Meeting of newly-formed Association of US Priests
Fifty priests from nine dioceses in five states of the USA gathered in Columbus, Ohio, on January 24, 2012, for a regional meeting of the newly formed Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP).
Their agenda included two talks, the first by Father Don Cozzens (Cleveland) on the consequences of making a commitment to the priesthood, the second by Father Jim Bacik (Toledo) on the “dialectical virtues” required of priests if they are to follow Christ faithfully. Small group discussions and organisational business items interspersed the day-long meeting.
This regional gathering reflects the AUSCP’s efforts to organise a collective voice for the Roman Catholic priests across the country.
AUSCP began in August of 2011 when 27 priests from 15 dioceses in 11 states plus one Religious Order priest met to found an association with two major goals: 1) to offer fraternal support to priests and 2) to create a collegial voice.
Most priests (many laity) know that there is a division among priests in the United States, basically three groups or “cohorts” of priests modeling their theology and ministry on Pope John XXIII/Vatican II, Pope John Paul II, or Pope Benedict XVI.
In his presentation Father Bacik clarified the difference between Vatican II priests and JPII priests under two operative models of priesthood: servant/leader (inspired by Vatican II) or spiritual father (inspired by Pope John Paul II).
The servant/leader model tends to see a priest in terms of ministry shared with the laity, of witness to social justice issues, of exploring how the Gospel is to be translated into today’s world.
The spiritual father model tends to see a priest in terms of directing the laity in their service to the Church, of piety in prayer, of maintaining orthodoxy.
(The distinction between JPII priests and B16 priests is still being clarified, but the major difference may be that the latter are far less influenced by the letter and spirit of the Second Vatican Council.)
With rare exceptions the members of the AUSCP (some 420) are the seniors (over 55 years) of the US presby- terate, heavily influenced by the changes initiated by Vatican II.
One of the major topics of discussion at the regional meeting was the perception that the Curia and the last two popes have been pulling back on the reforms and vision articulated during the Second Vatican Council.
The most recent example of hierarchical backtracking is the newly required English translation of the Roman Missal.
Whereas Vatican II proposed that “the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of bishops’ conferences” (Lumen Gentium 22.2), the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments rejected the U.S. Bishops’ recommendation of an English translation and devised a different one. The United States Bishops submitted.
One of the priests attending the AUSCP regional meeting said he was reprimanded by his bishop for publicly criticizing the new translation and ordered by the bishop not to write any further about the liturgy.
Many members complained of the awkwardness of the Roman Missal translation, and acknowledged stumbling over some phrases and omitting others. Some thought the language harkened back to a theology of our “meriting” God’s love rather than the theology of seeing God’s grace and salvation as gift.
Still other priests acknowledged an atmosphere of fear in the Church, priests fearing their bishops, and bishops fearing the Curia.
Some lamented the inability to communicate with the hierarchy without fear of reprisal, and others acknow-ledged the threat to their personal integrity and the anxiety of following one’s conscience vis-a-vis Roman control and certain diocesan policies and practices. All seem eager to preserve the legacy of Vatican II.
The regional meeting also surfaced the priests’ love for their people and their deep appreciation of their role as presiders at liturgy.
Despite the expression of caution and concern, there was agreement on the hopes and dreams engendered by Vatican II and its aftermath.
From Fr. Norman Langenbrunner’s Blog