The Origins of
|It was a bad year, 1979.
It had started bad--and was ending worse. Three A.M. on December 18,
my phone rang insistently, and I eventually answered it groggily. An American
theologian/journalist in Rome, Ed Grace, said breathlessly: "The Vatican
just condemned Hans Küng!"
Late in 1978 John Paul I had died just a month into his pontificate and John
Paul II was elected his successor. Then the headhunters at the Holy
Office ("of the Inquisition" had been struck from the title earlier in the
century, but apparently not from the reality) were quickly unleashed:
1) Already in the spring of 1979 the French theologian Jacques Pohier was
silenced for his book When I Speak of God;
2) in July the book on sexuality by a team of four American theologians,
including Ronald Modras (an initial ARCC Board member), was condemned;
3) in September the Jesuit General Pedro Arrupe was forced to send a letter
to all Jesuits that they could not publicly dissent from any papal position;
4) all fall severe accusations of heresy against Edward Schillebeeckx were
recurrently issued in drum-beat fashion; December 13-15 Schillebeeckx was
"interrogated" by the Holy Office in Rome;
5) that same month writings of Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff
were "condemned" (he was later silenced);
6) on December 18 the Holy Office issued a Declaration on Hans Küng saying
he "can no longer be considered a Catholic theologian."
A few hours later I was on the phone with Father Charles Curran of Catholic
University of America and Father David Tracy of Chicago University.
We decided to quickly issue a press a statement by U.S. Catholic theologians
stating that "Küng was indeed a Catholic theologian." We decided to
fight Rome with Roman tactics, and took a leaf from Caesar: Omnis America
in tres partes divisa est. For the next twenty-four hours each
of us got on the phone to our third of the nation, collecting signatures.
As I spoke with people, time and again the refrain recurred: This can't go
on; we have got to organize!
So in the next days I drew up a proposal to organize what became The Association
for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) and sent it around to
all interested contacts around the country. The response was overwhelmingly
positive. Group meetings were held in many cities around the U.S., proposals
of what needed to be done were drawn up, and delegates were chosen to be
sent to the Founding Convention held March 17-20, 1980, in the Alaska Hotel,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Thirty-two (22 women and 10 men) met and founded the
Association for the Rights in the Church to "bring about substantive change,
to institutionalize a collegial and egalitarian understanding of Church in
which decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics
of every kind."
Three delegates, Gerard Sloyan, Dolly Pomerleau, and I, were charged at Milwaukee
with coming up with a National Board of ARCC, which we did in the next week,
sitting in Gerard's living room in Philadelphia. The first meeting of the
Board (consisting of between 15 and 20 members, deliberately geographically,
gender, lay/clerical, and otherwise as diverse as possible) met in October,
1980, and every spring and fall since.
Presidents of ARCC were: James Finn 1980-83; Margaret Cotroneo 1980-86; Alan
Turner 1986-89; Mary Lou Hartman 1989-98; Terry Dosh 1998-2001; Mary Lou
Hartman 2001-2004, Leonard Swidler 2004-
A wide variety of documents was developed and issued by ARCC, such as on
dissent, parich rights, the internal forum...., but the two most important
ones were the Charter
of Catholic Rights and A Proposed Catholic
Patrick Connor and Leonard Swidler were the Co-chairs for the Charter Committee,
and editors of the book. The Charter was first issued October 25, 1983. The
idea for a Constitution was first proposed by Leonard Swidler at the spring
1990 Board meeting. In 1994 Leonard Swidler and James Biechler were asked
by the ARCC Board to begin the process of drawing up a Proposed Catholic
Constitution. It went through many versions resulting from world-wide consultation
and intense work by an ARCC Constitution Committee (Leonard Swidler, Chair,
William Leahy, David Efroymson, Carol Efroymson, and Pamela Monaco), and
a committee of European Catholic reform organizations. The "current" version
was approved by ARCC and the European Catholic reform organizations on September
In the wake of the U.S. clergy sexual abuse scandal, an "International Movement
for a Catholic Constitution" was launched in Boston by ARCC and joined by
other Catholic reform organizations in the U.S. and Europe.