By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
More than 170 priests from across the United States gathered in Atlanta June 19-22 to set priorities for the next year.
Father Robert McAleer and Father Walter Helms, retired priests of the Diocese of Davenport, attended the meeting of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP). Both have been involved in the group since its founding in 2011.
Seven goals were submitted for discussion and three were approved. Those approved pertained to immigration, seminary formation and ordaining married men, Fr. McAleer said. The talks were phenomenal, he added.
The group agreed to assist in the development of support systems for comprehensive immigration reform. Fr. McAleer said “we are all for supporting this. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is on this topic. The USCCB also is on the healthcare topic.”
AUSCP members agreed to establish a work group to contribute to the USCCB’s current project of reviewing the Program of Priestly Formation. Fr. McAleer said younger seminarians and priests are not taught about the changes of Vatican II. “This was not a blip in history,” he noted.
The final goal approved is to encourage the USCCB and its bishops to engage in an open discussion to the ordination of married men.
According to AUSCP, other goals that have active working groups are: clericalism, re-commitment to Gospel non-violence, youth synod, church and labor, and emerging pastoral issues.
Also, three resolutions that received assembly approval were support for USCCB’s campaign for immigration reform and creation of a culture of welcome; joining with faith communities and Washington Interreligious Staff Community (WISC) to urge enactment of health care reform based on 10 priorities; and a call for a nationwide policy or plan to institute pastoral leaders for parishes without a priest.
Another topic that brought about discussion, Fr. McAleer said, was a request to allow deacons to be able to perform the sacrament of anointing.
When deacons are ordained, Fr. McAleer said, they are allowed to perform baptisms (which involve anointing), marriages and funerals, all outside of Mass.
AUSCP noted that priests have reported that hospital patients are being denied the sacrament of anointing because of a shortage of priest-chaplains across the U.S. “If adopted, this resolution would ask the U.S. bishops to petition to the Holy See for deacons to administer the sacrament of anointing.”
Fr. McAleer said deacons cannot hear confessions. But in his years of anointing the sick, often referred to as “last rites” in the past, he had only heard a confession one time. “We need to care for the needs of the people,” he said.
A talk by Father Bryan Massingale titled “To Redeem the Soul of America – Martin Luther King’s Vision and its Challenge to American Catholics” was “so uplifting to the heart of who I am. This was the greatest retreat talk I have ever heard,” Fr. McAleer said.
Fr. Helms said the talks by Fr. Massingale and JustFaith founder Jack Jezreel were “fascinating.”
Fr. Massingale is an “excellent speaker who used slides and haw powerful insight about the ‘soul of America,’” Fr. Helms said.
Jezreel spoke on “A New Paradigm for Parishes. Fr. Helms said Jezreel has an academic theological background and his association with The Catholic Worker House taught Jezreel a whole new way to do theology – from the bottom up. The talk addressed how relationship building comes before charity.
Both Frs. McAleer and Helms said being able to exchange ideas and experiences with others is “priceless.”