American Catholic Council and the Doctrine of Reception

As I prepare for the meeting of the American Catholic Council (ACC) next weekend in Detroit. I have high hopes. I am also somewhat fearful that our expectations may not be met unless we develop strategies to continue our efforts to resurrect the promise of Vatican II.

I want to begin with a statement from a web site called The Catholic Knight (Why the militaristic title?). The author fashions himself to be a monarchist because he considers monarchy to be the most stable and viable form of governance. Praising Archbishop Vigneron of Detroit for his outright condemnation of ACC, the writer says:

These people [ACC] are the final result of a three-decade long experiment in leniency and innovation.  The so-called “Spirit of Vatican II,” which takes upon itself initiatives not called for by the Second Vatican Council, has reached it’s ultimate conclusion – SCHISM!  This schism however, does not come without a list of heresies to accompany it.  It is a list that I dare say nearly half of all baptized Catholics in the United States, who’s consciences having been dulled by three decades of poor catechesis and liturgical innovation, will most certainly find appealing.  It is a list that I fear will soon hit mainstream, and reverberate throughout this nation, pealing one parish after another away from the magisterium of the Church.

What these people in the American Catholic Council want has already been invented.  The structures they advocate already exist.  It’s called The Episcopal Church.  Likewise, once the ACC gets off the ground, it will simply be reinventing the wheel, and the results of this wheel will be identical to those found in The Episcopal Church (or TEC), namely female clergy, gay clergy, gay marriages, acceptance of abortion and birth control, as well as the embrace of Socialism in the form of “Liberation Theology.”  Some form of unification between the ACC and the TEC will likewise be inevitable, especially after those adhering to the ACC have been excommunicated from the U.S. Catholic Church.

Sadly, there is virtually a 0% chance that the ACC meeting in June will be canceled.  Though the good archbishop’s stand against the organization was strong, there was not much he could do outside of banning his own people from being a part of it, and prohibiting diocesan property from being used for it.  However, the ACC never intended to use diocesan property, and the good archbishop cannot restrict people outside his archdiocese from attending.  That’s another reason why we need a nationwide condemnation from all the U.S. Catholic Bishops before it’s too late.  Mark my words, these people will meet, and they will promote heresy.  Likewise they will grow to lead others away from the magisterium of the Church.  The only variable that exists is “how big” will their movement become.  Strong nationwide action against it now will pull a lot of wind out of their sails.  Failure to act now will only result in larger repercussions later.  For the sake of unity and orthodoxy within the U.S. Catholic Church, let us pray our bishops act quickly. (

The archbishop condemned without dialogue with ACC. If the blog author had read the documents prepared for the ACC meeting, he could hardly conclude that ACC is schismatic. Some respondents to the ACC blog support schism; however, many others are looking for ways to exercise viable Vatican II options which have been eroded by the emergence of the imperial papacy operating under the guise of ever-creeping infallibility. Hierarchs, patriarchs and monarchists should be concerned about ACC because it represents the rights of member of the church who have been baptized into the kingship, prophetic role and priesthood of Jesus the Christ. Jesus reminded rulers and leaders that they are in place to serve, not dominate. We, the people of God, are the “royal priesthood” Peter describes.

Rosemary Reuther describes the church as a community of liberation—liberation from patriarchy and every other form of domination and oppression. Reuther writes:

If the church in its essential nature is a community of liberation from patriarchy then it should most particularly witness to an alternative pattern of relationship between its members based on a discipleship of equals and mutual empowerment. It can witness to an alternative relationship of humans to each other and to the rest of creation in the larger society only if itself witnesses to such alternative relations in its own basic processes of life, and ministry in its sacraments, educational work, administration and mission to society. A church which claims to be the sacrament of liberation

Jesus gave voice to every member of the church for society while itself embodying the worse patterns of oppression internally is compounds sinful distortion with hypocrisy and is simply unbelievable. (, 2 -3)

It is imperative that we dismantle clericalism. Clericalism/patriarchy disempowers the people of God sacramentally, educationally and politically. Reuther concludes:

We should understand baptism as the proclamation of our entrance into a process of metanoia or turning around by which we seen through the ideologies that justify oppressive systems and get in touch with our true potential for life. Eucharist is the ongoing nurture in such life in community. The dismantling of clerical concepts of ministry and church organization does not mean an anarchism that rejects any leadership roles and skills, but rather than the community itself decides what expressions of liturgy, learning and service it wishes to engage in in order to express its redemptive life. It then becomes fairly easy to delegate various tasks to people who have the skills and readiness to undertake these tasks. In other words, there is a ministry of function, rather than clerical caste, rooted in a discipleship of equals. (Reuther 7)

The church is not restricted to and reserved for clerics. Vatican II, resurrecting ancient and valid tradition, clearly established that we are the “people of God.” The Council reaffirmed the primacy of conscience. The Council gave people the right to worship in the vernacular because worship has to account for the context—the cultural conditions in which the church lives and thrives and grows. The Council opened the doors of the church to the modern world and called the people of God to be co-creators of the Kin-dom of God. Above all, Vatican II is clear that he church is made up of the ordained and non-ordained; the non-ordained have voice in the affairs and teaching office of the church.

The monarchists among us fear religious liberty and freedom. Pope John Paul II, growing up under Communism in Poland, and Pope Benedict XVI, growing up under Nazism in Germany, extol the virtues of religious liberty in society and, at the same time, deny freedom to members of the church. Together, they praised justice—the cornerstone biblical value and condemned liberation theology.

The Institute for Contining Learning at nearby Young Harris College in the Georgia mountains is offering a course this summer entitled, “1968: The Year that Changed the World.” The unrest and student riots around the world did indeed change the world. The events of 1968 also had a profound impact on the RC Church. Joseph Ratzinger, a young professor at Tubingen, where he was hired by Hans Kung, had been a peritus at the Second Vatican Council. When the students tried to take over the university and conduct classes, Ratzinger closed his briefcase and walked out of the classroom. From that point on, freedom was a threat to Joseph Ratzinger, the Papal Rottweiler under John Paul II, and now Pope Benedict XVI.

The events surrounding the views expressed in the Catholic Knight blog, Archbishop Vigneron’s unilateral condemnation of ACC, and the career of Joseph Ratzinger do not bode well for the people of God because freedom is the issue. Jesus the Christ explicitly said that he had come to “set us free.” Educated and, I might add, sincere catholic 21st century adults chaff at being treated like serfs in a feudal village.

It behooves us to re-examine a doctrine that has been in the church since its inception—the doctrine of reception. Basically, this doctrine asserts that leaders in the church promulgate church teaching which then is subject to reception by the people of God. This is what Vatican II was all about. A few examples will suffice to illustrate the doctrine. Pope John XXIII decreed that all seminary courses were to be taught in Latin. The initiative died on the vine when it became obvious that implementation was impractical. Likewise, the people of God as a whole (except for the traditionalists who are focused on pelvic morality) rejected Pope Paul VI’s rejection of birth control. In many other instances, the decrees of councils and local church synods gained reception over a period of time. In the wake of Trent and Vatican I the doctrine of reception fell by the wayside. When it is pray, pay and obey, there is not much need for critical examination of promulgated church teaching. The bottom line is that doctrine does not stand if it is not received by the people of God. This is thoroughly consistent with the revived sense of the sensus fidelium enunciated by conciliar decrees in Vatican II.

The doctrine of reception depends on conversation and dialogue. The current bishops by and large are not interested in dialoguing with the people of God. They are in charge and will tell us what to believe and what to do.

The doctrine of reception goes back to the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Changing conditions result in changing teaching. The deposit of faith lives on and is enunciated in different ways in different contexts.

The doctrine of reception recognizes that local churches have a certain autonomy—or should have such. National conferences of bishops thrived and forged ahead with vibrant witness to the faith after Vatican II only to be squelched by the rise of the imperial papacy.

The doctrine of reception posits that many so-called dogmas have been developed for historical and institutional reasons. The doctrine of infallibility was in fact a last ditch effort to preserve the Papal States from democratic rebels.

The doctrine of reception understands that, in a pluralistic world, unity does not require uniformity. The church should live and thrive in the culture that surrounds it while, at the same time, challenging anything in the culture that is not of the Gospel.

The doctrine of reception respects the distinct but mutual goals of the members of the people of God. Ordained and non-ordained serve the common good of all the members of the church. This is not even Vatican II; it is Thomas Aquinas.

The doctrine of reception requires that leaders in the church become servants. Patriarchal domination and control are not Gospel values.

The doctrine of reception requires that we move beyond personal piety and recognize that we are here to serve the common good. Otherwise, there is a hole in our Gospel. Justice is a hallmark of the church.

What does the doctrine of reception tells us about the major issues in the church today—ordination of women, just treatment of LBGT people, ordination of married clergy, and social justice? On a smaller but equally important scale what dies the doctrine of reception tell us about the reception of the New Roman Missal which is not our vernacular. Worshipping in the vernacular is our right established by Vatican II. The imposition of the New Missal is but another patriarchal power ploy. Robert Blair Kaiser writes:

The Council had struck a blow for the people, because, as one of the theologians had pointed out, Latin was the language of the elite, and the vernacular was the language of the people. But this wasn’t simply a debate over language. “Vernacular” has a larger philosophical and sociological meaning. It is a concept that can also stand for whatever is homebred, homespun, homegrown, and homemade–which is one reason why the centralizing Roman minds opposed the vernacular. For centuries, the Church had been engaged in a centralizing and expropriating control–and it was a process that had only gotten more outrageous over time. Allowing the Church’s worship in the vernacular would reverse that centralizing process, of not only worship, but of power in many other areas as well. Those who resisted the vernacular were implicitly resisting a shift of power in the Church, power to the people. (

We, the people of God, need to find ways to enter into dialogue with traditionalists and the leaders in the church. Why is the blog author and the people he speaks for so threatened by “female clergy, gay clergy, gay marriages, acceptance of abortion and birth control, as well as the embrace of Socialism in the form of ‘Liberation Theology?’” He is concerned about gender, sex and property. What does the Gospel say about these issues. How can we enter into dialogue?

Maybe the hierarchs will stonewall it and refuse to enter into dialogue. The only words out of their mouths may well be, “You are schismatic. You are excommunicated.” As one woman told us, “How many times can he excommunicate me?” This tactic ignores the fact that excommunication no longer bears the weight of social and ecclesiastical stigma and ostracism that it carried in small feudal villages.

Robert Blair Kaiser says that we may have to form autochthonous—home grown—churches. Small faith-communities based on the Latin American liberation theology model may be the next phase for progressive Catholics. It is my opinion that we should form these communities only as a last resort.

© J. Patrick Mahon, 2011



Leave a Reply