Catholics for a Changing Church

1967 – The McCabe Affair

Herbert McCabe OP was removed from the editorship of Slant because he supported Charles Davis’ assessment of the Church as corrupt but criticised him for walking away from the Church.  Some readers of the Slant and their friends felt compelled to organise protests against repressive policies by Rome and their own hierarchy.  The McCabe Affair, as it became known, gave practice in organising a protest movement. They learnt, for instance, that a direct and polite approach to distant figures of authority could sometimes disarm the resistance of those inexperienced in defending papal dictats. They quickly learned the effectiveness of pray-ins and teach-ins, as a means of publicising a cause

1968 - Humanae Vitae

Herbert McCabe’s treatment showed flagrant disregard for the intellectual climate of the time.  While for most of the English bishops the closure of the Second Vatican Council could not come too soon, a small but influential minority of priests and laity had taken a much closer and more positive interest in the sessions of the Council than some of the bishops.  The 1960s heralded a new generation who questioned authority and accepted ideas.  This was mirrored by Hans Küng and other young periti in the Vatican Council itself.  The unbridgeable gap between the two cultures forms an essential link between the McCabe Affair and the development of CRM. 

The papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae , in which all artificial means of birth control were condemned, was like a time bomb, all the more devastating, as right up to the last moment, the Vatican was expected to defuse it.  The immediate response by concerned Catholics was the formation of an ad hoc group in London. 

In November 1968 teach-ins took place in Twickenham, Nottingham, Leatherhead and Leicester, where assailants of Humanae Vitae were disappointed to find virtually no defenders.  Within a year CRM numbered well over 2000 with 10% at least being clerics.

1969 – Catholic Renewal Movement Manifesto,

The publication of its manifesto brought to birth the Catholic Renewal Movement (CRM), predecessor of Catholics for a Changing Church (CCC).  Opposition to the papal prohibition of artificial means of contraception led logically to challenges to the authoritarian character of the Roman Catholic Church in both structure and outlook.

Aims and Objectives, which essentially have remained the same to this day.  

  • Presentation of an overall case for reform
  • the right of the laity to a say in the running of the Church,
  • the need to place papal authority again within the context of the Council,
  • ·readiness to accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
  • ‘Collegiality’ or the partial devolvement of papal power to the bishops,
  • women’s ministry in the Church,
  • ·clerical celibacy
  • ·and much else

Any sense of triumphalism was misplaced.  The episcopal attitude was one of ‘Peter has spoken’ and the bishops refused to entertain any criticism of Humanae Vitae.  To keep the protesters at bay, the bishops resorted to a subtle ruse. While insisting that the Encyclical was binding, they conceded against all logic that individual consciences should be respected. In practice, therefore, Catholics were free to search for compassionate confessors, to give them absolution, the validity of which was naturally open to doubt.  By this cynical ploy, the laity were cowed by a lingering feeling of guilt, while the power and prestige of the clergy was exalted.  The whole issue of authority, so central to Vatican II, had been neatly swept aside.  Clergy and laity had colluded in cheating themselves of the spiritual benefits conferred by the Council. 

The truce with the hierarchy and the resolution of the McCabe Affair proved almost a death blow to CRM.  Humanae Vitae paradoxically had proved invaluable in arousing many Catholics from their lethargy.  Although many people had joined CRM to parry what they had seen as a priest in the bedroom, without the ‘subtle ruse’ they might well have remained to lobby for the wider implementation of the Council’s work.  Many took up the offer of finding compassionate Confessors while others left the Church in disgust. The movement which remained was the ghost of its former self.

1970 – A decade of evaluation and reassessment.

With 400 staunch supporters left out of 3000, CRM took a hard look at itself.  The heady idealism lacking organisation, discipline and fiscal prudence had been its downfall.  It resolved to learn from its mistakes. 

A membership subscription was introduced, and evaluation took place of the numerous projects in place.  A distinguished journalist assumed the Chair and introduced the formation of a Council of delegates from local groups and an Executive to attend to the day to day running.  The Bulletin, which had played an important part in rallying and directing the many groups of CRM supporters proved too expensive to publish and distribute on such a large scale.  It became RENEW, distributed to members and friends. 

CRM realised its appeal was to Catholics who loved their Church and were committed to education and learning.  Often criticised by the clergy as folk who thought too much for their own good and that of the Church, members shared harrowing stories of Catholics who blindly followed official teaching that lacked compassion and any sort of love.  They watched as disillusioned people walked away from the institution. 

Accepting that ‘the longest journey begins with the first step’, CRM emphasised the importance of good, engaging Catholic education, especially for the young.  Experts in the field helped CRM draw up The Future of Catholic Education in England and Wales: a document that owed much to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.  Unfortunately, the hierarchy did not have ears to hear.  John Mackrell PhD writes, “Had the authoritarian catechetics of the 1950s been updated to fit the needs of a more questioning age, of which most of the bishops were oblivious, the defection of the young might well have been partially halted.  Today there are many parish priests who believe that Catholics in the state system are more likely to keep their faith than those in Catholic schools - hardly what the bishops intended”. 

Rightly or wrongly CRM kept to its courteous and respectful course despite the call for more abrasive tactics from some members frustrated by the lack of progress.

1980 The National Pastoral Congress

The Bishops Conference of England and Wales decided that the time had come to assess the various efforts made nationally to implement the call of the Second Vatican Council for renewal and to try to achieve some general pastoral strategy for the future. The bishops were anxious that this assessment and planning should be pastoral rather than structural and that the coming together of delegates should concern itself with spiritual renewal as well as with ways of carrying out the Christian mission in present circumstances. They insisted upon adequate preparation involving as many people as possible in their dioceses and parishes.  It was hoped that there would be effective follow-up in the dioceses. Those taking part would have to be as representative as possible. And the gathering of all representatives was to be strictly consultative in character, leading to no permanent consultative structure. (Edited from the Official Report)   See also The Easter People

CRM made very full and cogent representation which expressed the aspirations of many of the 2000 delegates.  Sadly, it became clear at the Congress and afterwards that the institutional Church was highly unlikely to accept the inspiration of the Second Vatican Council.  Reasons included:

  • that very few Catholics were conversant with the decrees and aspirations of the Second Vatican Council; 
  •   the vast majority of Catholics were quite content with the existing state of their religion (Hornsby-Smith and Raymond Lee 1979); 
  •   the vast majority of clergy still adhered to the Vatican I model; there was widespread failure to understand the radical break that would be needed to put the proposed changes into practice; 
  •   the election of an ultramontane Pope

1990 - Networking

Because of possible confusion with the Charismatic Renewal Movement, CRM changed its name to Catholics for a Changing Church (CCC). 

In 1992 it was decided to set up the People of God Trust to further the Christian religion in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and especially but not exclusively, the encouragement and support of lay initiatives.

Study days continued to provoke discussion among members.

CCC was vilified as being rabidly anti-clerical which was belied by the number of clergy who gave support.  There was antipathy towards clericalism, but CCC deeply appreciated clerics who committed themselves to a difficult job in a way which few of the laity could match. 

Clericalism may be defined as the tendency of clerics to run the Church as if it were their private property.  CCC along with most other lay organisations insisted that the Church includes all its members, women too, not just the clergy. It was pointed out that, Jesus himself was a layman…. 

CCC sought improved education in seminaries where the standard needed to be brought up to university level.  They called for help in improvement in communication and social skills.  Continuing professional development needed to become a reality for clergy.  There needed to be emotional and pastoral support for those clergy who, of necessity, found they were working in isolation.  The laity did offer sympathy and support but the current model was no way to run any organisation, let alone a Church.

CCC lent its ear to the call arising from the Consilio Movement in Spain for a third Vatican Council.  However, it was realised that without far more preparation than given to Vatican II it was unlikely to make much difference due to the entrenched Papal and Curial conservatism.  This had manifested itself in the suppression, persecution even, of theologians, clergy and other experts who dared to explore beyond the current myopia.  The exit from the pews in the West was gathering pace.

CCC joined the European Network – Church on the Move and its associated wing for Human Rights in the Church.  The annual conference, held in various places in Europe, brought together like minds from a much wider geographical area, including guests from the USA, Canada and Australia.  Delegates from Britain joined in enthusiastically with European brothers and sisters, including a wonderful and fruitful week among 10,000 Christians gathered at the 2nd European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz, Austria (1997).  CCC members also attended the 1st European Women’s Synod in Gmunden, Austria (1996) and were fully involved in promoting the We Are Church Declaration in the UK (1997).  

2000 – Resolve

As the first decade of the new millennium progressed it was more and more evident that the pews were emptying and clergy numbers in drastic decline.  The emergence of the sexual abuse scandal, which had been simmering away in the background, exploded and did not help the situation.  But the main issue was that, while remaining spiritual, Catholics and other Christians were rejecting organised religion.  Because of the lack of adult faith formation in the institutional Church, many Catholics were confused and incorrectly felt threatened by the variety of religious traditions now openly practised in Britain.

CCC continued its publication of educational booklets on subjects allied to its aims and objectives.  However, the printed world was changing to that of the digital which proved challenging to many.  A website was set up to make entry into cyberspace.  This new world, however, meant that CCC could communicate more easily with brothers and sisters in the reform movement across the world. 

Paradoxically the increase in oppression from Rome seemed to increase the resolve of those committed to Church reform.  CCC continued to build links with other reform organisations in Britain, including We Are Church, Catholic Women’s Network, Catholic Women’s Ordination, the RC Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Movement for a Married Clergy and The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research among others.

2010 Reorganisation and looking wider

CCC took its name seriously and in this decade undertook a serious reorganisation in order to become more focused on promoting education about the institutional Church and provoking discussion.  At no time in its history has CRM/CCC professed to have all the answers.  It believes that dialogue among all in the Church to find the way forward is of the essence.

Picture illustrates 
Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well.   
John 4:4-42

In 2011 CCC sent representatives to the American Catholic Council in Detroit as well as theInternational Federation for a Renewed Catholic Ministry.  Close links were forged with the latter. 

In 2012 CCC welcomed the emergence and energy of a new group, A Call To Action, who were determined that dialogue with the bishops was possible.  With renewed energy, an annual conference and ambition to have representation in every diocese ACTA joined the voices calling for a Vatican II Church.

In 2013 CCC greeted the election of Pope Francis with joy and great hope.

In 2014 the membership agreed that management of CCC would be undertaken by the People of God Trust Trustees and that the primary task would be the production of the quarterly magazine RENEW.  Printed in full colour on glossy paper it received much praise.  There was also closer affiliation with the We Are Church movement.

In 2015 representatives flew to Philadelphia to join in the Gender, Gospel and Global Justice conference organised by the USA Women’s Ordination Conference.  Many old friendships from decades past were renewed and the world-class speakers much appreciated.

In 2016, through its association with We Are Church, a representative was sent to Chicago to participate in the second conference of what was to become the International Catholic Renewal Network. 

In this decade it was apparent that change was being initiated at the very top.  Pope Francis initiated discussion of family life, young people and their needs, the importance of all creation, reorganisation at the centre of the institution and clearing the sclerosis in the Church.  CCC and other organisations became hopeful that there might be change at last.

Pandemic and Beyond

The pandemic brought with it the need to communicate using digital technology.  CCC felt comfortable publishing its magazine and so it was pleased to welcome and promote the innovative style of: 

The Scottish Laity Network, who aim to provide a forum of support and respect for lay people, who, Pope Francis said, are on the front line of the life of the Church.  With its roots firmly in Scotland, SLN attracts people, lay and ordained, from across the world to its Zoom gatherings.  In collaboration with world-class speakers and other organsations, SLN offers sessions that are informative and inclusive, with opportunities for Q & A and small group discussion. 

Root and Branch, which is A forum for reform in the Roman Catholic Church that starts with women and doesn’t end there.  It stands forcomprehensive reform of clericalism in the institutional Church.It believes that the People of God must lead the way towards an inclusive, safe and loving Catholic Church.  In 2021 it held a hybrid face-to-face and online conference and began developing a network of local groups.

All organisations and groups 
working towards the 
Church we are called to be 
have place hope 
in this Synod to be held in Rome 
in October 2023