Monday, June 18, 2012

AUSCP Inaugural Convention

Two hundred and forty priests from 55 dioceses across the country gathered June 11-14, 2012, at St. Leo University, northeast of Tampa, Florida, for the first national meeting of the newly formed Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP).

The focus of the meeting was "Vatican II Lives," a call to keep alive the vision and passion of the Council.

Key-note speakers were Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, president-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, teacher of liturgy and Gregorian Chant at St. John's University School of Theology.

The AUSCP was founded in August of 2011 when an organizing committee of 27 priests met and agreed that US Catholic priests need a common voice in their efforts to "celebrate and keep alive the visionary concepts of Vatican II."

Father David Cooper, one of the founding fathers and chairman of the AUSCP board, explained that the association is not positioning itself to be a controversial voice, but a collaborative one.

AUSCP is one of several associations of priests around the world, including Ireland, Austria, Australia, and the Philippines.

The convention began with  a session in which priests were invited to verbalize their "laments" about their ministry, their perception of the Church, their struggles with living the priestly vocation.

The intent was to spell out what a priest can control, what he can influence, and what are the facts of life he cannot change.

Their lamentations included recognition of a climate of fear, a distortion of Vatican II, the return of legalism and clericalism, the manner in which women are treated in the Church, stretching priests to the breaking point, struggles with the hierarchy, and loneliness.

The exercise served as a kind of release valve, a letting go of negative energy, recognizing that "mourning can move into kairos" as Psalm 42 implies.

Gaillardetz's key-note presentation described Vatican II as the construction of a new set of walls around the old Church. The old remains (continuity with the past is maintained) but the new construction enables the old to relate to the world of today.

He urged the AUSCP to insist on the "facticity" of the Council (Vatican II happened, and it was an ecumenical council), and at the same time to engage in "holy conversation" (avoid demonizing those who disagree).

In his key-note Ruff addressed the issue of the translation of the Roman Missal, noting that the responsibility of episcopal conferences for translating into the vernacular, as spelled out in Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium, has been reclaimed by the Curia.

He believes that Liturgicam authenticam, the 2001 instruction from the Holy See calling for exact, word-for-word translation of the Latin, should be withdrawn. In effect an office in the Vatican is translating the Mass prayers in a language foreign to the people who are to pray them.

Three sessions of the conference were devoted to business: 1) approval of by-laws/constitution, 2) acceptance of the board of officers, and 3) consideration of several proposals.

Among the proposals passed by the assembly were a letter of support to the LCWR (the Leadership Conference of Women Religious), and the acceptance of all US bishops (retired and active) who apply for membership in the AUSCP.

The median age of the priests in attendance was about 70. Most consider themselves "Vatican II priests." One celebrated his 86th birthday during the convention. Among the younger clergy was a priest who had been ordained for one year; he assessed the association as a threat to the Church.

Retired Bishop Rembert Weakland, who led a workshop on liturgy, and  retired Bishop Tom Gumbleton were present.

Father Hans Bensdorf, a representative of the Austrian Priests Initiative, and Father Luis Alfonso Contono, from El Salvador and a representative of the COOPESA for priests, spoke briefly to the assembly and audited the sessions.

Other presenters were Cleveland diocesan priest Father Don Cozzens (author of several books, including The Changing Face of the Priesthood) and Father Peter Fink, SJ (author of Worship: Praying the Sacraments).

In a general assessment of the conference, a number of priests were vocal: this is an intelligent, pastoral and fun group... this has nourished my hope... I realize I am not alone... "thank you" to the leadership team... this was good "holy conversation"... we must go forward, not back to the 50s, not back to the 70s, but forward... Vatican II was a gift and it is our job to be faithful to the gift God has given us.

The next AUSCP national convention will be held June 17-20, 2013; location to be announced. 

Membership inquiries can be made at AUSCP, PO Box 263, Calumet City IL 60649, or online at As of June, 2012, there were 650 members.

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