God’s Priestly People: Report from 2019 AUSCP Assembly

[If you continued reading from the June 28, 2019, In the Vineyard issue, click here to jump ahead.]

This year’s gathering of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests and Friends included a conscious effort to indicate solidarity with all the baptized. Its title was “God’s Priestly People: The Baptized and the Ordained.” However, as Kevin Clinton, chair of the AUSCP Leadership Team, noted, “Oops! We should have said ‘the baptized and the ordained, who also are the baptized’!”

This type of self-reflection and a willingness to see as clearly as possible the needs and the imperfections of today’s current ecclesial structures characterized the meeting.

Part fraternal support, part conscious effort to re-energize the spirit of Vatican II, part humble striving to reclaim a moral voice so lacking in today’s hierarchical Church, this conference—like previous AUSCP meetings—provides some of the fresh air and rejuvenation sorely needed today.

It also gives lay people an opportunity to join our voices with those of clergy in a combined effort to address problems in today’s Church. Voice of the Faithful supported this opportunity again this year, with our presence at the Assembly; our joint preparation with AUSCP of a key white paper for the Assembly on clericalism; our participation with both AUSCP and FutureChurch on a key document regarding women’s status in the Church; and with the BridgeDialogues project developed with both AUSCP and FutureChurch. The latter was announced on Pentecost and modeled at one of the Assembly colloquia.

Keynote speakers for this year’s Assembly in St. Louis were Dr. Richard Gaillardetz from Boston College, Sr. Norma Pimentel of the Missionaries of Jesus from McAllen TX, and Cardinal Blase Cupich from the archdiocese of Chicago. Their presentations are available now on the AUSCP web site; here are a few highlights.

Prof. Gaillardetz spoke from a standpoint reflecting his work as co-chair of a two-year seminar sponsored by Boston College’s Theology dept and its School of Theology and Ministry. The project explored “the theology of the diocesan ministerial priesthood, which ultimately yielded a document titled ‘To Serve the People of God,'” he told attendees.

“[It is] a document we feel quite happy about. It’s a modest document in some ways, but we think it makes some important contributions, and I’m happy to say that it dovetails quite nicely with a very informative, even visionary document, the white paper that your own association produced.”

Prof. Gaillardetz spoke of looking for sources within our great tradition that we need for a renewal of the ministerial tradition. “Being a priestly people” is one part of seeking that renewal, and he organized his talk around that theme, of being a priestly people: (1) What does it mean to be a priestly people? (2) What does it mean for the ministerial priesthood to be charged with forming a priestly people? (3) What are the concrete reforms that we need to encourage in the Church in order to achieve the first two aims? Video of Dr. Gaillardetz’s speech is on the AUSCP website.

Sr. Norma Pimentel, who oversees charities for the Diocese of Brownsville TX, described how she came to religious life and eventually became dedicated to helping abandoned children and families along the border her diocese. The Missionaries of Jesus have been dedicated to this work for decades but demands have increased. Their center since 2014 has helped more than 150,000 to relocate. They now see up to 900 people per day, and more than 52% are children—many of them under 10 years old. “We must recognize that we live in a throw-away culture … how easily we become indifferent to the people around us,” she said, “as if it is ok to discard people who are not like us.”

“We hear of so many awful things happening,” she continued, “but we feel comfortable, so we do nothing. People live in a bubble. My business is to go around popping bubbles.” You can see her full speech on this YouTube link.

Sr. Pimentel also received the AUSCP John XXIII Award in recognition of her work, and they collected a donation to provide aid. In answer to a question, Sr. Pimentel said additional donations can be sent by using information on their web site www.humanitarianrespitecenter.org.

Cardinal Blase Cupich spoke on Wednesday on the theme “Ordination Does Not Annihilate Baptism.” Those who receive Holy Orders participate in the priesthood of the people. “It is all based on Baptism,” he said. “This is a very important discussion that we need to have in the Church today.”

Additional points he made:

  • “The foundation of the ordained priesthood is Baptism, which rests on the foundation of our great high priest, the Risen Lord. It is when the ordained ministry becomes separated from the baptismal foundation it shares with all the faithful that the holy orders needed for Church life are replaced by some unholy disorders.”
  • “The Church is in crisis … [we need] to recapture a holy order for the Church that at times is corrupted by a culture of clericalism, which lies at the root of the present crisis the Church is facing. Let’s not sidestep that. That is what is happening in the life of the Church. It is that some who are ordained felt that they had a privileged place, that they were protected, did not have to be accountable, could play by different rules, use power and even violence to get what they wanted. That is what happened in the abuse crisis that we are facing.”
  • “You prepared a white paper, which I carefully read, entitled ‘Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism.’ It is nothing less than a catalogue of horrors, chronicling imperial pronouncements, putdowns, claims of privilege, entitlements, and exemptions from accountability. But also chronicling how it is a culture that is so pervasive that many of the laity have come to accept it as normal. And yes, even have cooperated in maintaining it.”

There are many starting points for entry into confronting the problem of clericalism, Cardinal Cupich said, and one is through the lens of synodality. This is the focus he used for his talk; you can find the text of Cardinal Cupich’s speech on the AUSCP website.


If you are wondering what people can do to repair the Church, here’s a prescription for you. Get yourself to the VOTF conference Oct. 19 in Newton MA this year to hear what lay people are doing to reform the Church. Then, in June 2020, head to Baltimore and the AUSCP Assembly to hear what clergy are doing to carry out Vatican II. It will be worth your time.