserve and transmit the faith - are quite comfortable with what Diana Hayes and Bishop Untener and Sister Hobday have to say?

The shepherd from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is not inclined to clean house. Despite having been flooded with information, Roger Cardinal Mahony has not merely permitted the Congress to proceed along its disastrous path; he has himself been a speaker for it! His 1997 Congress address was used to glean acceptance and support for the "diversity" of thinking that the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress welcomes. Cardinal Mahony’s talk was about the need to establish the Common Ground Project in Los Angeles. Mahony has rationalized and encouraged the dissent which finds abetment in his Archdiocese and said [quote], "Many times it [dissent] is just varied approaches to pastoral care."

How plausible is Mahony’s assertion that we have misunderstood the speakers at the Religious Education Congress? Are the more controversial speakers at the Congress really devout Catholics who express themselves differently from ecclesial Neanderthals - such as RCF supporters - Or, was Father Richard Sparks, another 1997 Congress speaker, closer to the mark when he said that [quote] "The Church can’t admit or face up to the fact that members don’t believe the teachings of the Church…" Is the dialogue proposed by the Common Ground Project between Catholics who simply have different "pastoral approaches" or between those who are Catholic and those who are no longer Catholic?

Let’s take one example. Father Richard Rohr (another Call to Action speaker) was one of the speakers last weekend at the Religious Education Congress. Is Rohr someone who demonstrates a "varied" approach to Catholic pastoral care or does he express essentially un-Catholic positions?

In October 1996, Fr. Rohr presided at a commitment ceremony between two lesbians during which he and another priest "blessed" their union. What sort of "pastoral care" is this? It would be the same sort of "pastoral care" if one were to "bless" the needles of a drug addict or the bottles of an alcoholic. Shall it be said to them: "Here, my friend. In this community you have found acceptance. Take this sanctified poison as a permanent commitment. Use it responsibly and rejoice in your unique gifts of dependency!" Is it "pastoral" or compassionate to bless the delusions of disorder and pretend their enslavement is a gift?

This is not pastoral care but pastoral malpractice! Again and again, the same confused - and confusing - speakers are invited back to the Religious Education Congress. They pour their pollution into the minds of area educators, who in turn carry an unhealthy formation back into their parishes. Is it any wonder that the Church has members who don’t believe in Her teachings? Despite years of protest from area Catholics, Cardinal Mahony continues to defend the work of the Congress and more: to promote the Common Ground initiative of dialogue with heterodox speakers as a vehicle by which they may attain an archdiocesan platform.

Richard Rohr’s Common Ground: The Common Ground Project is a Trojan Horse. Who promotes it? Who defends it? The strongest advocate for the Project is none other than Call to Action. The dissenters must gain some footing, some sense of legitimacy in the minds of the faithful, or their movement to "reinvent the church" will wither.

This weekend, Father Rohr is here in California, pushing for the Common Ground Project among the clergy, religious and lay leaders of Long Beach. Rohr’s Albuquerque Center for Action and Contemplation is the Call to Action hub for New Mexico, and last month Rohr provided a similar sales pitch for the Common Ground Project at a New Year’s Retreat in celebration of the Center’s Tenth Anniversary.

The "common ground" proposed by Father Rohr clearly has no relationship to an alternative approach to pastoral care: it is purely immoral. It is not rooted in the Gospel or in Church teaching, but is common ground only among those who have rejected Church and Scripture. For example, Father Rohr described the "common ground" he felt could be found in the issue of homosexuality. Between the two positions of the "anti-homosexual" on the one hand, and the hedonistic, narcissistic homosexual activist on the other is a territory that Rohr felt all but the most obstinate ought to be able to agree about, which was, among other things, the support of faithful, stable homosexual relationships. A faithful stable homosexual relationship, however, is not something that a Catholic, or any Bible-based faith, may encourage because homosexual activity, whether promiscuous or monogamous, is intrinsically disordered and objectively illicit.

How did Father Rohr slip past our unsuspecting and uncritical minds the assumption - and our tacit agreement - that stable, faithful homosexual coupling, including sexual intercourse, is morally acceptable? He did this by creating an image of two extremes - of two errors - that all but the most hardened would recognize as monstrous. It’s evil to maliciously hurt anyone. It’s evil to be hedonistic. Stability and fidelity, by contrast, seem such wholesome things. We are deluded into thinking that because "stability" and "fidelity" are usually virtuous and valuable, they can logically and ethically improve a sinful act. The alcoholic’s fidelity to his bottle, however, is part of his problem. Alcoholism renders him unfaithful to his real obligations. The homosexual’s monogamous stability is no enhancement of an unstable self-identity. Yet the Common Ground Initiative in New Mexico will attempt to persuade New Mexicans that a monogamous homosexual relationship is a moral improvement over promiscuous homosexual behavior and should therefore be promoted by all loving Catholic people. I suspect that the Common Ground Initiative in California will take a similar tack.

Father Rohr also described the so-called "common ground" to be discovered in the issue of abortion. Between the two "extremes" of zero-tolerance for abortion and those who are pro-abortion advocates, Rohr found the "common ground" of working together to prevent unwanted pregnancies, of teaching a "healthy" sexuality, of fighting for income equity and a more just society. This supposedly "common ground" proposed by Father Rohr effectively deactivates the pro-life movement and establishes programs that are either irrelevant or are themselves inherently attacks against life. Would it have satisfied the Jews of Hitler’s Germany to have been assured that the anti-Nazis and the pro-Nazis were going to set aside their differences, drop the controversial "Jewish problem," and work together on the common ground of income equity? How does this "common ground" address the problem that we have "legally" killed 40 million innocent children over the past 25 years. What possible benefit does this "common ground" have for the work of those who labor to create a "culture of life?"

So! How is the lay Catholic to respond? As Father Rohr is fond of saying, he is not the problem. If Catholics were well educated in the Faith and in basic moral principles, Father Rohr’s more objectionable articulations would find no fertile soil in which to take root. Father Rohr would not be invited to speak at Catholic functions, supported by Catholic money. Father Rohr would go the way of the Matthew Foxes of the earth, surrounded by a small band of like-minded souls, but largely ignored - certainly ignored by Catholics.

Nor is Cardinal Mahony the problem. While he has, certainly, tremendous moral responsibility, he remains able to say about those who protest the heterodox speakers at the Religious Education Congress [quote]: "We pay them absolutely no attention….I really feel sorry for them. They are simple people who have no influence." How can we fault Cardinal Mahony when we, the laity (with all too few exceptions), sit docilely in our parish pews and see nothing amiss? The religious dissenter meanwhile - who is indeed at liberty to follow his conscience and pursue his convictions - is sustained by stipends and benefits gleaned from the very institution he or she repudiates…and we sit docilely in our parish pews and make no protest. The religious dissenter robs us of our patrimony of the gospel - handed down to us from past generations (often at great cost)… and we sit blind and deaf and dumb in our pews. What our spiritual ancestors thought important enough to die for, we (with few exceptions) are content to live with. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the laity sit docilely in their pews and see nothing, while the Religious Education Congress disseminates error, year after year after year.

It is not Cardinal Mahony’s fault alone that the Catholic people gratuitously shower the dissenters with the use of Catholic resources. It is not Cardinal Mahony’s fault alone that the Catholic people are not rallying around the truths maintained by their Church for 2000 years. It is not Cardinal Mahony’s fault alone that the Catholic people are lukewarm. Pointing fingers and casting blame can only take us so far. If you and I are not courageous enough to stand on the public sidewalks with the other simple and un-influential people, if you and I are unwilling to risk ridicule and belittlement for our beliefs, how can we possibly expect that the Princes of the Church - embroiled in Byzantine intrigues of power and politics - to stake their reputations and social capital to defend the Truth? The problem, as always, lies in ourselves.

Do we imitate Christ? He proclaimed the moral truth when it was socially unacceptable to do so. He loved his brother enough to give him real food: to proclaim himself Real Bread, though the very concept drove people away. Are we ashamed of such certitude?

The schism in the Church is no longer a speculation. It exists here, in this Archdiocese, as a gaping, internal wound from which the Church is hemorrhaging. Our great problem is not the dissenters. Our great problem is to know how we - we who still believe what the Church teaches - how will we staunch the flow of dissent when we are so unwilling to be doctored ourselves? How will we cauterize the wound of schism, while we flinch before the corrective humiliation and discomfort of speaking out publicly against error? How will we recommence the great evangelical task of calling people to the good news of Christ crucified and Christ resurrected when we are reluctant to so much as contradict the neo-pagan who preaches female deities and unrestrained passion? How will we, the simple people, work in our own, small spheres of love and influence if we are not prepared - with all our strength, and all our hearts, and all our minds, and all our wills - to do God’s will?

And when we do God’s will, sooner or later even Cardinal Mahony will pay attention.

(1) See canon #229 regarding laity.

(2)This was under the auspices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

(3)Ad for the "We Are the Church," CTA National 1997 Conference, appearing in the National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 1997.

(4)California IAF affiliates: EVO: East Valley Organization - Baldwin Park, CA; SCOC: Southern California Organizing Committee - LA, CA; UNO: United Neighborhoods Organization - LA, CA [Project Vision/Hope in Youth]; VOICE: Valley Organized in Community Efforts - San Fernando, CA; BAOC: Bay Area Organizing Committee - San Francisco, CA [SF Organizing Project]; Sacramento Valley Organizing Committee - Sacramento, CA; SCOC: Sonoma County Faith-Based Community Organization - Sebastopal, CA [Pro-Youth & Napa Expansion]

(5)California PICO affiliates: Contra Costa County Interfaith - Richmond; Fresno Interfaith; Oakland Community Organizations; Orange County Congregation-Community Organization - Anaheim; Inland Congregations United for Change - San Bernardino; Sacramento Area Churches Together; San Diego Organizing Project; San Francisco Organizing Project; San Mateo County Organizing Project; People Acting in Community Together - San Jose; Interfaith Community Organizing - Santa Barbara; San Joaquin Interfaith Federation - Stockton.

(6)See Father William B. Smith, "Questions Answered," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, January 1988.

(7)"Dissent in the Archdiocese," Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission, September 1997, quoting Father Gregory Coiro, spokesman for Cardinal Mahony.

(8)The Los Angeles Archdiocesan newspaper

(9)Both were speakers at the 1998 Religious Education Conference.

(10)Heagle & Ferder addressed the Religious Education Conference in 1995. They returned in 1998. They were speakers at the 1996 National Call to Action Conference.

(11)Curran is a 1998 Religious Education Conference speaker and also spoke in 1996. She is an active member of the Rocky Mountain CTA and has had her views in support of women’s ordination published in CTA publication, Churchwatch. See "Treading the Famine Road," Churchwatch., May 1997.

(12)Keynote address at the 1990 Catholic Educator’s Convention in New Orleans. Hobday has spoken at the 1996 and 1997 National Call to Action Conferences. She was a speaker at the 1995 Religious Education Conference.

(13)Remarks at the Woman’s Ordination Committee, quoted in a California Coalition of Concerned American Roman Catholics 1996 flyer. Hayes addressed the 1996 and the 1997 National Call to Action Conferences.

(14)Untener is scheduled to speak at the 1998 Call to Action of Michigan Spring Conference.

(15)His talk was titled "Doctrine, Dissension, and Dialogue: Can We Talk Rather than Condemn?"

(16)Los Angeles Times, February 14, 1998

(17)Canon #217