Call to Action

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This article is about the Christian organization. For the marketing term, see Call to action (marketing).

Call to Action (CTA) is an organization that advocates a variety of changes in the Catholic Church. Call to Action's goals include women's ordination, an end to mandatory priestly celibacy, a change in the church's teaching on a variety of sexual matters, and a change to the way the church is governed. Vatican officials have identified at least some of CTA's views as being "in contrast" with the Catholic faith; these controversial positions of CTA have even resulted in the general excommunication of all its members in one particular diocese in the United States.


In 1971, Pope Paul VI wrote that the laity of the Catholic Church should "take up as their own proper task the renewal of the temporal order". He further wrote that, "it is to all Christians that we address a fresh and insistent call to action." [1] In response to this, the bishops of the United States put together the Call to Action Conference in Detroit, Michigan in 1976.

At the conclusion of the three-day conference, the 1,340 delegates voted that the Catholic Church should "reevaluate its positions on issues like celibacy for priests, the male-only clergy, homosexuality, birth control, and the involvement of every level of the church in important decisions," though they never explicitly proposed changing the Church's position on these issues. They also called for an end to racism, sexism, and militarism in the United States.[2]

Although many of the United States bishops were sympathetic to the political aims of Call to Action, most of them disavowed or avoided discussing the conference's demands for changes to doctrine and organisation within the Catholic Church. As a result, the Call to Action organization that was born out of the Detroit conference was run by laity. By 1978, it had been securely established in Chicago, and by the 1980s it had spread throughout the United States.

Controversies involving Call to Action[edit]

Ideological aspects[edit]

Many conservative and traditional Catholic groups and individuals oppose Call to Action. [3] Some conservative Catholics were so disapproving of Call to Action that they supported Mother Angelica's formation of Call to Holiness, an organisation specifically formed to counter the aims of Call to Action.[4]

The Call to Action Conference also highlighted a potential rift within the so call "liberal" wing of the U.S. Catholic experience what Fr. Andrew Greeley described in anticipation of the conference (which was only one part of the Catholic American Bicentennial Process), as a demarcation between the “old" Catholic social actionist and the “new" Catholic social actionist or the “pre-Berrigan” and “post-Berrigan” approaches to activism. (c.f.Daniel Berrigan and Philip Berrigan). In “Catholic Social Activism – Real or Rad/Chic?”, Father Greeley saw the old social justice action in labor schools, worker priests, and community organizing that “mastered the politics of coalition building with the system.”[citation needed] Leading figures in that “old” tradition for Greeley were Ryan, Higgins, Egan and Baroni. On the other hand, the “new” Catholic action came out of the Berrigan experience and the peace movement; thus it was heavily involved in confrontation and protest. CTA it would seem represents that "new" tradition. Its lack of tangible success in comparison to the "old" tradition, was scathingly predicted by Greeley:

"The old social actionists are largely men of action, doers, not talkers. The new social actionists are intellectuals...They are masters at manipulating words and sometimes ideas...They are fervent crusaders. [But] winning strikes, forming unions, organizing communities are not their 'things', they are much more concerned about creating world economic justice."[5]

Reactions from the Catholic hierarchy and theologians[edit]

Many Catholic church leaders have criticized Call to Action, primarily because the moral and juridical positions of the organization run counter to the established teachings of the Catholic Church. Others have given limited support while avoiding becoming closely associated with the group. Still others have given public support. At the 1995 Call to Action conference, the titular bishop of Partenia, Jacques Gaillot, the auxiliary Bishop of Detroit Thomas Gumbleton, and theologian Hans Küng (whose authority to teach theology in a Catholic institution was rescinded), were among the featured speakers.

In recent years, Bishop Gumbleton (now retired) has been the only member of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy to publicly support Call to Action. When Call to Action sponsored a speech by Gumbleton in Tucson, Arizona in February 2007, the Bishop of Tucson, Gerald F. Kicanas, refused permission for it to be delivered on diocesan property.[6]

Excommunications in Lincoln, Nebraska[edit]

In 1996, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska issued, under certain conditions, an automatic interdict (which escalates after one month to an automatic excommunication) on members of several organizations within his diocese, including Call to Action.[7] The group appealed, but the excommunications were affirmed by the Congregation for Bishops in 2006. The congregation's prefect, Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re, wrote to Bishop Bruskewitz that his action "was properly taken within [his] competence as pastor of that diocese."[8]

The Congregation for Bishops was not primarily issuing a doctrinal statement regarding Call to Action, but rather making a juridical statement saying that Bishop Bruskewitz had acted properly within his jurisdiction as ordinary of the Diocese of Lincoln. Although this does not have direct impact outside of Lincoln, it almost certainly means that any other bishop who performed similar acts would be supported by the Roman Curia.

However, Cardinal Re's statement did include some doctrinal statements regarding Call to Action's activities. He wrote that "The judgment of the Holy See is that the activities of ‘Call to Action’ in the course of these years are in contrast with the Catholic faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint.... Thus to be a member of this association or to support it is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith."[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Octogesima Adveniens, Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI, from the Vatican on May 14, 1971, paragraph 48. Available at
  2. ^ See the Call to Action website at
  3. ^ For example, see George A. Kelly, The Battle for the American Church (Doubleday, 1979), and Joseph Bottum, "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano", First Things, October 2006, pp. 30-31.
  4. ^ [1].
  5. ^ Andrew Greeley, "Catholic Social Activism: Real or Rad/Chic?" The National Catholic Reporter February 7, 1975.
  6. ^ Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 30, 2007, online at [2].
  7. ^ The bishop's statement can be found here [3]. Under canon law (including canons 1323 and 1324 §3), automatic penalties (including interdict and excommunication) require certain conditions to be fulfilled, and thus not every member of Call to Action in the Diocese of Lincoln would necessarily be excommunicated by this edict.
  8. ^ Catholic News Service, "Vatican affirms excommunication of Call to Action members in Lincoln", at [4]; Associated Press, "Vatican Upholds Neb. Excommunications", at [5].
  9. ^, "Vatican confirms excommunication for US dissident group", at [6]; Catholic News Service, "Vatican affirms excommunication of Call to Action members in Lincoln", at [7].

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