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The Origins of ARCC
Leonard Swidler
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 Constitution.

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 19, 1998.

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.


Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

    Posted 10 March 2001
    Last updated 10 March 2001
    Electronic version copyright © 2001 Ingrid H. Shafer
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