In 2000, visitors at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala., were crying with joy before Mass as they watched more than 100 priests process in. The priests were members of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, who were at the shrine that year for their annual three-day convocation.
That event also marked the confraternity’s 25th anniversary. Founded in 1975, this organization for priests and deacons now has a presence on three continents, with 600 members in the United States, 300 in Australia and 100 in the United Kingdom.
The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (CCC) continues as a shining example of priests and deacons in fidelity to and in solidarity with the Holy Father and the full deposit of faith taught by him and the bishops in union with him.
One confraternity member at Hanceville in 2000 was Father John Trigilio Jr., then familiar to EWTN viewers as co-host of the Web of Faith series with Father Robert Levis, one of the confraternity’s co-founders.
Back in 1980, Father Trigilio became a CCC member as a seminarian. Today, he is in his 10th year as the confraternity’s president. This fall, he began co-hosting the new EWTN series Web of Faith 2.0 with Father Kenneth Brighenti, vice rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland and the confraternity’s secretary. They have co-authored several books, including Catholicism for Dummies.
"We are priests who say loyalty to the Holy Father and the magisterium is non-negotiable," Father Trigilio said, adding that the confraternity is an association aiming to unite the Church.
"The big goal of the confraternity is ongoing formation of the clergy," Father Trigilio explained, pointing out that everything from the documents of Vatican II to the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, canon law and popes like Blessed John Paul II — in his letter Pastores Dabo Vobis (On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day) — insist every ordained man must make time for his spiritual life.
Consequently, the confraternity’s fraternal get-togethers are built on four pillars of ongoing spiritual formation.
The goal is to meet once a month for an afternoon of formation. The first aspect is prayer: Before the Blessed Sacrament, the members pray the Divine Office and the Rosary and usually have Mass or Benediction. The men also have the opportunity to go to confession and receive spiritual direction. To be good spiritual directors, they must have spiritual direction themselves.
Then comes the theological-intellectual component. Those attending might hear an invited priest talk about current Church news or listen to a CD talk by a well-known priest like Father George Rutler or Father Joseph Fessio or read a papal document.
Next, the pastoral component allows priests and deacons to discuss how the topic can assist them in better helping their parish or ministry, always with the goal of aiding their flocks and growing in faith themselves.
The meeting ends with the human component — fraternity — as the men usually have dinner together. Camaraderie is especially important — the men have time to help support one another in their loyalty to the Pope and magisterium.
"The fraternity is important," noted Father Trigilio, "but the core has to be the prayer and the study component — discussing theological issues like documents on the faith from the Holy See or Cardinal [Raymond] Burke’s latest article."
The cardinal has been a friend of the confraternity and, in fact, gave a tour of the Apostolic Signatura — the Holy See’s Supreme Court — to confraternity members from all three international groups in Rome in 2010.
Father Trigilio emphasizes the importance of the meetings to fellow priests and deacons, saying that this "is not an option. This is essential. Like going to the dentist to keep your teeth in shape, like getting the oil changed to keep your car in shape, and like saying Mass, praying the [Divine] Office and going to visit the sick is essential, you’ve got to be loyal to your ongoing formation."
Jesus got together regularly with The Twelve, after all.
As pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Marysville, Pa., Father Trigilio knows that firsthand.
One of the largest U.S. confraternity chapters is in the Los Angeles area. Started in the mid-1990s, it typically averages 15 to 20 at the monthly meetings and 40 or more at the annual retreat, which features a nationally recognized priest as speaker.
Father Marcos Gonzalez, pastor of St. John Chrysostom Church in Inglewood, Calif., was a member even before this local chapter started — he joined as a seminarian.
"There were 14 of us in our class, and we wanted a group to meet, support each other, pray together and be priests who are faithful," he said. "We didn’t want to be hearing dissent (from those who want) to change the Church constantly. We were interested in how to make people better Catholics, how to make them holy, how to get them to heaven. And the confraternity had those exact goals."
When he was ordained in 1994, he and his fellow priests started a CCC chapter.
"We had 20 priests as founding members, and all stayed with it," said Father Gonzalez. "We haven’t changed the formula because it works. It fulfills a need that most priests know they have.
"I don’t think priests, especially diocesan priests in our American society today, can afford to be lone rangers. We’re all in the same boat, with the same challenges, and need the support of other priests."
The same holds true for the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. The ACCC national chairman, Father John Walshe, said that newly ordained priests are joining the organization, which is now 300 strong.
"We have always experienced a sense of support and a joy at sharing in the ministerial priesthood," Father Walshe reported via email. "We are able to address the matters that concern us as priests and pastors and draw on the received wisdom of the Church’s teaching and the wide and diverse experience of the members.
"There is a wonderful joy and sense of hope amongst the members of the ACCC. Though the challenges we face — with declining numbers (of clergy) and rampant secularism — are immense, the unity we share as priests impels us to greater fidelity and zeal."
Three of the ACCC’s member priests have become bishops, including Bishop Peter Elliot of Melbourne.
Back in America, by its scope, the CCC serves the interests of bishops, priests and deacons at a national level, said Bishop Glen John Provost, who heads the Lake Charles, La., Diocese.
He was a featured speaker at the confraternity’s annual convocation in Chicago this past summer. Joining him was Father Roger Landry of Fall River, Mass., who is frequently seen on EWTN.
"As clerics, we always benefit from input at a broader level," Bishop Provost said. "The benefit is not only intellectual, but also practical: making an application to pastoral ministry of constructive ideas and vibrant spiritual lives."
Of the CCC, he observed: "There is an advantage to the priest individually, but if it’s positive and vibrant, it can’t help but affect the people he serves."
Two things about the confraternity’s conference made an impression on Bishop Provost.
First, having time after the presentations to ask questions and enter into discussions with the speakers, "I felt there was a constructive dialogue theologically," he said.
Second, the meeting reflected an atmosphere of prayer. "As clerics, we have opportunities for this communal dimension of prayer, but to have the experience with others actively engaged throughout the country is most affirming," he said.
"The priest knows he is not alone in his zeal for the Church and the Gospel," added Bishop Provost. "There are others who feel like he does about his work in ministry. In and of itself, when priests just get together to pray, share ideas and listen to presentations, (that) is very positive. I think priests need that. We have a lot of good priests, and they need to be encouraged and affirmed."
In addition to the annual three-day national convocation — for the 2013 annual convocation, members will return to Hanceville, where, hopefully, hundreds will process into the shrine — an international gathering in Rome occurs every five years.
Closer to home, the confraternity is taking this Year of Faith to heart, with members renewing their Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity every Thursday in honor of the Last Supper, when Christ instituted the sacrament of holy orders. (Father Trigilio sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI about the confraternity’s pledge for the Year of Faith.)
Father Trigilio would like clergy all over the country to learn about and join the confraternity. Any priest can attend. A monthly meeting can start with a group as small as two or three priests.
Two seminaries have groups — Mount St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of New York.
Members can keep up with what’s going on at CatholicClergy.net, as well as via Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.
Knowing the benefits for clergy, Father Trigilio counsels laypeople to inform their pastors and associate priests about the confraternity and consider giving them a gift of membership.
"Encourage them," he said. "Tell them: ‘Father you need time off — time for your spirituality.’ They need to know their parishioners want and support them to go to these things to help them grow even more spiritually as priests, deacons and pastors."
Through the confraternity, clergy discover a greater appreciation for the Church’s history and richness, which has always been their Godly goal.
"You feel you’re part of something bigger than yourself and your diocese," explained Father Trigilio. "The diocese is part of the universal Church, and the confraternity is part of that."
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.