In the summer of 1990, in response to a request from the elected council of the Community of St. Malachi, a committee was formed to deal with issues of internal reform in our Catholic Church. The council had endorsed the Resurrection Parish Council position that the centrality of the Eucharist outweighs disciplinary considerations of the state-in-life and gender of ordained ministers. Prompted by the growing shortage of priests, Resurrection called on the United States bishops to look beyond substituting Communion services for Eucharistic Celebrations in priestless parishes, and to explore the more desirable options of allowing both the return of married priests to active ministry and the ordination of women. The Community of St. Malachi Council concurred and addressed its own letter of concern to the National Council of Catholic Bishops. The council also issued a news release to this effect. Members of the two parishes then met to discuss their joint position and concerns. A need was recognized to network with members of other parishes throughout the Cleveland Diocese around issues of Church reform because no other organization was addressing them. Pastors, pastoral associates and lay leaders of some 20 faith communities were invited to an initial meeting to explore ways of educating and advocating around FutureChurch concerns, especially as they relate to the Eucharist.
On October 16, 1990, some 33 people from 16 faith communities met at St. Malachi Center to form the FutureChurch coalition. Members of parishes throughout the diocese gathered for monthly meetings at the center. Resurrection had earlier appealed to all parish councils in the diocese to discuss its concerns and more than 20 formally endorsed the Resurrection resolution. A number of others discussed the resolution and written their own letters of concern to the bishops. Members of many of these parishes regularly attended FutureChurch meetings. New people joined the group and individual parishioners shared what was being done on their homefronts to support FutureChurch issues. FutureChurch identified a mission statement, goals and leadership.
FutureChurch worked to maintain a cordial, non-adversarial relationship with diocesan authorities and made visible the remarkable degree of grass roots support for responsible change that existed in the Cleveland Diocese strive to provide diocesan leadership with the consensus needed to identify the “sensus fidelium” (sense of the faithful) which witnesses the Spirit’s leading among us and provides the basis for doctrinal development. Among the early reforms committed to by FutureChurch were the following:
1. We call upon Church officials to incorporate women at all levels of ministry and decision-making.
2. We call upon the Church to open the priesthood to women and married men, including resigned priests, so that the Eucharist may continue to be the center of the spiritual life of all Catholics.
3. Just as the U.S. bishops invited participation in developing their teachings on social justice for their pastoral letters on peace and economic justice, we call for extensive consultation on such issues as officially permitting divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist, intercommunion, selection of bishops, etc.
FutureChurch supported Archbishop Rembert Weakland in his rejection of lay-led Communion services and Liturgies of the Word in parishes without resident priests as solutions to the shortage of priests.
He wrote: “Both of these solutions, especially over many years and perhaps for the life of a whole generation, frighten me. They are simply not adequate for the spiritually healthy. They could lead to a new kind of church that is not rooted in the one we know and that has come to us from the apostles. We would not be a eucharistic community in the fullest sense of that term.” Archbishop Weakland also rejected such solutions as creating “mega-parishes” or requiring priests to “circuit ride” to administer the sacraments. He had been supported publicly by Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle, Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester and Bishop Francis Quinn of Sacramento, among others.
FutureChurch called for an end to the unjust discriminating policies which prevent married priests from teaching in Catholic colleges and seminaries, or to be lectors and eucharistic ministers at Mass. Rights open to all baptized should not be denied resigned priests, expecially those who have received from Rome dispensations to marry.
FutureChurch distinguished between Church practice and Church doctrine. They said practices such as laws of fast and abstinence, holy days of obligation, celibacy, etc., could always be changed as the needs of the faithful dictate. Doctrine was open to discussion as long as it does not center on the essentials of our Faith (cf. the Creed and Sacraments). FutureChurch accepted the teaching of Vatican II that there is a hierarchy of truths in Catholic doctrine –with some more important than others; i.e. Eucharist is more important than the gender of the celebrant.
During its first year FutureChurch co-sponsored Cleveland presentations by three renowned theologians: Dr. Bernard Cooke, Dr. Anthony Padovano and Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere. The first event of its second year was a fundraising dinner with close to 700 in attendance. Featured was a talk by noted author and columnist Father Richard P. McBrien, of Notre Dame University. His topic: “The Future of the Catholic Church … Eucharist… Priesthood.”