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Loyalists believe some things worth staying to defend.

No one threw stones. Hair was generally short. The 2,000-plus at the Chicago Call to Action "We are the Church" conference were clearly mainstream. Backbone Catholic.

Good news for some, bad for others. Catholic renewal, in a difficult time, is alive. And, judging from a good dose of CTA, growing.

Attendance numbers at the last three national CTA Chicago gatherings signal that growth: 900 in 1991, 1,800 in 1992, 2,3OO in 1993. And scores of talks, workshops and caucuses showed that the movement has direction.

It has direction and a growing focus: small faith communities. A wise choice.

And even the CTA's tone has improved. If there is anger, it is less self-righteous, less dispiriting than in years past. Quiet confidence is more the mood. And the task of renewal is well-defined: Build just and inclusive church structures to preach effectively the gospel to the world.

People came instinctively armed with that 20th century insight and gift to the world called the social teachings of the Catholic church, which, at the bone, maintain that unjust social structures impede the reign of God. So these teachings commit Catholics to stand up, decry and organize against unjust structures and patterns of human conduct wherever they deny spirit or food to the needy. Outside or inside the church.

CTA drew people for varied reasons, of course, but for shared reasons as well. Many said they came for mutual support, to renew depleted spirits, to be reminded that their lives connect to Jesus of Nazareth and the beatitudes he proclaimed.

They came to recall that peacemaking, justice-building and mercy-driven acts are proper responses to that faith call to action. And that such acts are bedrock, nonnegotiable and, as gospel-based, worth staying in the church to defend.

These Catholics, then, are loyalists, too. Curiously, they are instinctively conservative in their radical ideals. Much of their talk was about preserving their sacramental religion, especially the Eucharist. Their discernment in the current church climate, running years -- perhaps decades -- ahead of their bishops is focused on separating the essentials of their religion from its historical accidentals, be they wedded by culture or tradition.

Yes, the current institutional, male celibate clerical structure is a renewal target. But not because renewal needs any old target, as critics maintain. Rather because this clerical institution is accidental and therefore nonessential, exclusive and therefore unjust, restrictive (of eucharistic celebrations) and therefore shortsighted and sinful.

The CTA conference in Chicago has emerged as the strongest engine of U.S. Catholic renewal. The older organizations were represented at the gathering: CORPUS, Women's Ordination Conference, Dignity and Pax Christi contingents. However, newer groups were there, too, representing change and new church energies: Celibacy Is the Issue and Earth Connection as well as Catholic Organizations for Renewal, the CTA-connected network of more than two dozen church organizations.

The Catholic renewal movement sees the fear and coercion in the church today as signs of serious illness, as antithetical to gospel values. It is attempting to bring light to this seemingly pervasive darkness in which moral theologians don't dare publish, U.S. bishops don't say publicly what they think of Vatican actions, priests don't dare allow women or girls near the altar and Catholic editors don't dare write about ongoing church oppression.

Capuchin Fr. Michael H. Crosby, author of The Dysfunctional Church, in the course of a talk, quoted from the U.S. bishops' October 1992 pastoral statement on domestic violence: "As bishops, we condemn the use of the Bible to condone abusive behavior. A correct reading of the scriptures leads people to a relationship based on mutuality and love."

The bishops then asked: "What is abuse?"

Abuse, the bishops answered, "is any kind of behavior that one person uses to control another through fear and intimidation."

Crosby spoke about the way abuse has entered the church in the name of scripture and ended with what should be a clarion wake-up call:"If the schism comes, it will not be because of people like CTA, but because of abuse of the word of God."

Some would like renewal-minded Catholics to walk away, to disappear. Don't bold your breath. Their ideas are alive. Seeds of generations past, planted in the good earth, are sprouting across the land. It can't be otherwise for the Spirit lives.
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Title Annotation:Call to Action convention, Chicago, Il.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 12, 1993
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