ELEPHANTS IN THE LIVING ROOM
CALL TO ACTION 1976 CELEBRATION
August 22, 2007
The Elephants’ August 2007 educational forum was a joint event shared with the Call to Action
National Office, Call to Action of Michigan, Voice of the Faithful Detroit, and Pax Christi Michigan. This
event featured church historian, David O’Brien, Holy Cross College, Worchester, MA, and Bob Heineman,
Call to Action Staff Liaison to CTA Chapters. The following is Bob Heineman’s summary of that
Only 30 years after the original Call to Action convened by the U.S. bishops, the Archdiocese of
Detroit – the leader in 1976 – refused permission to hold a 30 anniversary dinner at SS. Simon and Jude
Parish. We had hoped for 85 to 100 people, but we were pleased that over 170 came out to celebrate,”
said Beth Rindler, SFP, president of Call to Action of Michigan and a stalwart on the local committee. We
had good cooperation on the committee from members of CTA-USA, Elephants in the Living Room (the
priests’ organization, strongly supported by laity), VOTF and Pax Christi Michigan, many of whom didn’t
know one another,” said Bob Heineman.
The event commemorated the original Call to Action conference at Cobo Hall in Detroit. The main
speaker of the evening was church historian David O’Brien of Holy Cross College, who staffed the
democratic procedures of that conference and its two-year preparation, including a series of public
hearings around the country. He reported that they surveyed participants before and after the meetings.
Much of the original skepticism had been swept away and, by the end, people really believed that the
bishops were sincere and would take the 182 resolutions voted on by the 1,350 delegates.
The significant bad news was that the bishops did not follow through on the good will, support and
excitement of the conference regarding all the church reform issues, burying them in the limbo of USCCB
committees. But there was good news for peace and justice. Pastoral letters from the bishops’
conference on nuclear first strike (1983) and economic justice (1986), and the establishment of diocesan
justice and peace offices, flow directly from the 1976 recommendations passed at Cobo Hall.
CTA’s Bob Heineman then told the story of the next 30 years: the founding and development of an
independent CTA organization that could, in the words of Cardinal Dearden, “hold us bishops
accountable.” In Chicago a number of independent church organizations came together to insist on
progress in on church matters. Chicago’s CTA organized around the needs of the community. They took
on inequities at Cook County Hospital, financial accountability of the archdiocese and, with Hans Kűng as
speaker for 1800 people in 1981, became the major platform for theologians banished from other venues.
In 1990 they published the “Call for Reform in the Catholic Church” in the New York Times. The
organization became national. Chapters began spontaneously in the mid 1990s, with CTA Michigan
developing rapidly across the state. Today CTA-USA is best known for our annual conference that
brings 3,000 happy, progressive Catholics eager to be together.
How can one summarize 30 years of a movement? Heineman had three points:
Change has already happened in major ways. The Church today is much more participative, joyous,
informed and feisty that it ever was before Vatican II. Women, and men who support their gifts, will
not give up being fully who they are in the Church. Jesus was too clear in breaking the rules. Is
there any question that he welcomed women as his disciples? That he would welcome gays,
lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people if he’d even known about them? That he enjoyed the
diversity of humanity and wanted us all to be one?
There is hope – even with papal announcements about the Latin Mass, and our having some
exclusive right to full salvation. At times like these it’s important to remember that there have always
been times like these. Progressive changes in the Church have always come from the grassroots.
And when they come, the Vatican claims, “as we have always taught…” Just think of the
controversies over usury, Galileo and Copernicus, slavery, the Declaration of the Rights of Religious
Liberty. The protestations from the Vatican against saying mass in the vernacular were never louder
than just before it all changed.
It’s up to us. Joan Chittister has a wonderful story she tells from the bible of the siege of a Hebrew
town by the Canaanites. The people of the town are being starved. She focuses on the lepers who
sit begging outside the city gates. They realize they will starve if they go into the city or stay where
they are. So they decide to go out to the enemy camp, rationalizing that the worst thing that can
happen is they’ll die by the enemy’s hand, which they would do anyway – only to discover that the
enemy has run away, leaving food, tents and animals. The lepers feast and then send word to the
town that their fears are unfounded.
The lessons are clear. We must rise up, like the lepers; we are starving in our Church, and we must
forge forward to claim what we need to live.
Specially designed “John XXIII Open Window Awards” were given posthumously to Jane Woldford
Hughes, Dearden’s adult education organizer (who was the lead planner for the 1976 Call to Action
conference); also to Pax Christi Michigan, IHM Sr. Mary Ann Ford, Linda Karle-Nelson, and the CTA
national staff and board. Also honored were Cardinal Dearden; CTA Michigan and its founders; Helen
Casey of Midland, Mich.; the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance; Voice of the Faithful organizers; and
Bishop Tom Gumbleton.
Because of difficulties with the diocese, the dinner had to be moved to Marvaso’s restaurant, which
agreed to close their business to accommodate the crowd. Our thanks to them. With the inclusion of the
raffle, over $2,000 was raised for Call to Action national.