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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Latest Report

IMWAC Report from the United States Church Justice Movement

Prepared by Nicole Sotelo, one of two IMWAC representatives from the United States


In the United States there are approximately 20 organizations working on church justice issues, ranging from women’s ordination to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. Representatives of these organizations gather as a forum twice yearly under the banner, Catholic Organizations for Renewal, or COR. Of these organizations, approximately 10 have chosen to affiliate with IMWAC. These IMWAC-affiliated organizations elect two representatives to the IMWAC Council. This year, the representatives are Anthony Padovano and Nicole Sotelo. 

The church justice movement in the United States, as a whole, is strong. Approximately one-third of the organizations that are part of COR have paid staff and receive funding from donors, grants or both. Most operate like any other non-profit organization with staff addressing administration, development, media and programs.

The organizations have separate mission statements and agendas but often will collaborate in both formal and informal coalitions on programmatic aims that overlap. Three recent examples include:

1) The Equally Blessed Coalition is a formal coalition that is comprised of four pro-LGBT Catholic organizations that work together on campaigns and programs to further the cause of LGBT equality in church and civil society;

2) The Nun Justice Coalition is an informal coalition of approximately 10 organizations that came together this summer to support the women religious who were under attack from the Vatican for their justice work or the 

3) Coalition for Liberty and Justice that has been created to address recent legal threats by Bishops against individuals’ rights.

The current climate in the United States church has an increasingly progressive laity with an increasingly conservative hierarchy. More recently the hierarchy has been willing to publicly align itself with conservative politics, particularly on issues of healthcare/reproduction/women’s issues and lgbt concerns. Additionally, there has been a recent concerted effort to unify the bishops’ conservative political priorities under the banner of “religious liberty.”
Despite this, the majority of Catholics in the United States support church justice in its many forms including contraception, women’s ordination, non-mandatory priestly celibacy, affirmation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality, increased lay participation, etc.

At right is a photo of the COR representatives at one of the bi-annual gatherings.
Organizational Updates

Below are a list of organizations and brief reports of their activities who are IMWAC-affiliated within the United States and represented by the two U.S. Representatives to IMWAC. This will impact a glimpse into the work of the U.S. church justice movement over the last two years since IMWAC met.

Following its successful gathering of about 2,000 in June, 2011 to celebrate the values and spirit of Vatican II, the American Catholic Council engaged in a careful discernment of what Council attendees were calling for and where the ACC could meet those needs not already addressed by other organizations.

These projects were launched in 2012: 
·        an Institute on Nonviolent Action and Reform of the Institutional Catholic Church
·        structured support of Listening Assemblies to promote the Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities (unanimously acclaimed at the Council)
·        plans to consolidate and expand  online resource data on Intentional Eucharistic Communities
·        full participation in the NunJustice coalition, a sub-committee of COR
·        a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis of the Vatican and the Catholic Reform Movement

The pilot of the Nonviolent Action Institute, “Changing Power Relationships”, has about two dozen dedicated participants who are studying the works of Dr. Gene Sharp in order to focus on practical, political and strategic methods of Church reform.  The Institute is conducted online for fourteen weeks, with a final in person strategy meeting in Washington, DC in mid-November. 

More information about all ACC activities is available at the website:

Call To Action (CTA) is a national movement of 25,000 Catholics working for church justice including clergy, religious and laity. CTA coordinates an Anti-Racism Team and CTA 20/30, a young adult program.  The organization hosts the largest annual progressive Catholic conference in the country. The JustChurch program is at the center of CTA’s work and focuses on five priorities as outlined below. Additionally, CTA promotes church justice through the press, website, newsletter, email action list and social media. 

Church Worker Justice:
Call To Action assists church workers who come to us for help after they have experienced an injustice in their workplace, usually a church or school. We are able to offer a network of emotional support, civil or canon law resources, and, when appropriate, a public campaign. In the last year, we have initiated a Church Worker Justice Awareness Week and promoted the issue during Labor Day Weekend on social media.

Lay Empowerment:
Among other things, in the last two years we have led a national educational tour regarding the new English language changes in the liturgy, supported a Catholic letter-to-the-editor campaign to speak out in support of contraception and supported a number of cases against clergy sexual abuse.

LGBT Justice:
Together with DignityUSA, New Ways Ministry, and FortunateFamilies, Call To Action is part of the Equally Blessed coalition that raises a Catholic voice for LGBT justice through programming and media. Last year we hosted a rainbow ribbon wearing campaign in churches to raise awareness about violence against lgbt youth and youth suicides. We also coordinated a congressional briefing encouraging lawmakers to vote with their Catholic constituencies who support same-sex marriage versus the bishops who do not.

Racial Justice:
Call To Action has been raising awareness of both racial injustice and racial justice in the church via traditional media with a media release this year and also via social media. CTA’s Anti-Racism Team holds trainings to promote better understanding of racial injustice in the church today.

Women and Girls Equality:
Last year, we held the largest rally for altar girls in Virginia, a diocese that has not implemented altar girls across its parishes. As a member of the Nun Justice Coalition, we were part of a delegation that delivered a petition with 57,000 signatures on it to the US Bishops’ meeting in Atlanta, GA this June in support of the sisters. The coalition helped Catholics pledge over $100,000 in support of the sisters and helped coordinate over 100 vigils nationwide throughout the summer months. Call To Action co-coordinated a Feminist Catholic Movement Building meeting this summer in which Catholic feminist thought leaders gathered together to assess the state of the movement. We have also been part of the Break the Silence, Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling project. See Women’s Ordination Conference report below for details.

Catholics for Choice

In 2012, Catholics for Choice has been out front, educating the media, the public, and policymakers in the US and in countries around the world on issues of Catholics and Contraception, Religious Liberty and Freedom, and Religious Extremism and its influence on SRHR Policies. We have worked with progressive Catholics individuals and organizations, other supportive faith-based groups, and secular allies who support CFC’s work.  We have trained advocates, policymakers and doctors in South America, Europe and the US in successful communications and values clarification with our recently evaluated training programs that have proven results in strengthening commitments to providing abortion and family planning.  Here are a few highlights of CFC’s achievements so far in 2012.

·        CFC developed a strategy to advance our social media presence and engage new activists and supporters.  In early 2012, we increased our Facebook engagement by 435%, garnered more than 30,000 signatures in an online campaign of Catholics who support contraceptive coverage, and engaged new activists interested in supporting our work, with more than 1,000 new individuals signed up to receive CFC email updates and action alerts. CFC communicates daily with nearly 20,000 engaged, progressive grassroots Catholics who support CFC’s mission and work.  Please visit our website  and Facebook pages to be a part of the discussion.

·        Elevating the voices of Catholics, CFC launched the WeHYPERLINK "" the Catholic People campaign. More than 30,000 people signed the open letter demonstrating the widespread support of people of faith who want access to no-cost contraceptive coverage  and believe that the choice to use contraceptives should be theirs—not the bishops’.

·        CFC co-convened the Global Interfaith and Secular Alliance (GISA) to build an international network of organizations that is well equipped to challenge religious extremism and its opposition to SRHR. Currently including 25 members, representing secular and religious NGOs from across the globe, GISA is working in the international community to promote progressive SRHR reforms and messages that counters dangerous religious fundamentalism. The GISA statement on religious extremism was the first of its kind to be presented at the UN Commission on Population and Development.

·        CFC formed the Coalition for Liberty and Justice. With fifty groups, and co-convened by the National Council of Jewish Women, the Coalition includes leaders from the reproductive health and rights movement, women’s, labor, LGBT, RJ, civil rights, secular and religious organizations, healthcare providers, medical and nursing students, and colleagues from both sides of the political aisle. Through knowledge sharing and building on the unique expertise of Coalition members, the CLJ advances religious liberty and justice that respects individuals, supports the common good and reflects the foundational principles of our nation.

·        For the Rio +20 conference, CFC produced a new briefing paper on the Holy See’s influential but untenable position at the UN. The paper examines the Holy See’s role at the UN (a privileged place no other religion holds) and the disproportionate and negative impact its special status affords it. The briefing paper and a collection of key CFC publications, written by SRHR leaders on topics such as global population growth and opposition research on the Vatican and the Holy See were shared with advocates and member state delegations in advance of and at the conference.
·        In a speech to Hungarian activists, Jon O’Brien explained Catholic teachings on abortion and the importance in promoting reproductive freedom, especially when challenged by antichoice government policies that restrict access.

·        Challenging the US bishops’ claims that their religious liberty is under attack, CFC set the record straight and widely disseminated a memo that debunked the bishops’ claims and presented helpful messages on true religious liberty and freedom. 

·        CFC’s powerful and popular infographic demonstrated that the broad majority of Catholic women use and support access to comprehensive contraceptive methods. “What Catholics Believe About Birth Control” appeared in newspapers across the country, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cincinnati Enquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tampa Bay-Times, Miami Herald, Denver Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and reached millions more people through Facebook and Twitter.

·        Strengthening the communications skills and advancing dialogue on SRHR issues among advocates, activists, medical providers and policymakers around the globe, this year CFC has trained 200 leaders and organizations in the US and around the world through our highly effective communications and values-clarification workshops.


Corpus is a reform Catholic community which was created in 1974.  Its original intent was the acceptance of marriage as an option for ordination to priesthood and the reintegration of resigned married priests into full canonical and pastoral status.  

Corpus had as its mission a dialogue with USA Catholic bishops and solidarity among those who had resigned.  Some 3000 married priests formally joined this endeavor.

In 1988, Corpus became a public reform organization and has held an annual national conference every year since then.  In 1988, Corpus changed its mission to an inclusive priesthood for men and women, celibate or married, without reference to sexual orientation.  

Corpus helped to create in 1992, COR (Catholic Organizations for Renewal), a consortium of national USA reform groups.  

Over the years, Corpus became active in three major national reform organizations:

1) The European Network 

An assembly of some 27 countries working for Church reform in a broad range of areas        throughout Europe and at the European Parliament and its related bodies in Strasbourg;   Americans are accepted as affiliated members.

2)  International Movement: We Are Church

This gathering of lay- initiated organizations  works for comprehensive reform in the spirit of Vatican II.
3) International Federation for the Renewal of Catholic Ministry

This international group began in 1986 in Rome as an assembly of world-wide organizations working for an inclusive priesthood.  It has held a dozen large meetings in
 Europe, Latin America and the US at regular intervals.  It now seeks renewal of ministry on all  levels of Catholic life.

Corpus has served the Catholic Church and the reform movement in these areas and with these issues for almost 40 years.


Along with partners Call To Action, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry, developed Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations working for LGBT equality in the Church and society. The group’s focus is on media work to amplify the voice of the majority of Catholics who support LGBT people. The group also sponsored the first Congressional briefing on positive Catholic support for LGBT civil rights.

We have marked the 40th anniversary of six major Chapters including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, New York, Boston, and Washington, DC.

We have developed a Young Adult Caucus to support greater engagement of Millenials in our movement. Most recently, this group gathered 24 Young Adult Leaders from across the country to meet with the Board of Directors, as well as to strengthen their own network, engage in leadership development activities, and identify what draws them to Dignity. Our Caucus works closely with the 20/30 group of Call To Action.

We co-sponsored (with WATER, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) the first Catholic Lesbians’ retreat held since the mid-1990s, providing a weekend of prayer, reflection, and ritual that proved life-changing for some of the 35 participants.

Our President, Lourdes Rodríguez-Nogués, testified at a Congressional Hearing on Hispanic attitudes about LGBT issues.

We have hired a Program Manager, working in Minnesota where, among other duties, he has helped to organize Catholic faith-sharing programs and other LGBT-supportive activities in advance of this November’s vote on a same-sex marriage ban in the state constitution. He spearheaded a powerful video project ( which involved people from 40 different parishes, and which has been viewed more than 20,000 times.

We launched a series of interactive web-based conversations about the spirituality of members of our community, Queer Catholic Faith, which provides programming for both Chapters and people living all across the country, as well as internationally. One-third of each session’s participants had never participated in a Dignity event before. (Recordings are available at )

We developed new guidelines regarding not having anyone preside at our liturgical functions anywhere in the country that has had credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors, and trained all of our chapter leadership on implementing them.

In partnership with the ACLU and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, we won a lawsuit that forced a school district in Missouri to stop censoring LGBT-positive websites—a suit that led to the software provider changing their filtering system in all the school systems they served, and increasing access for tens of thousands of students.

We were a founding member of the Nun Justice organizing team, which sponsored over 100 vigils in support of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), organized a petition that has garnered nearly 60,000 signatures, and offered other support for American nuns charged with being “too focused on the poor and marginalized.”

We led the development of a group of over 30 religious leaders to call for support of SB 1172, a bill recently introduced in the California legislature that would make it illegal to force LGBT minors into reparative therapy. We have also been on the leadership team of coalitions of LGBT religious groups working for immigration reform and to obtain federal legislation that would allow same-sex foster care and adoption of children in all 50 states.

We continue to participate in Catholic Organizations for Renewal, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, and Women-Church Convergence, all coalitions working for greater justice.

Changed Vatican Policy about Church closings Working with canon lawyer Sr. Kate Kuenstler PHJC, JCD FutureChurch’s Save Our Parish Community project guided successful parishioner appeals in 28 parishes across the U.S.. According to a Commentary on Vatican Decrees Upholding Cleveland Parishioner Appeals, written by Kuenstler,: “Both the Congregation for Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura now make a clear distinction between the legitimate reasons to merge parishes and legitimate reasons to close a church.” No longer considered legitimate reasons for closing a church are the following:

1.      The shortage of priests
2.      The church is in close proximity to another church.
3.      The church is no longer considered necessary for worship when a parish is suppressed or merged.
4.      The maintenance for a building no longer needed as a church for Divine worship is a financial burden to the parish.

Free canonical resources at are regularly downloaded by people all over the world.

Activated grassroots network to reach out to US bishops about married priests and women deacons at the time of their ad limina visits. FC’s Open Letter to US. Bishops resulted in over 6,000 signatures asking U.S. Bishops "to embrace your roles as shepherds" and "open dialogue about restoring our early traditions recognizing married and celibate priests and women deacons." Nearly 25 percent of signers agreed to engage their bishop in dialogue resulting in 16 face to face meetings with bishops and diocesan officials and responses from 28 additional dioceses. (outcomes available at
Conducting International electronic and paper postcard campaign asking Vatican offices to open discussion of mandatory celibacy and women deacons. (29,000 total signers to date includes some duplicate letters to local bishops). E-Postcard in six languages at Will be delivered to Vatican March 2013.

Organized over 350 international celebrations of the feast of St. Mary of Magdala each year, including 40+ in 14-16 countries outside the US.

Launched a new Women Deacons’ Why Not Now? initiative including a process to surface candidates to present to the local bishop and essays and prayer services about  women deacons in church history.

Worked with NunJustice coalition to organize nationwide prayerful opposition to Vatican persecution of US women religious.

Women’s Ordination Conference

Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) founded in 1975, and based in Washington, DC, is the largest national organization that works to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Catholic church.  WOC represents the 63 percent of US Catholics who support women's ordination. WOC also promotes new perspectives on ordination that call for more accountability and less separation between the clergy and laity.

 2011-2012 Highlighted Activities

·        Break the Silence, Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling: In October of 2011, WOC traveled with an international delegation to Rome with Fr. Roy Bourgeois to deliver a petition signed by 15,000 supporters. Our press conference was covered by major outlets including AP, Reuters, CNS, and WOC was quoted in over 2,700 outlets worldwide. The petition was delivered to a high ranking Vatican official during a private meeting with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, and lawyers Therese Korturbosh and Bill Quigley.  Erin Saiz Hanna (WOC Executive Director), Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Miriam Duignan (Housetop International) were detained by Italian police. 

·        World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination: Last March, WOC organized a prayer service outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington, DC during the Chrism Mass, in conjunction with prayer vigils held across the country. 

·        Nun Justice Project: Since April 2012, WOC has served on the steering committee of the Nun Justice Project, a grassroots movement supported by various progressive U.S. Catholic organizations. Our “Support the Sisters” petition garnered over 65,000 signatures, which WOC hand delivered to Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, Communications Officer of the U.S. Bishops in a public press conference. During the meeting, WOC staff spoke with the Papal Nuncio and other bishops about the sisters and women’s ordination; Over $100,000 has been pledged to women religious communities in a Peter’s Pence redirection campaign; Nun Justice Tumblr created to collate vigil information, photographs and videos from vigils held in over 60 cities across the U.S. ( Vigil attendance ranged from 10-600 in some cities; WOC met with the leadership of LCWR and received a personal thank you letter for our work, with hopes of continued collaboration. Throughout the Nun Justice Project, Erin and Kate have been filmed for an upcoming documentary on the ministries of women religious

·        On-Going Advocacy: WOC continues to collaborate with many church-justice organizations and is a visible voice for women in the Church. In addition to supporting women at their ordinations, visiting college campuses, and publishing our newsletter, New Women, New Church, WOC was represented at: Call to Action Conference: Milwaukee, WI; New Ways Ministry Conference: Baltimore, MD; Catholic Organizations for Renewal: Arlington, VA; Women-Church Convergence: Minneapolis, MN; Coalition for Liberty and Justice: Washington, DC. 

Submitted by Erin Saiz Hanna, Executive Director,

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