Seeking a better Catholic Church

Opinion: Ken Trainor

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

On Pentecost weekend (no coincidence), 1,800 progressive, reform-minded Catholics came together from across the U.S. and Canada (plus a smattering from other parts of the world), to attend the American Catholic Council conference in Detroit. The ACC is an attempt to create an umbrella organization uniting smaller groups like Future Church, Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful, Pax Christi, Women's Ordination Conference, SNAP and CORPUS, among myriad others.

Someday, a better, healthier, more sustainable Catholic Church may look back on Pentecost weekend 2011 as a beginning worth remembering. That remains to be seen, of course, but whatever comes of this, it was a good first step.

The stated intent was "Reclaiming the Promise of Vatican II" on the eve of that historic council's 50th anniversary. This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the founding of Call to Action here in Detroit by the still-revered Cardinal John Dearden.

Those in attendance were treated to rousing oratory from charismatic speakers, such as Anthony Padovano, James Carroll, Matthew Fox and Joan Chittister. Smaller "breakout" sessions considered a wide range of specific "Reform in Action" topics.

The Catholic hierarchy does its best to discredit these folks as divisive, wild-eyed radicals and fringe loonies who lack credibility. The current Archbishop of Detroit, in fact, trash-talked the ACC even before it began.

But they came across as normal, mainstream, middle-class lay people (including several from Oak Park and River Forest) who love their Church too much to leave it in the hands of those who seem hell-bent (so to speak) on its destruction. The wonder is that in spite of getting no reinforcement whatsoever from the institutional Church over the last 40 years, Vatican II Catholics remain devoted — although many will tell you they're not waiting for the hierarchy to approve their efforts. They're forging ahead in the direction the Council intended. As Anthony Padovano meticulously pointed out, there is a long tradition of Catholics taking matters into their own hands — and that is frequently reflected in the wording of canon law.

Or as Joan Chittister put it, "This isn't heresy. This is history."

After observing "the lowerarchy" in action for three days, I have to say what they're asking for does not seem excessive or out of line.

They aren't trying to make the Church a democracy. They're trying to make it more democratic — as it was in its first thousand years. At the very least, they want Church governance to be less of a monarchy.

They're asking for intellectual freedom so theologians don't have to live under the constant threat of being silenced or even excommunicated.

They ask that women and married men be allowed to enter the ordained ministry so that an estimated 3,200 parishes don't have to function without resident priests.

They ask that the laity be allowed to join the clergy in electing their bishops, which would improve accountability.

They ask that lay men and women be given greater oversight of, or involvement in, parish finances and planning liturgical celebrations.

They ask that disagreement and dissent be valued as a necessary expression of the faithful, not as a threat to be suppressed.

They ask for greater transparency in diocesan governance to prevent future scandals involving clerical and episcopal abuse of power.

They ask that the next time the hierarchy wants to tinker with the liturgy, they make a good-faith effort to involve the laity, many of whom are intelligent, creative, educated and, like the clergy, filled with the Holy Spirit.

They ask that the Pope and the Curia publicly and enthusiastically affirm the spirit and specifics of Vatican II as we near its 50th anniversary, acknowledging that the Church is the entire people of God and celebrating the primacy of the individual's informed conscience.

They ask that formerly taboo topics such as birth control, women's ordination, optional celibacy, and acceptance of homosexuals be put on the table for honest, open discussion.

They ask for greater ecumenical dialogue with those outside the Church and greater dialogue within the Church among those who disagree.

They ask that the hierarchy do some serious soul-searching and revive the kind of Church that Jesus would recognize, a Church less concerned with temporal, earthly power and wealth and more concerned with all God's people, Catholic or not.

And they're asking for a Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

They ask, in other words, for what is reasonable to expect, given all that unfolded during Vatican II. They are not trying to divide or destroy the Church. They are trying to save this unhealthy, dysfunctional, overly centralized institution from its own self-destructive impulses.

It is a testament to their faith and devotion that even though the hierarchy goes out of its way to drive them out, they stay. But they don't stay quiet and they don't give up. They stay true to Vatican II, and their continuing presence must scare the bejesus (so to speak) out of the powers that be.

The lowerarchy represents the future of the Catholic Church — the empowered, emboldened, prophetic laity, just beginning to awaken. They can't be silenced, won't be driven underground, and their numbers will continue to grow as the corrupt, institutional structure continues its slow-motion implosion.

The Catholic Church has changed, is changing, will continue to change, and the Holy Spirit seems to want it that way. And if the Holy Spirit wants it that way, there's not a thing the institutional Church can do about it — except try to stall the progress. Church authority does not reside within the Vatican. It resides within the Church itself, and the Church, as we all know from Vatican II, is the people of God.

The era of "pay, pray and obey" Catholicism is ending. The laity has but one demand of the Church hierarchy — that they be treated like adults and fellow stakeholders, not passive children.

According to Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from Vatican II: "These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world."

The Catholics in Detroit on Pentecost weekend seem to be of the opinion that it's time for the laity to live up to its mission.


Reader Comments

48 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Paul Kendrick from Portland, Maine  

Posted: July 15th, 2011 9:50 AM

Read entire article by Tom Doyle, National Catholic Reporter June 22, 2011 "Detroit weekend of lectures, emotions neglects sex abuse crisis" "I was surprised to the point of being scandalized that the reform group leaders who put together the ACC treated the abuse phenomenon and consequently the victims, in such a dismissive manner."

Eireann D. from Oak Park  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 5:03 PM

@Happy: Trinity in Ireland is a Protestant institution.

Phil of Good Ideas  

Posted: June 28th, 2011 3:06 PM

The defenders of the Church here are in denial of their history of their leadership raping children or covering it up and instead act as victims of bigotry, or act as bigots themselves, by blaming homosexuality. Kinda real pathetic. Why doesn't Cardinal law return to the US?

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: June 28th, 2011 2:39 PM

IQ, yes I am Catholic, and your reply is almost as typical, unthinking, knee-jerk OP lefty as "too much Fox News in your diet?" I also researched your little IQ theory, and found 10 to 12 articles from high-level scholars completely debunking it. It was a nice try by Max Weber, but he left out many facts/variables too mundane to list here. You are free to pursue your faith, or lack thereof, as you choose. I bid you peace, comfortable in knowing that I and my Masters Degree are in a good place.

yonkerNissan from Chicago  

Posted: June 28th, 2011 12:45 PM

Yeah, the freedom asked for goes against the very fundamentals of 'western' religion. The only way to be truly free, is to leave. That's what this former religious novice has done. Its LIBERATING!


Posted: June 28th, 2011 9:31 AM

This anti-catholic stuff is ridiculous. If one were to say "people of European ancestry caused more death destruction and decimation of culture world wide than anyone else"... people might find this racist and insensitive. If not, they would still try to insist that such a judgment is somehow different...even if it is true. If such truths shouldn't be used to support bigotry, they shouldn't be used to bash Catholicism.

IQ Story from Oak Park  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 10:06 PM

Assuming #545 is Catholic, his(her) response is Exhibit A.


Posted: June 27th, 2011 12:12 AM

Dont forget about Trinity in Ireland

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 11:36 PM

IQ, you don't really believe that. The argument is nonsensical on its face, but gee, in the US alone, didn't catholics create entire school systems, along with world-class UNIVERSITIES? Places like Georgetown, Notre Dame, etc. where there were profs named Kelly, etc. Where they did scholarly things, and turned out grads who created business that fund the public school system here. Yes, celibacy sure diluted the gene pool! Why then do catholic schools turn out smarter kids than public schools?

IQ Story from O.P.  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 10:57 PM

The problem with catholics is celibacy. For 1500 yrs those with the intelligence to have a scholarly bent had to enter a monastery and take vows to gain access to books. Numerous IQ studies throughout Europe have documented the resulting lower IQ among Catholics than among Protestants. Such an abysmal policy: deplete the high end of the IQ's!! Anyone out there ever have a professor Kelly or O'Brien or Ryan?


Posted: June 26th, 2011 10:49 PM

May God Bless everyone. Can we all just get along. Peace

Another Perspective from Oak Pk  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 10:47 PM

Virgin births have been well documented biologically in many species. But since the woman only carries the female chromosome, the offspring can only be female. My issue with the C church is the corruption of monotheism in its efforts to humanize G-d. There is no "holy ghost" and there is no "son." Monotheism tells us there is one and only one G-d, not a trilogy. That's paganism and mythology, from which the C church borrows heavily to become palatable.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 10:46 PM

Nice effort, Judge, but no. Totalitarian Communism takes the prize as the institution most responsible for death, destruction, oppression, and continued evil against mankind. Half a billion and counting...nothing else comes close.

Judge from OP  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 10:37 PM

The Catholic Church has wrought more tragedy upon mankind than any other institution. Destruction of entire cultures (Mayas, etc.) with syphilis (read: rape) and influenza. Murderous bigotry against Jews (inquisition) and Muslims (crusades). Stifling of rational thought giving us the abysmal human condition known as the Dark Ages and the Crime of Galileo. And the rape of millions of boys worldwide for 2000 yrs. How about the Pope allowing Vatican Square to be the corral for Jews in WWII?

Okay Jim from OP  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 10:28 PM

Okay Jim. How about, one of them confesses to a priest and the priest, instead of telling him to go to the judge and admit the perjury and correct the wrong, has him say 5 "hail marys." Does a priest who won't do the right thing help condemn Catholicism? Now, for sure they'll delete these posts.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 8:38 PM

I hope it is not removed before you explain who and what the heck you are talking about! Three people behaving badly should not condemn the Church as a whole.

P M Ryan from Key Colony Beach  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 12:00 PM

Catholics taking back their religion; you have to love it!

Dutch Elm  

Posted: June 25th, 2011 9:10 AM

Since the WJ will not follow its own stated policy regarding offensive posts, all one can assume is that they are in agreement with the most egregiously offensive comments. That the writer of this commentary is also the Editor of this publication - presumably charged with the enforcement of said policies - only adds to the offence. But to those posting from outside the general readership, please note that this Editor, based on previous writings, has been running The Church of Ken for many years. Hatred of Catholics is as American as Huck Finn. It waxes and wanes. To my fellow Catholics I say: Turn the other cheek and take heart. Remember that the Church stands on the foundation of Faith and Reason. The lost, even some of the bigots, accept the Faith but hate the Reason. Always have. Always will.

Another OP resident from Oa  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 7:03 PM

The Church is fascinating. It's so old and ritualistic and peculiar.

epic lulz  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 6:42 PM

At what point did some Catholics become so confused that they equate anti-pedophilia with racism and anti-Catholicism? That in itself speaks volumes about how far in the closet of denial the Church still is. Here's hoping that the ACC and like-minded progressives can help steer the Church away from the cliff it seemingly insists on careening over.

When did....  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 6:09 PM

... the Wednesday Journal become online meetup for the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan? The unbridled anti-Catholic hate speech on this board is astounding.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 5:02 PM

When the Pope issues a statement indicating that some of these child abuse cases were the result of priests being seduced by their victims, it's impossible for me to support the Church. What we witnessed over these recent decades are the actions of a criminal enterprise. All of the guilty parties have not be prosecuted and it's is unlikely that the Vatican will ever fully cooperate with authorities to make certain the innocents receive the justice they deserve.

Moderate at all?  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 3:43 PM

Does WJ not moderate religiously bigoted comments at all, or only when they are directed against Catholics and their faith?

epic lulz  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 1:44 PM

"I love the Church as it stands today." Most pedophiles do.

Phil of Good Ideas  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 1:22 PM

OK, Nate. My argument is that the Church has forfeitted any and all credibility in preaching morality to people. Its allowance of child rapists and subsequent coverup proves this. Why is Bernard Law in Rome, and not Boston? Feelings are wrong, and blind obedience to the Church is right?


Posted: June 24th, 2011 12:58 PM

I love the Church as it stands today. I am saddened by articles like this that seem to misuse the Second Vatican Council to do whatever someone "feels" is right. Not once was a single argument reinforced by the wealth of Church documents from the Bible, Saints, Councils or Doctors. As 20 somethings, many of my friends and I are looking forward to end of these flawed arguments and the return to sound logic and theology of Christ's Church. If you want discussion then make an actual argument...

Dutch Elm  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 8:12 AM

Economically, and intellectually, we Boomers have had a profound effect on secular society. We were born into vast affluence. Our rebellion upended most secular institutions and re wrote the moral code. Now, on the eve of our "retirement", we have learned that to finance our lavish fantasies, we not only sold the store but pretty much picked the cupboard clean. (The national debate over deficits is essentially an argument over whether or not, economically speaking, the nation will allow the Boomers to eat their young.) Why were there hardly any young people at the Conference of the American Catholic Council? Because the poor kids, having suffered through the endless self "searching" of their tiresome elders know that we Boomers tend to selfish, capricious and often unreliable. The Church has been wise to resist the endless, solipsistic "needs" of my generation of little gods. We hallow out everything; then call it good.

Curious Reader from Oak Park  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 8:23 PM

If COMMENT BOARD meant we could be free to comment on the article without being judged by others - if we could refrain from judging others and at the same time learn and formulate and present our own unique opinion... so many people on these boards are just purging their passion here when they should be outside playing!!!

Outrageous comments!  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 6:28 PM

Wednesday Journal: Please delete the outrageous comment at Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 09:37 AM. See comment policy "You may not use language that abuses or discriminates on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability or nationality." If this is ok, what other religions can commenters accuse of being untrustworthy lying rapists? Disgusting.

Facebook Verified  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 5:53 PM

Does this mean murtagh is going away? What a delight? Now the Village can get on with its business and affordable housing projects. LoL

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 5:40 PM

The WJ Editor goes to a convention, writes a supportive note, and the WJ Comments fill up with out of state opinions. We have little choice but to play by the WJ's rules. If Dan Haley wants open opinions from across the country - to the national NRA and national Catholic Church Reformer he can. He owns the paper. Locals have the right to not post or reply to Comment subjects containing out of state opinions. That the route I will take. If I want national blog commentary, I will go to the NYT.

epic lulz  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 5:12 PM

Yeah, Danny, and some Orthodox Jewish communities also have a huge problem with child rape. They have their own little courts which largely absolve perpetrators, with the crimes never reported to the civil authorities. This is the common problem with any insular community. The ACC is simply calling on the Catholic Church to restructure itself to be less insular, to minimize the chance of this happening again. It does not make sense for anyone, except for pedophiles, to be against that.

Phil of Good Ideas  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 4:35 PM

OK, Danny. Point taken. Does this absolve the wrldwide cover up and protection of child rapists? Interesting that the Church's defenders here mock the detractors. Is this being Christ-like?

Danny Haszard  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 4:07 PM

Jehovahs Witnesses church sexual abuse. Many court documents and news events prove that Jehovahs Witnesses require two witnesses when a child comes forward with allegations of molestation within the congregation. Such allegations have customarily been treated as sins instead of crimes. It has also been shown that child molesters within the organization usually have not been identified to the congregation members or the public at large.

Marilyn Taplin from Mt. Vernon, WA  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 2:20 PM

Recently I read the following, "Since Vatican II (1962-5) we have made significant progress in our understanding of sin. Not everyone has been able to keep up to date with the new thinking. With that in mind we present in these articles the main fruits of the renewal in the Church's understanding of this basic Christian belief." May I add that if a Church does not know what is sin, then they do not know the purpose of Christianity. My book, A Law from Eden.


Posted: June 23rd, 2011 12:01 PM

Maureen Fiedler, a veteran of such conferences noted that the small gathering was a "greying" crowd of the "Vatican II generation". Compare that crowd to EWTN, the largest, fastest growing religious program in the world and a bastion of orthodoxy. Pope Benedict, regularly demonized by liberals as out of touch, attracts several hundred thousand kids, year after year, at World Youth Day. I wonder if Ken ever considered the correspondence between the annual shrinkage of protestant denominations and their straying from orthodoxy. Has he ever wondered if orthodoxy is the strength that allows the Church to continue to add members while other denominations shrink? How about the fact that the most conservative dioceses & orders have the greatest number of vocations? Forgetting about trivialities like what constitutes the True Church, why should a successful, growing, universal organization follow the example of failing organizations (i.e. the American Catholic Council)? Stop torturing yourself, Ken. Join the Universalist Unitarians. You'll be much happier.


Posted: June 23rd, 2011 9:49 AM

Never trust a catholic.

Patrick OMalley from Boston, MA  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 9:37 AM

The Catholic church is losing people at a record rate because you just can't trust them, and they don't follow God's laws. They raped thousands and thousands of God's children, moved, known pedophiles, covered it up, lied about it, and ignored the victims. Who would go to a church that does that? The Catholic church used to be able to hide the truth, but now it is there permanently on the Internet. The younger generation isn't going to be forced to go to such a church.

OP resident  

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 6:10 PM

Thank you so much for this piece. I hope it is widely shared. People who are not in the church don't understand the real grief and sense of loss that Catholics are going through right now. For those raised deeply immersed in the culture, it's not just a matter of "find a new church." It is a deep cultural and ethnic identity. (Humans aren't wired to just go shopping for a new identity.) I'm glad Catholics are fighting to save their church. (Signed, protestant married into VatII Catholic family)

epic lulz  

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 6:00 PM

This is some good stuff, Ken. Why are you not nationally syndicated?

Dutch Elm  

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 5:48 PM

Getting 1800 dissident Catholics (out of 68 million) from all corners of the United States into the Cobo Convention Center (capacity 10,000) is certainly newsworthy. Guess the PR campaign fizzled. On line photos of the event gives one the impression that this was a bit of a geezer fest. Hey, have any of you guys heard of World Youth Day? Guess you didn't make it on the program. Where have all the flowers gone?

Rev. Ray Dubuque from New Haven, CT  

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 4:59 PM

Most people who have owned cars know that there comes a day when you have to stop throwing good money after bad, give up on a car you may have loved and spring for a newer car. IMHO there's altogether too much wrong with the R.C. church for it to be "fixed". When I left the priesthood and the church 30 years ago, I had only an inkling of what was wrong with the church. But there was so much more. My http://JesusWouldBeFurious.Org shows how far from Jesus' vision Catholicism has strayed.

Candomarty from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 4:14 PM

Home run, Ken Trainor! You put together a terrific summary of where the Catholic Church (the one that follows the teachings of Jesus), as opposed to the Roman Church (the one where the hierarchy exercises its centuries-long power trip), needs to go in the immediate future. Love, not fear! --Proud member of the Lowerarchy


Posted: June 22nd, 2011 12:24 PM

Oh, so they want to be Protestant.


Posted: June 22nd, 2011 11:46 AM

TDJ assumes that people urging reform of the RCC have not read the documents. I happen to know many of them have not only read, but have studied the documents and taken them seriously. It's time the Catholic Church remodeled itself on Jesus instead of Constantine.

Phil of Good Ideas  

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 8:48 AM

The earlier comments basically say: love it or leave it. I suggest the writer leave it, as I did. Support for child rapists is not what Jesus taught.

REK from Victoria, TX  

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 8:09 AM

Amen! TDJ couldn't have said it better.


Posted: June 21st, 2011 11:48 PM

I am a lay person and an observant Catholic who has actually *read* the documents of Vatican II. What these people seek is to turn the Catholic Church into the Episcopal Church's eldest cousin. I invite the dissenters to either a. read the documents of Vatican II or b. join the Episcopal Church and be happy there and leave us Catholics to continue the real task of reform without slogans, buzz words, and heresy. -Theo

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2017

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2017 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad