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BY Gary Griffith
IN THE AFTERMATH of a successful Nov.15-17 conference in Sterling Heights, Mich., Call to Holiness's general chairman, Geno Vitale, now finds himself at the helm of a national organization that has a board of directors, a mission statement in-the-works and a goal: “to be a strong lay voice in defense of the Catholic Church, serving mainly in an educational role.”
Jay McNally, who served as media director for the Call to Holiness (CTH) convention, recalls that initially CTH was organized as a response to a major Call to Action (CTA) conference the same weekend in Detroit.CTAis a national organization demanding extensive change in the Church's approach to sexuality, celibacy, priestly ordination, abortion, birth control, the papacy and episcopal appointments, among other issues.
The CTH conference was scheduled to counteract what its organizers expected would be a very public CTA event — and one that would be favorably received by the media and some local parishes.At first a one-day convention was planned, but when Father Joseph Fessio SJ, who heads San-Francisco-based Ignatius Press, threw his support behind the CTH effort, it was upgraded to a three-day national conference with such high-profile speakers as Mother Angelica, Father John Hardon SJ, Father Richard Welch CSsR, writers E.Michael Jones and Donna Steichen, as well as Fessio himself.The conference drew approximately 2,000 people, mostly from the Detroit area.
Though CTAdrew closer to 5,000 attendees, McNally said the enthusiastic “response” to the Call to Holiness event — despite the precious little lead time to organize it — encouraged the planners to believe that a more permanent initiative could be successful.
Vitale and the other CTH board members have big plans. “We will definitely have another conference next November in the Detroit area and we plan to have members from the Church hierarchy present,” he said. “We also want to organize state conferences.We want to have a presence in every parish in the country.Most Catholics no longer know the truth about their religion, and in many cases they are being taught something different.”
A Call to Holiness manual has been completed, presumably to help parishes organize Call to Holiness chapters. Vitale, however, was reluctant to reveal much about it except to say it has already been completed.
That reticence about discussing the CTH's internal workings seems apparent among those involved with organizing it.Most, for example, declined to reveal the names of priests or Religious who helped organize the CTH event.Their fear: reprisal from local parishes.
When asked why an organization that professes a strong allegiance to the Pope and Magisterium, and which supports Catholic teaching, operates with such caution, Vitale said CTH organizers remain convinced that many in the Archdiocese of Detroit support Call to Action “in a quiet, subversive way.”
“I know of at least three parishes in the archdiocese who openly promoted the Call to Action [conference], and many others who were in support.” Vitale and McNally both cite a report in this month's Catholic World Report magazine that the director of the Office of Catechetics and Religious Education, Sister Betty Flaherty, told directors of religious education they could attend CTA if they didn't wear their name tags.
The director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Ned McGrath, told the Register that the archdiocese had no reports confirming that allegation, nor was he aware of any tensions within the archdiocese regarding CTH members.
But Vitale said the archdiocese has kept its distance from the CTH. “There were four bishops at CTA, one from our very own archdiocese, and we had none [attending]. Now what impression does that leave? It leaves the impression that [the archdiocese] thought more of Call to Action than they did [of Call to Holiness].”
Sources confirm that four bishops did attend the CTA conference, and that one auxiliary bishop from the archdiocese, Thomas Gumbleton, was a speaker there. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, Bishop Gumbleton addressed “the history of Call to Action,” which presumably refers to the U.S.bishops' original Call to Action conference in 1976.The archdiocese points out that that gathering was in no way related to the current Call to Action.
Officially, Cardinal Adam Maida has tried to distance himself from both Call to Holiness and Call to Action.In an October edition of his diocesan newspaper, The Michigan Catholic, he said, “I do not think it is appropriate for parishes to finance or encourage the sending of Church staff to the Call to Action….What Catholics do not have the right to do is openly dissent from Church teaching …we cannot support a dialogue that publicly contradicts matters of doctrine.And regrettably, Call to Action appears to do just that.”
However, in a more conciliatory tone, he continued, “I've noted that there are modules and speakers [at CTA] covering a variety of topics that appear to be in conformity with Church teaching and discipline. Some could even be helpful.”
In the same article, the cardinal only briefly remarked on Call to Holiness, but his message was unequivocal. “I would also like to make clear that I do not think it is helpful when individuals or groups of individuals organize counter gatherings or protests as a response to Call to Action.Especially lamentable is when some of these individuals or groups criticize — even campaign against — select pastors or other priests accusing them of infidelity to our Holy Father or Church teaching.Confronting one's pastor or other priests is certainly not working for the unity of the Church.If we truly love and respect the Church and its teaching, we will at the same time love and respect the ministers of the Church.”
The cardinal's words were apparently enough to cool even stalwart defenders of Catholic teaching to the CTH's counterconvention idea.Even the Knights of Columbus withdrew their support from the event at the last minute.
The 2,000 who did turn out got pointers about taking the high road, even when confronting the problem of dissent from Catholic teaching in parishes.Father Richard Welch, a speaker at CTH, listed nine rules. “Don't whine; network with others to see how they handled similar situations; get your facts straight; seek documentation; put concerns in writing — don't be emotional; state clearly the sequence of events, problems and concerns; do homework; hand deliver your letter to your pastor or bishop; be patient.”
Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), put it more bluntly: “The Church has had her birth, her infancy, adolescence, adulthood and now her agony.Be courageous and brave.You have nothing to fear.[The Church] may be wounded, but we can heal her with our zeal, love and compassion.Do not give others a power they don't possess. Be Catholic and be proud of it.”
Gary Griffith is based in Page, Ariz.