Call to Action

Call to Action

Call to Action (CTA) is an organization that advocates for a variety of causes within the Roman Catholic Church. Call to Action's goals include women's ordination, an end to mandatory priestly celibacy, a change in the church's teaching on a variety of sexual matters, and a change to the way the church is governed. Call To Action has been criticized for its left-wing views by the Vatican which declared CTA's views to be irreconcilable with the Catholic faith; these controversial positions of CTA have even resulted in a general excommunication for all its members in one diocese in the United States.


In 1971, Pope Paul VI wrote that the laity of the Catholic Church should "take up as their own proper task the renewal of the temporal order". He further wrote that, "it is to all Christians that we address a fresh and insistent call to action." In response to this, the bishops of the United States put together the Call to Action Conference in Detroit, Michigan in 1976.

At the conclusion of this three-day conference, the 1,340 voting delegates voted that the Catholic Church should "reevaluate its positions on issues like celibacy for priests, the male-only clergy, homosexuality, birth control, and the involvement of every level of the church in important decisions," though they never explicitly proposed changing the Church's position on these issues. They also called for an end to racism, sexism, and militarism in the United States. [See the Call to Action website at]

Although many of the American bishops were sympathetic to the political aims of Call to Action, most of them disavowed or avoided discussing the conference's demands for changes to doctrine and organization within the Catholic Church. As a result, the Call to Action organization that was born out of the Detroit conference was a lay-run organization. By 1978, this organization had been formed in Chicago, and by the 1980s it had spread throughout the United States.

Controversies involving Call to Action

Ideological aspects

Within the American catholic experience, Call to Action is a liberal or left-wing organization. As a result, a number of other liberal organizations sometimes have overlapping membership with Call to Action, even if they do not share the exact same aims. Many conservative groups and individuals oppose Call to Action. [For example, see George A. Kelly, "The Battle for the American Church" (Doubleday, 1979), and Joseph Bottum, "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano", "First Things", October 2006, pp. 30-31.]

Some conservative Catholics were so disapproving of Call to Action that they supported Mother Angelica's formation of Call to Holiness, an organisation formed to counter the liberalism of Call to Action. [ [] .]

The Call to Action Conference also highlighted a potential rift within the so call "liberal" wing of the American Catholic experience what Fr. Andrew Greeley would describe in anticipation of the Conference which was only one part of the Catholic American Bicentennial Process, as a demarcation between the “old" catholic social actionist and the “new" catholic social actionist or the “pre-Berrigan” and “post-Berrigan” approaches to activism.

In “Catholic Social Activism – Real or Rad/Chic?”, Greeley saw the old social justice action in labor schools, labor priest, and community organizing that “mastered the politics of coalition building with the system.” Leading figures in that “old” tradition for Greeley were Ryan, Higgins, Egan and Baroni. On the other hand, the “new” Catholic action came out of the Berrigan experience and the peace movement and was heavily involved in confrontation and protest. CTA it would seem represents that "new" tradition. Its lack of tangible success in comparison to the "old" tradition, Greeley scathingly predicted:

"The old social actionists are largely men of action, doers, not talkers. The new social actionists are intellectuals...They are masters at manipulating words and sometimes ideas...They are fervent crusaders. [But] winning strikes, forming unions, organizing communities are not their 'things', they are much more concerned about creating world economic justice." [ Andrew Greeley, "Catholic Social Activism: Real or Rad/Chic?" The National Catholic Reporter February 7, 1975.]

Reactions from the Catholic hierarchy and theologians

Many Catholic church leaders have criticized Call to Action, primarily because the moral and juridical positions of the organization run counter to the established position of the Roman Catholic Church. Others have given them limited support while avoiding becoming too closely associated with the group. Still others have given public support to the organization. At the 1995 Call to Action conference, the controversial Bishop of Partenia Jacques Gaillot, the auxiliary Bishop of Detroit Thomas Gumbleton, and theologian Hans Küng, who was rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology, were among the featured speakers.

In recent years, Bishop Gumbleton has been among the few members of the American hierarchy to publicly support Call to Action. When Call to Action sponsored a speech by Gumbleton in Tucson, Arizona in February 2007, the Bishop of Tucson, Gerald F. Kicanas, refused permission for the speech to be held on church property. ["Arizona Daily Star", Jan. 30, 2007, online at [] .]

Excommunications in Lincoln, Nebraska

In 1996, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska issued, under certain conditions, an automatic interdict, which escalates after one month to an automatic excommunication, to members of several organizations, including Call to Action. [The bishop's statement can be found here [] . Under canon law (including canons 1323 and 1324 §3), automatic penalties (including interdict and excommunication) require certain conditions to be fulfilled, and thus not every member of Call to Action in the Diocese of Lincoln would necessarily be excommunicated by this edict.] The group appealed, but the excommunications were affirmed by the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican in 2006. The congregation's secretary, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, wrote to Bishop Bruskewitz that his action "was properly taken within your competence as pastor of that diocese." [Catholic News Service, "Vatican affirms excommunication of Call to Action members in Lincoln", at [] ; Associated Press, "Vatican Upholds Neb. Excommunications", at [] .]

The Congregation for Bishops was not primarily issuing a doctrinal statement regarding Call to Action, but was rather issuing a juridical statement saying that Bishop Bruskewitz had acted properly within his jurisdiction as ordinary of the Diocese of Lincoln. Although this does not have direct impact outside of this diocese, it almost certainly means that any other bishop who issued similar excommunications would be supported by the Vatican.

However, Re's statement did include some doctrinal statements regarding Call to Action's activities. Re wrote that "The judgment of the Holy See is that the activities of ‘Call to Action’ in the course of these years are in contrast with the Catholic faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint.... Thus to be a member of this association or to support it is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith." [, "Vatican confirms excommunication for US dissident group", at [] ; Catholic News Service, "Vatican affirms excommunication of Call to Action members in Lincoln", at [] .] It is unclear whether Re's reference to "the Holy See" indicates that this is the judgment of the pope or of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who have jurisdiction over doctrinal matters.

ee also

* Voice of the Faithful
* FutureChurch


External links

* [ Call to Action official website]

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