Friday, June 27, 2014

AUSCP Assembly 2014

The third annual assembly of the Association of US Catholic Priests (AUSCP) took place June 23-26, 2014, in St Louis, Missouri, bringing together 230 of its 1000 members.

The theme was “Dei Verbum, Revelation in Our Lives and Time,” a review of  the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, a major document from the Second Vatican Council.

Four nationally known speakers (Scripture expert Donald Senior, Capuchin Franciscan Michael Crosby, biblical theologian Sister Dianne Bergant, and theologian Father Jim Bacik) developed the theme, assessing application of Dei Verbum for today and offering suggestions for its on-going implementation. (Their insights are summarized below.)

Four pre-assembly workshops focused on 1) consensus building and decision making (offered by Father Doug Doussan), 2)  ministry to the Afro-American Community (Father Paul Marshall, SM, and Father Clarence Williams, CPPS),  3) ministry to Hispanics (Father David Garcia of Catholic Relief Services), and 4) the priest-labor initiative (Father Tony Cutcher of the National Federation of Priests Councils).

Also providing input via Skype were Father Brendan Hoban, an administrative team member of ACP (a priests’ association in Ireland) and Father Helmut Schüller, a member of the Austrian Priests Initiative. Each described the goals, membership and hopes of his respective organization as well as the status of the Church in Ireland and Austria.

Archbishop Quinn receives award
 from AUSCP Chair Father Dave Cooper
Archbishop John Quinn, the retired ordinary of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, presided at Mass, and was the recipient of one of the AUSCP’s awards honoring outstanding contributions to the Church in the light of Vatican II. Theologian/author Father Jim Bacik was also honored with an AUSCP award.


AUSCP members in attendance at the assembly discussed and voted on eight proposals as goals and resolutions for the association’s focus in the coming year.

The membership agreed to petition the US Catholic Bishops to address the translation problems of the current Roman Missal and to petition the US Catholic Bishops to refuse to allow the principles which produced this awkward and sometimes incomprehensible rendering to be applied to other liturgical translations. AUSCP members have been asked to forward examples from the Roman Missal which they find difficult to read or which may reflect an inappropriate theology for our time.

Other proposals included: 1) affirmation and promotion of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative (the encouragement of dialog proposed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin shortly before his death);  2) study of immigration reform as recommended by the United States Catholic Bishops; 3) urge the USCCB to request ordination of married men to the priesthood in the light of Pope Francis’ suggestion that he is open to such a proposal; 4) issuance of a statement urging payment of all workers’ pensions; 5) ongoing support of an earlier resolution regarding lay and clergy participation in the selection of bishops.

Two additional proposals addressed increasing the AUSCP membership and ways of fostering dialogue with Bishops and AUSCP members.  All eight proposals passed with large majorities.

The Membership

Elections to the AUSCP Board were also held, with Frank Eckart and Bernie Survil being re-elected, and Joseph Ruggieri as the newest board member.

The new AUSCP chairman is Bob Bonnot (Youngstown), VP is Kevin Clinton (Minneapolis-St Paul), Secretary is Jim Schexnayder (Oakland), and Treasurer is Frank Eckart (Toledo).

Priests in attendance were diocesan and religious order clergy (e.g., Benedictine, Franciscan, Oblates of Mary),  coming from across the country, with eight from Cincinnati, three from Covington, at least one from Texas.

The Assembly 

The opportunity to share with like-minded ministers of the Church and to be re-charged with the spirit and letter of Vatican II are among the primary benefits of participating in an annual assembly.

During meals and over drinks, priests from a variety of Church ministries, personal backgrounds, and diocesan assignments exchange experiences, frustrations, hopes, and moments of grace as they carry on their commitment to Christ and the Church.

Some have been abbots. Most have been pastors. One was suspended by his bishop for giving communion to a Lutheran. Several were or are teachers. Many are retired (the gray hair or lack thereof was obvious). A handful were missionaries at home or in foreign missions. All are eager to support and implement the vision they received from Vatican II and are encouraged by the teaching, simplicity, and direction being provided by Pope Francis. (A cut-out of the pope’s photo was a major attraction, even to other guests at the Marriott!)

Liturgy of the Hours and Mass are key elements in the Assembly’s four-day program.

Three well-known Catholic song-writers provided an evening concert: David Haas (“We Are Called”), Marty Haugen (“All Are Welcome”) and Michael Joncas (“On Eagle’s Wings”)—the music played and sung the way the composers intended.

The Speakers

Father Don Senior reviewed the development of biblical studies in the Catholic Church, starting with Pope Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943) which encouraged Catholic scholars to explore the historical-criticism method of biblical study to Vatican II’s Dei Verbum (1965) and on to the Pontifical Biblical Institute’s The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1973).

Focusing on Dei Verbum, Senior found five important dynamics in that document which should inspire our understanding and use of the Sacred Scriptures in the Church’s preaching, teaching and prayer: 1) rooting divine revelation in the Trinity (recognizing that ours is a relational God, and thereby helping us to understand God’s reason for creating in the first place); 2) recognition that humans, made in the divine image, have the capacity for relationship with the Creator and even communion with this God; 3) the acknowledgement that God is not aloof, but is indeed involved in human activity, present to the world; 4) appreciation that the culmination and definitive expression of God’s revelation is the Word-Made-Flesh; and 5) and acceptance that the word of God is entrusted to the Apostles and the apostolic Church, sent to repair the world.

Father Michael Crosby asked which Gospel priests and people are to proclaim. He noted that Jesus preached the Kingdom of God and that Paul preached Jesus Christ. In Crosby’s analysis the true Gospel of Jesus was subversive in as much as it differed from the good news of imperial Rome and further was an archetype for all relations on earth creating a model of how humas are to live by imitating the source of life who is God.

Drawing conclusions from the Trinitarian understanding of God, Crosby explains that the Church is to promote the “house” (oikos) of God in which all persons are equal, all members share equitably, and there is no domination of one over another. Quoting Pope Francis, Crosby concluded that “no one is useless in the Church,” and all members should recall the observation of Dom Helder Camara that “your lives may be the only Gospel your brothers and sisters may ever hear.”

Sister Dianne Bergant, CSA, suggested that base communities in mission lands were fertile fields for the new energized study of Scrupture promoted by Vatican II. In the past Scripture was often used to prove Church dogma, but in recent decades the Scriptures became the ground of dogma.

Sister Dianne further noted that interpretation of biblical passages used in preaching requires recognition of cultural and societal differences in the audience. The wealthy listener may interpret “Blessed are the poor in spirit” quite differently from the listener who is economically destitute. Preachers must also be wary of adding to what the Scripture really says.

Father Jim Bacik presented four ways of reading, understanding and preaching a Gospel passage, based on the theology and experience of the preacher. Preacher #1 (he called him Abraham) may think of himself as a cultural warrior and interpret every reading as a stage for attacking the cultural values of the day; he puts Catholicism on the line against the values of the world. 

Preacher #2 (he called him Isaac) is caught up in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and may reflect the notion that the teachings of Vatican II were hijacked by liberals or may emphasize the truth and beauty of Christ as outlined in Balthasar’s Trilogy, 16 volumes focusing on the Glory of the Lord.

Preacher #3 (Jacob) is a student of Karl Rahner, thinking of Vatican II as a dialogic approach, describing his preaching as a dialog between the divine and the human. This preacher will be especially eager to address the experiences and needs of the people, fully conscious of the a focal point in his homily that touches the audience where they are in their circumstances of life. 

Preacher #4 (Joseph) approaches his homily from experience of poverty and societal brokenness; he may find Gaudium et spes (Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) as too hopeful. He wants to identify with the brokenness of society and offer the corrections and encouragement that come from the Gospel and Christ.

AUSCP Assembly in 2015

The fourth annual assembly for the Association of US Catholic Priests is planned for June 29-July 2, 2015, in St. Louis. Additional information about the AUSCP, the form for membership, etc. are available on line at the AUSCP website or

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