In Detroit, "two competing visions of the Church's future"

The Archbishop has warned priests and deacons that they face severe penalties if they participate in a controversial conference this weekend in Detroit.  But that hasn’t stopped lay organizers from continuing with their plans.


Calling for more democracy within the Catholic Church, liberal Catholics from around the world are coming to Detroit this weekend for a conference to help revitalize what they say is an archaic institution in need of reform.

Sponsored by the American Catholic Council, an organization of 30 Catholic reform groups across the U.S., the conference is three years in the making and comes on the 35th anniversary of a gathering in Detroit to talk about church reforms led by then-Cardinal John Dearden, the former archbishop of Detroit.

The conference is expected to call for more democratic decision-making in the church and the possibility of allowing women into the priesthood, as well as married priests. More than 1,800 have already registered, organizers say.

The council wants to “engage all Catholics in the United States in a dialogue about what the problems of the church are,” said co-organizer John Hushon, a Catholic attorney from Florida.

But Catholic leaders warn that the gathering at Cobo Center is not sanctioned by the church, as the 1976 event was. So they’re supporting a conference in Livonia for conservative Catholics planned for the same weekend.

In a letter sent Friday to local priests and deacons, Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron cautioned Catholics to stay away. In particular, he warned clergy not to attend a Sunday mass at Cobo, saying that anyone involved could be defrocked.

Two competing visions of the Catholic Church’s future will play out in metro Detroit this weekend with separate conferences — one liberal, the other conservative — that are expected to draw thousands.

The liberal one, sponsored by the American Catholic Council, is set to be one of the biggest gatherings of left-leaning Catholics in years, a three-day event that will attract high-profile critics of the church and about 2,000 Catholics from around the world to Detroit.

At the same time, the Archdiocese of Detroit is supporting a more conservative conference in Livonia, which will feature speakers who will critique the American Catholic Council’s vision and explain the church’s views.

Read more, including the full text of the Archbishop’s letter, right here.


  1. Has anyone else ever stopped to notice that the Eastern Orthodox don’t have these silly problems with liberal groups seeking to re-define the faith?

    Perhaps it’s seriously time for the Church, both in Rome and around the world to return to its first millenium roots and re-examine every ecclesiastical development of the 2nd millenium that has led to both a clericalist hierarchy and a liberal (bordering on heretical) laity in some places.

  2. If you ask the Eastern Orthodox, they will beg to disagree with you.

    Meanwhile… every Detroit science fiction convention I have ever attended has had several thousand more attendees than “1800″ or “nearly 2000″. And this liberal thing is supposed to be a national convention full of ecclesiastical celebrities and famed theologians and academics, not just a regional gathering of folks who have put aside a weekend to go hang out in costumes and get books signed.

    So basically, these attendance figures are saying that the mighty American liberal Catholic Church has an incredibly tiny national fanbase, even compared to a fairly fringe group like traditional convention science fiction fandom.

    Heh heh. We the laity are amused at the temerity of this tiny splinter group.

  3. To make further comparisons, the Pennsic War (one of several regional Wars every year in the Society for Creative Anachronism) had an attendance last year of more than 10,500 people, of which about 3,000 strapped on armor and simulated weaponry for the battles.

    The Kalamazoo medieval history congress attracts more than 3000 attendees and has 550 sessions of papers.

    Dragoncon in Atlanta GA, a truly national event, attracts somewhere around 35,000 to 40,000 attendees.

    The Atlanta Eucharistic Congress, which is a regional event attended mostly by Atlanta Catholics, gets about 30,000 attendees. So Catholicism is not running short on devotees, even when just matching Atlanta against huge amounts of the US fannish public.

    This liberal thing obviously is being attended by pretty much everyone who cares, and yet it’s so small. Even if you do the “multiply by ten” rule, Stargate fandom is much much bigger.

  4. Well are there any conferences for those in the middle who are completely turned off by the politics and rhetoric clone wars of both the so-called conservative and liberal factions of the Church?

  5. naturgesetz says:

    From the Gospel proclaimed at today’s Mass:

    “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
    “I pray not only for these,
    but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
    so that they may all be one,
    as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
    that they also may be in us,
    that the world may believe that you sent me.”

  6. Do they seriously think that anyone is going to take their discussions seriously? Do they think that because they lobby for certain changes, those changes will happen?
    They should really get over themselves and either get on board or go over board. Nothing they discuss will result in any change, only further frustration. Absurd.

  7. Melody, the comment by naturgesetz is true and elegant because it is from scripture. It’s a great answer to all this noise. All I can add is that is we sit quietly in adoration, all these petty problems diminish and the real thing stands out. That’s not cheap piety, it’s the truth.

  8. Melody,
    I am with you!I suppose the assembly that we could attend would be Sunday Mass.

  9. Adrienne Krock says:

    I’m seriously bothered by the actions of this archbishop and I’m disappointed that others are not either. This is not an issue of agreeing or disagreeing with the agenda or motives of the conference. From the article:

    “Janet Hauter, co-chairwoman for the group, said organizers have consulted a lawyer who is familiar with canon law and said her group has been advised that it will be in compliance with church laws.”

    So this mass will be conducted in accordance with Canon Law. That must mean that there would not be women priests present nor an ordination of women conducted.

    The message this archbishop is giving is that we’re not even allowed to DIALOGUE about the issues of married priesthood or female priests??? And that if priests actually participate in CONVERSATIONS and celebrate mass with people who participate in these conversations, they will be removed from ministry???


    Last I checked, dialogue indicated a two-sided conversation and it seems to me that going so far as to threaten to defrock a priest for celebrating mass, in accordance with Canon Law, is just as bad or worse than any other extreme.

  10. Paul Stokell says:

    The conference is expected to call for more democratic decision-making in the church and the possibility of allowing women into the priesthood, as well as married priests.

    Psst. It’s been done.

    They now call themselves “Presbyterians.” Or the “United Church of Christ.” Or the U.U.’s. You pick.

  11. Dan S, yes, us Orthodox Christians are having to deal with people who would have us change what has been traditionally Orthodox. Do a google and you’ll find out what has been going on in the OCA recently.

  12. I’m afraid the two conventions will just be preaching to their own choirs. Not sure anything will be accomplished.

  13. Maureen,

    “If you ask the Eastern Orthodox, they will beg to disagree with you.”

    The Eastern Orthodox have no movement to ordain women as priests.

    The Eastern Orthodox guard the tradition of their liturgy jealously, they don’t keep tinkering with it as we Latins do.

    The Eastern Orthodox seek spiritual Fathers for regular confession and often times seek permission to receive communion.

    The twisting of the “primacy of conscience” by liberal Catholics has no counterpart in Orthodoxy.

    Orthodoxy uses the Tradition of the Apostles and Father’s of the Church to evaluate how we should live in light of modernity, many liberal Catholicis use Curran, Kung, and Chittister.

    The Orthodox have not abandoned fasting as a normal spiritual excercise that is expected of all of the faithful in the way that the West has.

    The ‘liberals’ in Orthodoxy are still more traditional than even the mainstream Orthodox Catholics are, for the hot-bed liberal issue for them is Ecumenism, not contraception, women priests, divorce, and abortion. In short, the Orthodox are not formed by society in the way that liberal Catholicism has allowed itself to be.

  14. naturgesetz says:

    Adrienne Krock — I think Archbishop Vigneron explained it very clearly. He has concerns that there might be laity or non-Catholic clergy invited to “concelebrate the liturgy. Since he is the one responsible for seeing to it that liturgy is properly celebrated it is to him, not to one of the organizers, that the “lawyer who is familiar with canon law” (a phrase which strongly suggests that he doesn’t have a degree in canon law, IOW when it comes to canon law he’s no expert) should be speaking. The archbishop made it very clear, very calmly, why Catholic clergy should avoid the conference.

    Furthermore, the Pope has made it perfectly clear that the question of women’s ordination is a matter of settled doctrine, and the Church cannot ordain women. Therefore, for the conference to make this a matter of discussion shows an attitude of rebellion against the Church.

  15. naturgesetz says:

    Also, the possibility of laicization was clearly spelled out as a consequence of participating in an illicit liturgy of the type Abp. Vigneron warns against. It does not arise from talking to people.

  16. If they’re so unhappy with the Catholic Church, they can leave it and go find another denomination. They’ve already left it in spirit, so why they don’t take their bodies with them out the door is anyone’s guess. Oh yeah — personal responsibity. THEIR views on matters of faith and morals don’t match with what the Catholic Church holds, therefore, the Catholic Church is wrong.

  17. Giovanni A. Cattaneo says:

    Any of these so called “catholics” that are going to speak against the Church any of them have been threatened with Excommunications? Oh right the Church doesn’t do that anymore we much rather be no better than social workers.

    Any of the public personalities that happened to be catholics of this sort that may be well known to the media and that might cause scandal to the Church, have any of them been threatened with Anathemas? Oh right the Church doesn’t do that any more code of 1988.

    I wonder if this is the “springtime” that blessed JPII was always preaching about?

  18. ” The message this archbishop is giving is that we’re not even allowed to DIALOGUE about the issues of married priesthood or female priests??? And that if priests actually participate in CONVERSATIONS and celebrate mass with people who participate in these conversations, they will be removed from ministry???

    REALLY??? ”

    Yes, really! The question of married priests is open for dialogue. The question of women priests was definitively closed by Pope John II some years ago. Perhaps Adrienne could keep up with Catholic news and teaching.

  19. Deacon Norb says:

    Re: Naturgesetz #15

    “Furthermore, the Pope has made it perfectly clear that the question of women’s ordination is a matter of settled doctrine, and the Church cannot ordain women”

    You might want to check your sources. Ordination of women to the priesthood is off the table — I agree — but the issue of ordination of women to the diaconate is still open.

    Unless, of course, you are one of those folks who believe that deacons are not clergy and thus their public and ceremonial installation is not a sacramental “ordination” in the first place.

  20. naturgesetz says:

    Deacon Norb — Since the article said the issue was ordination of women as priests, and the comment to which I was responding also referred only to priestly ordination of women, I was using “women’s ordination” as a shorthand to refer to that matter. I regret the confusion my imprecision has caused. I realize that, as you say, “the issue of ordination of women to the diaconate is still open.”

    Glad we got that straightened out.

  21. Deacon Ron says:

    And we wonder why the Church is shrinking.

  22. Barbara Peters says:

    Given this economy I think 2000 people is a good turnout. Jesus prayed that we would be one – but that means we have to respect and listen to each other even when we disagree. Kicking people out of the church, defrocking them, refusing to listen, prohibiting dialogue, dismissing or minimizing concerns doesn’t help the cause of unity. I am not familiar with all the positions of the American Catholic Council and dont know that I agree with some of the positions I am familiar with but I do respect many of the people who are involved in this meeting and I respect that they love and care enough for the Church that they are coming together to discuss issues that are of concern to them.

  23. This conference represents the problem and not the cure. The past two decades have seen THOUSANDS of protestant clergy pour into the Catholic Church. Whole Anglican communities are doing so with special accommodations from Rome.

    We’ve had our revolution, and it failed spectacularly. Pope John Paul II wrote a letter where he invoked both the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium regarding the prohibition of ordaining women priests. If they haven’t read it, they should.

    If they want democracy, congregationalist churches still exist in great numbers. Perhaps it’s time for these folks to take the leap.

  24. pagansister says:

    What are the “conservative” Catholics afraid of? Why would the Archbishop of Detroit tell his priests NOT to attend? He not only tells them not to go, but threatens them with being defrocked? Sounds like “I will send you to your room if you disobey me.” What nonsense. Is he worried they might agree with some of what is being proposed? Reading what the conference of liberals is proposing seems reasonable to me, but then I tend to be liberal in some areas, but not all.

  25. naturgesetz says:

    pagansister — What the Archbishop is afraid of is that the Mass will be turned into sacrilege by the inclusion of unordained people as “celebrants.” He wants the priests of Detroit to avoid the sin of sacrilege and the possible canonical consequences of participation in it.

  26. naturgesetz says:

    BTW, he’s not threatening them, he’s warning them of the dangers. It’s like telling a driver, “Don’t speed, because you could get into an accident and you could get a ticket.” That’s not a threat; it’s a warning.

  27. pagansister says:

    #26 naturgesetz: Guess the use of the word “threaten” was a bit stronger than I intended. The Archbishop “warned” his priests not to attend. Wonder if any did go to check it out anyway?

  28. German Catholic says:

    I grew up and went to public school in post WW II Germany. Religion was one of the subjects taught and our class would be split into Catholic and Protestant groups for instruction. I can’t speak for what went on in the Protestant class, but in the Catholic class we often discussed the teachings of Jesus and how to apply them to everyday life.

    Many of my classmates and even the teacher had their own opinions and we were never told that we could not discuss certain issues. Often we talked about forgiveness and tolerance and why Fascism was evil. I don’t remember anyone being criticized, warned, or called a rebel for having an opinion on women in the priesthood or married priests.

    Maybe those Catholics who don’t think one should have an opinion should join the Eastern Orthodox where everybody is apparently happy and nobody has a dissenting opinion.

  29. Kathleen Riney says:

    Uh, excuse me…did any of you happen to be around for the past 74 yrs? I was. I remember praying after mass, for about 50 yrs, 3 hail Mary’s for the “conversion of Russia” Do you think Mary asked for that at Fatima because there were “no errors” in doctrine in the Eastern Orthodox Church?? Do you think “Russia was allowed to spread her errors” without the assistance of the Orthodox Church??? Does Anybody here read history that hasn’t been “revised”?!?

  30. naturgesetz says:

    Have you ever heard of Communism?

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