Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Detroit: A Call To Revolution In The Church

by Fr. Vincent P. Miceli, S.J.


The following are the observations of Reverend Vincent P. Miceli, who participated, as a delegate, in the 1976 "Call to Action" conference held in Detroit. It was during this conference that radicals attempted to create a democratic, non-hierarchical and classless church.

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review


27 - 32 & 47 - 48

Publisher & Date

Catholic Polls, Inc., New York, NY, March 1977

About 1,340 delegates from 152 dioceses and 1,100 observers from around the nation met in Detroit from October 21 through 23 in a conference sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a culmination of the Church's Bicentennial celebration. The theme of the conference was "A Call to Action." The purpose of the action was "Liberty and Justice for All." But the theme actually developed by the conference was "A Call to Revolution." And the purpose of the revolution was "A Classless Church for All." The following are the observations of this delegate who participated and represented the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, a group counting close to 1,000 priests and 15 bishops, founded two years ago.

Now in every rigid convention there is a selected slogan patented by the planners and calculated to justify to the world their pre-arranged victory. I notice that The N.Y. Times was quick to catch and zealous in scattering to the journalistic winds the clever myth concocted by the directors of this conference. Giordano Bruno would have cheered the astuteness that produced this tool of deception. Se non e vero e ben trovato: "If it is not true it is very well invented."

On October 22 The N.Y. Times tells us: "Although a broad array of church members are in Detroit, the character of the delegation is clearly reformist . . ." On the 24th we read in those august pages: "Roman Catholics from a broad spectrum of the church today neared the end of a three day conference . . . A remarkable cross section has now spoken . . . Like the (Eucharistic) Congress, the conference is largely a lay affair." On the 25th the same theme swells in intensity: "It (the conference) was the most representative meeting of the Roman Catholic church in its history in this country . . . " And, as if unable to cease singing the same song, the Times was on stage again October 27 four days after the conference closed: "A diversified group of delegates took full advantage of a chance to recommend changes" is the subtitle to a glowing wrap-up story on a meeting that sent The N.Y. Times into great expectations for the coming of a democratic Catholic Church founded on the revelations of progress and humanism. Within the body of the last article we read: "Delegates could hardly be described as belonging to fringe groups. They were chosen by bishops. They represented a wide assortment of people."

Who Chose Delegates?

The N.Y. Times' correspondent, Kenneth A. Briggs, author of all the articles quoted, parroted perfectly the slogan of the ruling radicals at the conference. But what were the facts? First, it is not true to say the delegates were chosen by the bishops. Most of the bishops had neither the time nor energy to choose delegates, nor did they know the majority of delegates from their own dioceses. For example, no bishop chose me. And the same was true of dozens of other delegates I met. The delegates were chosen by middle-management committees made up of new breed priests, liberated nuns and dissident intellectuals. Moreover, these bureaucrats chose delegates for the most part with mind-sets practically identical with their own on revolutionary solutions for religious, social and political problems. It was carefully estimated that forty percent of the delegates were clergy. Women made up another forty percent; the majority of these latter were nuns, a few in religious garb, the overwhelming rest in secular attire, frequently in pants suits. Just how representative of the 49 million Catholics in the U.S. are such specialized types? Then too there were the other special interest groups of delegates — ex-priests, ex-nuns, homosexuals, minority caucuses for Christian Marxism, Socialism and pacifism. At the bottom of the totem pole were the few Catholics who wanted to keep the historical Church, despite some questionable changes called reforms. If there was one glaring fact about the "Call to Action" conference, it was that the delegates by far did not represent the vast majority of American Catholics — neither bishops, priests nor laity. The did represent a miniscule core of intellectual insurgents, disaffected clergy, religious, ex-seminarians — all enthusiasts for the creation of an American democratic Catholic Church.

A few observations should be made on the general and particular meetings that formed documents and passed resolutions on religious and social questions. The N.Y. Times (October 27) tells us that these meetings "were a taste of the democratic process on the widest national scale . . ." Nothing could be further from the truth. It was a common experience to see honest opposition cut-off crudely and silenced. Opponents of ruling radicals were often told "to stop making debating points, to cease referring to encyclicals, council documents and traditional teachings." They were warned "to lay aside philosophical definitions and disciplined, coherent thinking." Especially did the female chairladies insist that "they wanted input that emphasized religious experience and social concern." Only thus could the documents on Church, personhood, family, ethnicity, work, humankind, neighborhood and nationhood become relevant to our times. Often when resolutions embarrassing to the ruling strategists were presented, the chairperson, with mind teeming with schemes, would slowly repeat the resolution meanwhile motioning some ideologically kindred spirit to man a microphone quickly — such spirits hovered close to microphones everywhere. The carefully selected messenger would then move to end debate on the resolution. Another companion would quickly second the motion and the resolution was shouted down by a vote that ended a discussion that never got started. This process went on ad nauseam; the meetings were in the hands of the haters of open discussion; they feared nothing more than intelligent dialects. And they steamrollered the opposition through an abuse of parliamentary tactics that was in fact academic intolerance. For the manipulators were hell-bent on obtaining certain pre-determined goals and they came prepared to brook no opposition.

Rebels Took Over

This became so clear from the very outset that John Cardinal Krol could not keep silent about it. In an interview with The Detroit Free Press, which printed his remarks in the Saturday October 23 issue, the Archbishop of Philadelphia made this complaint: "Rebels have taken over the conference." He then specified thus: "The conference was being manipulated by a few people who had received the support of a naïve group of little ladies." Now the few people manipulating the meeting were agitator-priests, Saul Alinsky types. Indeed one of these Monsignori boasts continually that he is a spiritual child of agitator Alinsky.

Now Saul Alinsky, who died in 1972, is still very much with us as a charismatic leader. He is the author of two very influential books Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals. A Marxist humanist and atheist, some brief thoughts and methods of the man will help us understand what went on at the Detroit conference. Alinsky teaches: "Truth is relative and changing; everything is relative and changing." And it is on this relativism that the organizer of a movement must thrive. For Alinsky the enemy is within and the war for change is to be waged within the community to be changed. He writes: "The first step in community organization is community disorganization . . . The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act . . . Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future . . . The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a dangerous enemy. Such a counterattack then puts the organizer on the side of the people . . . A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of the people's lives — agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values to produce a passion for change." In this system religion becomes politics and politics becomes religion. And this explains why so many priests, infected with the virus of Alinskyism, are enraptured at destroying the traditional Catholic Church.

'Western' Society Gets Blamed

The priest manipulators of the conference lived up perfectly to the coarse, crude methods of their mentor. Their tactics produced from their audience — delegates and observers — distorted reactions against the Catholic Church, the United States, the First World of the West, business corporations, the white man; all these hysterical reactions led to accusations of criminality against these sectors of Western society and to a frenzied cry to bring these sectors to their knees. No injustice, no war, no poverty, no sickness, no difference or restraint, however reasonable, but was used to condemn these sectors as responsible for all the evils in the world. The whole conference was an activity-oriented frenzy and propaganda orgy. Now "the naïve group of little ladies" were, though the Cardinal was too charitable to specify them, the not-so-naïve liberated nuns who responded with emotionally charged outcries, clappings and vote-acclamations to the wand-waving of their exalted leaders.

The anti-intellectual, anti-rational tone of the proceedings was spiritually suffocating. With a shock it dawned on me that I was witnessing a new, alarming, growing phenomenon in the Catholic Church. A movement of Catholic "Know-Nothings" was making a play for power in the Catholic Church. And their first move was to discredit their Church before the world by mounting a witch hunt against her, supposedly to uncover her injustices, her subversive political activity and her disloyalty to the ideals of her Master. In reality this witch hunt was meant to harass and weaken the entire ecclesiastical structure. These agitated Catholics revealed themselves fully at the conference. They were ignorant of Catholic dogma, morals, canon law, philosophy, culture and history. But the most dismal aspect of their ignorance was that they did not give a tinker's damn about it. Indeed they gloried in their ignorance! Their contempt for truth was demonstrated every time they tittered against papal teachings and the age-old doctrines of their Church. Their contempt for justice and moral balance was demonstrated when they demanded that the Church change her doctrines on artificial contraception, abortion, the right to national defense, the right to private property, the right to reasonable profit. Their contempt for authority — divine and human — was demonstrated when they shouted against laws reasonably restraining the use of liberty, when they rejected the divine plan for salvation, when they resented such metaphysical and physical differences as God established in the diverse vocations, sexes and services for the salvation of man. Nor were these exalted souls really interested in "liberty and justice for all." They voted down a resolution presented by an Eastern European group condemning tyranny behind the iron curtain. I had to check with a friend to make sure I heard correctly. He assured me I had. The reason given for the rejection of this resolution was that it was decided that, "no anti-Communist statements were to be placed in any of the final documents. This would be too negative." Once again favorite treatment for the universal enemy, the pet of the rascal radicals. Of course, previously it had not been considered too negative to represent the Church, the West and especially the U.S. as the architects of tyranny.

A Demonstration Erupts

Some years ago Paul VI caused a world-wide commotion by speaking in his Wednesday allocution of the smoke of Satan seeping into the Church of God through the cracks in the walls of the faithful. On October 13, eight days before the opening of the Detroit conference, Paul VI told the world in his allocution that "the tail of the devil is functioning in the disintegration of the Catholic world." (Corriere della Sera, 14 ottobre, p.7) The allusion is to the Apocalypse where the tail of the dragon is said "to be dragging along the third part of the stars of heaven and dashing them to the earth." Without a doubt there was a demonic dimension at the meeting in Detroit. One need merely relate the dramatic event that occurred near the end. As resolution after resolution opposing the radicals was defeated and things were speeding up to allow participants to catch homeward bound planes, a group of four or five young men (they seemed to belong to the frustrated Eastern Europeans) quietly walked into the hall carrying a banner before a suddenly silenced and astonished audience. The banner read: "When you leave this city, take our red cardinal with you." A few policemen then went into action. They reached for the banner and were one the point of roughly ushering the young men out of the hall when the cries from the audience mollified their conduct. "Take your violent hands off those men. They have a right to express their opinion." The policemen then restricted themselves to persuading the men to leave quietly. Suddenly the young men shouted in unison: "Judas, Judas. Traitor priests!" They continued this for some minutes as they slowly left the hall. And their voices were heard gradually dying away with the one word returning weaker and weaker: "JUDAS, JUDAS, Judas, Judas, judas, judas!"

Bishops Were Culprits

One has merely to read the list of over one thousand arrogant demands this conference made upon the Church to realize that its own psychological violence provoked the violence of the young men. The conference sat in judgment, in the chair of Peter not of Moses, on the Church. It preached downward to the hierarchy, scolding them, demanding a reform of their lives, and listing privileges they must give up at once, or at least share with all the faithful. Russell Kirk in National Review, December 10, 1976, reports this incident. "You came here to listen, not to talk," said one militant priest to an unhappy bishop who had attempted to utter sense at one of the workshop sessions. Perhaps the most despised persons at the conference were bishops. Why? Because they enjoyed the fullness of orders; they exercised the power of ruling; they possessed the authority of teaching. And the radicals, moved by the spirit of violent envy — though they themselves would call it the spirit of the theology of hope — demanded all these gifts for themselves. These haters of hierarchy and order demanded a flattened down Church, a Church that functioned through theological egalitarianism. And they wanted such a Church today or tomorrow at the latest. One need just read the finalized documents to be appalled at the madness that prevailed at this conference.

As Russell Kirk wrote in National Review: "Call to Action was the monstrous baby of Cardinal Dearden of Detroit upon whom the Church had conferred responsibility for celebrating the Bicentennial." But when one reads Cardinal Dearden's report of the Detroit conference to the Bishops' meeting on November 9, 1976 in Washington, D.C. one is surprised to find not a monstrosity but a darling child destined to bring great news to the Church of the future. How can one explain this wide divergence of opinion between two such distinguished persons? Let me attempt an explanation. It is within the setting of a fond father evaluating the bizarre anatomical diversity and behavior of a loved, though flawed, child that the Cardinal's praise of the Call to Action conference must be understood. We need not look for conscious distortions in such passages as: "We bishops were able to bring together what must surely rank as one of the more diversified assemblies in our history," even though many bishops explicitly disassociated themselves from the conference and many others lamented the fact that the conference was anything but deliberative. Rather, the explanation must be found in the fascination for exaggeration and the use of hyperbole in praising one's own creature. That fascination will suffice to explain this passage and others: "It could be said that the intelligence, enthusiasm and commitment of those who were chosen to attend the conference is a testimony to the discernment of the bishops who appointed them." This is the tactic of lulling the bishops to sleep on the disaster that was the Detroit conference by lathering them in flattery. Or take this passage: "People do expect us to continue the process by responding with decisive action where it is called for, and with honest disagreement where that seems necessary. The key to our actions in the future is to continue the process, to build on the hopes that have been awakened, to act upon our clear responsibility for the unity, fidelity and vision of the Catholic community." All this is but high-flown nonsense. The people do not wish the shouting and the tumult of Detroit to continue; they were scandalized at it; fears not hopes were awakened in them; they say in the Detroit meeting not the responsible building up of unity, fidelity and vision, but rather the destruction of unity, fidelity and supernatural vision by a revolt against reason, revelation and the sacred authority of the Church. As an architect of the Call to Action, the Cardinal is open to an accusation of special pleading in attempting to whitewash his own creation. Cicero pro domo sua has been for centuries, indeed since the fall of Adam, the whitewash syndrome used to explain away failures. But it will not wash.

Even when he reluctantly admits "hasty, untidy, careless, even extreme" defects in the conference's proceedings, the Cardinal cannot leave the brush alone. "Yet even these flaws can be exaggerated," he writes. It is my contention as well as Russell Kirk's and many other delegates and observers at the meeting that the flaws were often so blasphemous that they could hardly be exaggerated. Indeed, because the Cardinal attempts to minimize these flaws one is scandalized at his carelessness over the seriousness of the situation. Here was a frenzied meeting in which disgruntled Catholics irrationally attacked the Catholic Church, Mystical Body of Christ.

In viewing the hysteria of the delegates, this writer was reminded of the truth of Dryden's poetic lines: "Great wits are sure to madness near allied . . . There is a pleasure, sure, in being mad, which none but madmen know."

Demands Were Made

The following are some of the conference's mad demands which the Catholic Church simply cannot grant without ceasing immediately to be the true Church of Christ. If she granted them, she would become a Church of the world, a snake pit of radicals. She would become a center of doctrinal, moral, chaotic disorder and psychoneurotic distress. The radicals demanded: 1) Divorced, remarried couples to receive Holy Communion while still living in adulterous unions. 2) Ordained women priests and bishops. 3) Women given the power to preach the Gospel with authority. 4) A reversal on the doctrine of artificial birth control. 5) A mitigation of the doctrine on abortion. 6) A teaching approving Marxism, Socialism and pacifism as doctrinally true and morally good practice. 7) A denial of the right to property and to reasonable profit. 8) The creation of a new Church, democratic, non-hierarchical in structure, a classless church.

The following are some of the demands the Church simply cannot fulfill for that is not her mission: 1) Wipe out poverty, ignorance, prejudice and war. 2) Democratize the whole world. 3) Stop the sale of arms everywhere. 4) Back the E.R.A. as a constitutional amendment. Like her Savior, the Church will not turn stones into bread, thereby becoming the Mother of Socialism or a millennium of this world. Finally here are a few demands the Church will most probably not grant in the interest of her supernatural mission to make converts of all nations: 1) Allow married men to be ordained. 2) Allow priests to marry. 3) Revoke the vows of celibacy of priests and religious. 4) Life the excommunication from divorced, remarried Catholics still living in adultery.

A final word of advice to Cardinal Dearden, Archbishop Peter Gerety and Msgr. John Eagan, prime movers at Detroit in the drive to create a democratic church of the future in a five year program. Such a democratic church will not be accepted by American Catholics, for such a church would be a man-made utopia, incapable of saving anyone. The Holy Spirit and the Vicar of Christ will preserve Catholics from such a sterile kingdom of this world. Bereft of Christ, such a church could only become an instrument of the Sons of Satan in their war against the flock of Christ. To loyal, perceptive bishops, priests and laity who still love their traditional, apostolic Church, it is of no small significance that the world is rejoicing over the debacle at Detroit. Such faithful souls know that when The New York Times rapturously reports the wild doings of a conference of Catholic enthusiasts and projects their redimensioned model of the Church as the inevitable Church of the future, then proper Church authorities better grab the holy water sprinkler, the prayer manual of exorcisms and, if need be, the legal instrument of excommunication before it is too late. Only by at once applying these remedies vigorously (Alinsky would insist on the vigorously) will the temple of God be cleansed effectively of its iconoclasts and the true Catholic Church rescued from the savagery of latter-day malcontents posing as concerned Catholics. Superstition? Hardly. Rather security measures against outside agitators and inside traitors.

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