Along with a couple thousand others, I spent the weekend in Milwaukee attending the annual convention of Call to Action (CTA), a beleaguered group of progressive Roman Catholics.  The conservative retrenchment of the Vatican and the American bishops marches on, and one wonders what the future holds for Catholic progressives.  I met hundreds of interesting persons with fascinating stories: former priests and nuns who are now married, many gays or parents of gays, and numerous women who have recently been ordained to the priesthood or who are anticipating ordination in the near future. 

“What,” you ask, “women ordained as Catholic priests?”

Roman Catholic Womenpriests is a movement less than a decade old that began with the 2002 ordination of seven women (six Europeans and one American).  Since then, the movement is growing rapidly (despite excommunications), and I can attest to a sense of vibrancy at the Womenpriests’ booth that attracted an earnest crowd.  One of the priests at the exhibit told me that their booth at the 2008 CTA Convention attracted a few curiosity seekers, but overall the mood was “don’t get too close to these excommunicated dissidents”.  Last year, at the 2009 CTA convention, she reported that the fear of contagion had dissipated and the curiosity level had increased dramatically.  This year, the Womenpriests booth was filled with visitors who had moved beyond curiosity to genuine interest.  Their US map with red and green dots signifying locations of ordained womenpriests and pending ordinations was a hit with many asking for more specifics so they could attend a nearby Eucharist celebrated by female clergy.

Are progressive Catholics coming to the realization that their future lies outside the patriarchal hierarchy and beyond the control of the Vatican?  If so, where?  If not, how can progressive Catholics effect reform within the existing conservative power structures?

Enter the American Catholic Council.  The Council also had an energetic presence at the CTA conference, passing out brochures inviting all to a Pentecost gathering next June.  CTA is one of the member organizations of the Council, which also includes other Catholic reform organizations.

American Catholic Council is a movement bringing together a network of individuals, organizations, and communities to consider the state and future of our Church. We believe our Church is at a turning point in its history. We recall the promise of the Second Vatican Council for a renaissance of the roles and responsibilities of all the Baptized through a radically inclusive and engaged relationship between the Church and the World.  We respond to the Spirit of Vatican II by summoning the Baptized together to demonstrate our re-commitment. We seek personal conversion to renew our Church to conform to the authentic Gospel message, the teachings of our Church, and our lived context in the United States. Our reading of the “signs of the times”, as we experience them in the US, our plan and our agenda are set out in our Declaration.  We educate; we listen; we facilitate discussions and encounters; and, we build toward an American Catholic Council  that will convene in Detroit over Pentecost weekend in June of 2011.  At this Council we hope to proclaim our belief in the Rights and Responsibilities of US Catholics.

June 10, 2011.  Mark the date. 

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to visit with keynote speaker, retired Episcopal Bishop and noted author John Shelby Spong, and we discussed our mutual suspicion that the Apostle Paul may have been a conflicted gay man (which is developed in my novel, A Wretched Man).  Bishop Spong said he first encountered that theory in a 1930’s book by theologian Arthur Darby Nock.  We also discussed our mutual admiration for recently deceased British theologian Michael Goulder, who rekindled interest in the theory of Christian origins that posits a fundamental opposition between Paul the Apostle on one side and the Jerusalem Christians Peter and James, Jesus’ brother, on the other.  This dispute provides the main plot line of A Wretched Man

I also visited with Linda Pinto of CORPUS who favored me with an early report on her reading of the novel:

It was indeed a delight to meet you at CTA. I am, however, a little annoyed. I packed your book (a present to my husband) and at the last moment thought….you might browse through it at the airport. As the hotel forgot to change their clocks, they woke me up at 3:45 am rather than 4:45 am. So, with that much time to kill, I started to read A Wretched Man. WOW!!!! I am addicted. My annoyance comes from the fact that I had to return to work today and my husband insisted that I keep the book at home for his consumption!

I love your attention to detail and description. I love the interplay between the story of Paul and Jesus. And I love your description of Jesus’ family.

That is to say, get me a book review and I will publish it in CORPUS REPORTS.

Anyone interested in writing a book review for CORPUS?  Contact me.