02 April 2015, The Tablet

Loyal ACTA has been misunderstood

This week the Bishop of Lancaster, Michael Campbell, rebuked a lay group pushing for greater lay involvement in the Church, saying it was not recognised in his diocese and describing it as a self-styled “vocal interest or lobby group”. Here a leading member says the bishop is mistaken

A Call to Action (ACTA) is a movement of more than 2,000 lay and ordained Catholics that was founded by seven priests towards the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy. ACTA is definitely not a group of dissenters but a group of loyal and mostly long-serving members of various bodies in the Church who draw on Scripture and the tradition of our much-loved Church throughout the ages.

ACTA takes its inspiration from the Second Vatican Council and the 1998 One Bread, One Body document of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales that promoted collaboration between clergy and laity. ACTA is not about changing Catholic doctrine but is a movement from below rather than above, which enables it to be a channel for impartial opinions on pastoral practice. Its principal concerns are structural and participative, not doctrinal.

Solidarity and subsidiarity in internal democracy are paramount in ACTA; its elected chair is a laywoman and its elected vice chairman is a senior priest from a religious order. Members of their respective diocesan groups choose delegates to ACTA’s core leadership group. ACTA has members and supporters in almost all of the dioceses in England and Wales, and its purpose is to develop and foster a culture of openness within the Roman Catholic Church and to promote dialogue with our bishops, clergy and laity, for the benefit of all members of the Church. All ACTA diocesan groups have sought meetings with their bishops and most diocesan bishops have agreed to sample what Pope Francis calls “the smell of the sheep” and engage in gracious dialogue.

ACTA welcomed the election of Pope Francis and his more collaborative, transparent, and reformist leadership of the Church and his attempts to deal with the “signs of the times”. Church scandals had arisen from hierarchical mismanagement that put the dignity of the institution as more important than the God-given dignity of the human person, be they young or old. However many of the People of God in ACTA had been concerned that during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, there was a move away from honouring the Second Vatican Council document that outlines the role of the laity, Lumen Gentium, and the bishops’ One Bread, One Body to a situation where the laity were once again only called on to just “pay and pray”.

This downgrading of the laity’s role in the Church is evidenced by increased clericalism, the imposition of a new clumsy Latinate-grammar liturgy by the Roman Curia, the closing down of parish councils, and the failure by our bishops to consult as widely with the laity as with the clergy on a response to the Synod on the Family. However, we in ACTA in the diocese of Northampton were pleased when Bishop Peter Doyle joined us for one of our meetings. It is ironic that the Church’s largely celibate clergy aren’t more open to listening to the People of God who have particular experience of the joys and hopes of contemporary marriage and of family life, which in the words of the late Dr Jack Dominian should be a “domestic Church”.

Michael Phelan is a member of the ACTA steering group, a deacon in the diocese of Northampton and a trustee of The Tablet

What do you think?


You can post as a subscriber user ...

User comments (30)

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 20/04/2015 12:40:00

Indeed Anthony - that is my point!

Comment by: Anthony
Posted: 15/04/2015 23:21:36

'This seems to be the mantra of those who seek to make a god in the image of man. '
Read Gen 1.26 & 27.

Comment by: Belo Horizonte
Posted: 13/04/2015 18:08:19

"Surely the honest course of action is to establish a new ecclesial body..."
This seems to be the mantra of those who want an unthinking, homogenous, one size fits all (frankly, immature) Church where its subjects put up and shut up.

Comment by: FEAD
Posted: 12/04/2015 09:36:23

Many thanks and God bless to those of you have posted positive comments about ACTA. To the others I'd simply say that I wonder whether I have been attending the right meetings! The quiet, thoughtful, prayerful people I know bear absolutely no resemblance to the descriptions provided by those who have never attended meetings at all! God bless you, too, but please 'come and see' before you judge us. There is nothing to fear. We are all the Church, even those of us who are weak, messy, inconvenient and frail.

Comment by: Belo Horizonte
Posted: 11/04/2015 20:01:23

'The theme of the Holy Year, which begins shortly after the Synod on the Family takes place in October, is being seen in some quarters as a motion by Francis to focus the minds of the Synod Fathers on a "merciful" solution for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Francis said in the document that it would be a time for people to contemplate how merciful God has been to them and to understand better how they are called to be merciful to others in turn.'

I rest my case!!!

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 11/04/2015 11:05:28

Belo Horizonte, you are at liberty to believe whatever you like and even claim it as 'fact'. However, I am curious to know why people,who believe Christ's message was usurped and changed by early Christians, would wish to have anything to do with the Church which is - allegedly - a 2,000 year long manifestation of usurpation.

Surely the honest course of action is to establish a new ecclesial body, rather than squat in one that is evidently the source of so much dissatisfaction to the squatters.

Comment by: Belo Horizonte
Posted: 10/04/2015 19:13:23

No, Bob, this is fact! Take it from someone who has studied this at length for three decades.

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 10/04/2015 18:37:13

Belo Horizonte: 'it is highly debatable exactly what Jesus originally said'.

This seems to be the mantra of those who seek to make a god in the image of man.

Comment by: Belo Horizonte
Posted: 10/04/2015 13:25:18


You underscore my point!
Tell me, when did Jesus say 'The use of contraception is a mortal sin' or 'The priesthood is reserved for males only' etc? He did, apparently, warn about crushing people with unbearable religious demands (Matt.23:4). I say 'apparently' as it is highly debatable exactly what Jesus originally said and what was put into his mouth by the early Christian communities.

Comment by: BJC
Posted: 10/04/2015 13:14:11

Robin, Belo Horizonte

What you write is a distraction from the post.

Michael Phelan and Eileen Fitzpatrick (Chair of ACTA) have both issued "denials" this week that ACTA is a pressure group for doctrinal change. Well, let them explain themselves and start being transparent. It's no more than the transparency that they demand of everyone else.

My questions are simple, require no more than yes/no answers, so what's the problem? It's like I've shot the dog. Or should that be fox?

Comment by: BatterseaDogsHome
Posted: 10/04/2015 12:22:00

Belo Horizonte, it's very dangerous to put words into the mouth of Jesus. Usually, when we do so, we know we've lost the argument. Resorting to "I'm sure Jesus wouldn't mind/have said that" just shows a desire to do it our way and have the Lord conform to our will ... I hear it all the time - usually from people seeking to justify the unjustifiable.

Comment by: robinmolieres
Posted: 09/04/2015 19:50:14

It's a sad Church that puts THE LAW before God's call to all to enter into relationship with Him and among themselves.

It's a frightened and frightening Church that won't allow discussion and discernment among all it's members.

ACTA is asking no more than that the pilgrim journey begun during the last ecumenical council continue.

Comment by: Belo Horizonte
Posted: 09/04/2015 19:49:30

I can imagine the elder son of the parable listing these six statements and demanding one word answers. However, I could never imagine Jesus doing so.

Comment by: BJC
Posted: 09/04/2015 14:39:37

Belo Horizonte

You underscore my point. The way you interpret these paragraphs will be very different from the way I would interpret them. Who do you think I might say the prodigal son was, for instance? No prize for guessing.

My point is this and it remains. What exactly does ACTA mean by the phrase "Catholic doctrine". It could mean anything. Michael needs to be a lot more transparent with the meaning he and ACTA give it before we can take it as a denial.

My question therefore remains, and I'll put it to Michael again, does ACTA regard the following as Catholic doctrine and not subject to change. Simple yes/no answers please:

1. The use of contraception is a mortal sin

2. The priesthood is reserved for males only

3. Homosexual acts are a mortal sin

4. Communion for the divorced and remarried is a mortal sin

5. The teachings of the Church are constant, do not "evolve" and are not based on the "lived experience of the community" as per the modernists.

6. There can be no conflict between Catholic doctrine and Catholic pastoral practice

Comment by: Martin
Posted: 08/04/2015 15:50:43

If ACTA supports the purported ordination of women then it is openly heretical and can hardly be described as "loyal". Excommunicate the lot of them.

Comment by: MissalLover
Posted: 08/04/2015 11:15:29

All this talk about the 'reforming Papacy' and a breath of fresh air. You're whistling in the wind! I can't see any real changes to the things that matter ... and that's because the things that matter can't be changed! OK, reform the curia if you like, shuffle the book-keeping accounts about if you want ... but change doctrine?? Don't be so very silly. No Pope - not even one who doesn't always think before he speaks - is in the business of doing that. Get real, chill out and, for goodness sake, go to Mass.

Comment by: Belo Horizonte
Posted: 07/04/2015 23:21:47

Can I respectfully recommend that BJC read at least paragraphs 46-49 of Evangelii Gaudium and let Pope Francis' words touch your heart.

Comment by: BJC
Posted: 07/04/2015 16:18:54

"ACTA is not about changing Catholic doctrine"

This could mean just about anything. It all depends on what you regard as Catholic doctrine in the first place. Rosemary Radford Ruether, for example, would say women priests are a part of Catholic doctrine. Hans Kung would say that using contraception is not a mortal sin and this is a part of Catholic doctrine. Further the modernists, like Loisy, would say that Catholic teaching "evolves" and is based on the "lived experience of the community", and this is Catholic doctrine. Finally, we have Cardinal Kasper recently telling us that Catholic teaching and Catholic pastoral practice can be in conflict, and he regards this as Catholic doctrine. ACTA have to clarify exactly what they mean by this statement or it's all empty words.

Michael, in the interests of transparency, can you please clarify what you mean by the quote above, and tell us in a simple yes/no fashion whether ACTA regards the following as Catholic doctrine and not subject to change:

1. The use of contraception is a mortal sin

2. The priesthood is reserved for males only

3. Homosexual acts are a mortal sin

4. Communion for the divorced and remarried is a mortal sin

5. The teachings of the Church are constant, do not "evolve" and are not based on the "lived experience of the community" as per the modernists.

6. There can be no conflict between Catholic doctrine and Catholic pastoral practice

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 07/04/2015 12:41:34

If ACTA is only about dialogue why is this not reflected on the ACTA official website? The forum pages are now hidden and there is no engagement with different viewpoints: in fact it is now virtually moribund. Where is the dialogue?


Comment by: Chris McDonnell
Posted: 07/04/2015 09:46:35

Michael Phelan states the case for ACTA clearly.
I had the privilege of giving the opening address at the Heythrop gathering that was formative in the development of ACTA.
At no time since then has ACTA regarded itself as a group opposing the Church; we have sought only open discussion as sincere Catholics concerned for the future of the Church that is our home.
In Pope Francis we have a Bishop of Rome who is making every effort to reinvigorate the Church. ACTA in this country is only seeking to offer our support in the same venture.
We are all on the same journey. Let's listen to each other and care for each other, in charity, on the way

Comment by: Anthony
Posted: 07/04/2015 00:00:38

I see fear written all over this sorry episode. ACTA are committed to dialogue - what is not to like about this?
Did Jesus ever refuse to enter into dialogue? Come on get over the fear. New life. Happy Easter.

Comment by: M.Hope
Posted: 06/04/2015 12:26:59

Dialogue, Dialogue is what is needed and ACTA offers us time to think positive ways of Listening and Engaging (as responsible Christians) to the needs of the people of God.
No Diocesan council and no parish Council/meetings... so thank you ACTA.

Comment by: Tony V
Posted: 04/04/2015 23:58:22

As a member of ACTA myself, I agree with Mr Phelan--and I don't. It is important the the laity speak up, and that's where ACTA can offer something. But iby the same token we can't expect only one 'party-line' opinion to come out of this conversation.

For the record, I strongly disagree with Mr Phelan that the laity were somehow downgraded during the pontificates of JPII and BXVI. It was, afer all, Benedict who restored the Tridentine rite to the people who longed for it and who had been deprived of it since the despotic papacy of Paul VI. I'm concerned about the confused and confusing signals the current pope sends. I'm also far less sanguine than Mr Phelan about Lumen Gentium, which rubber-stamped the tragic ultramontanism of Vatican I. And finall, while deploring the Pauline liturgy as a matter of principle--no pope has the right or authority to tamper with the church's liturgy--I welcome the newer, more accurate translation. Thank goodness we'll never have to hear 'And also with you' again!

I write this as an enthusiastic ACTA member.

Comment by: AlanWhelan
Posted: 04/04/2015 20:23:23

I am not sure about the disowning of ACTA, for which I have no brief and perhaps little sympathy. I had great respect for Bishop Michael and his continuation of Bishop Patrick's Fit for Mission agenda.

I remember Bishop Michael as Parish Priest of St Agustine's Hammersmith when in 2007 I wrote to him expressing my concern at the insulting Crucifixion imagery in a newly created Hammersmith Brodway hostelry and asking for his support as a local Christian leader in objecting to this insult to Christian belief. He totally ignored my request.

I now wonder if Fr Michael, now Bishop Michael, is of a very old fashioned Irish mentality that ignores lay voice.

Comment by: Belo Horizonte
Posted: 04/04/2015 15:18:29

Thanks, Michael, for much needed clarification. Though not an ACTA member I have attended a few of its meetings in the Midlands area and have found those facilitating these meetings to be at pains to stress their loyalty to the Church whilst at the same time endeavouring to question in a constructive way the current state of affairs in said Church so that the giftedness of her lay members may be more readily recognised. Sadly, some members of the clergy seem threatened by the presence of an empowered laity.

Comment by: Ushaw64
Posted: 03/04/2015 23:18:27

As a member of ACTA (Leeds) I can only say that Michael's portrayal of the aims, tone, motivation, and general provenance of ACTA rings true. We call for a dialogue with all in the Church the better to become missionary disciples and exercise our shared baptismal calling. That this is sadly mistaken by a minority as " dissent" simply illustrates how far the pathology of clericalism has penetrated and affected both lay folk and priests. To regard dialogue marked by parresia as dissent is a sign of that pathology. But we know that health wil return. It is called resurrection. ACTA members are not going away - they together constitute that place (The Church) from which it is not possible for them therefore to go! Dialogue will emerge - it is a reflection of that Trinitarian relationship which "emerged" in creation and in the incarnation and which is that "pressure to love" which defines what we mean by God. Happy Easter.

Comment by: MenAreLikeWine
Posted: 03/04/2015 10:40:26

ACTA should probably also begin to engage in some of the dialogue they profess. What ACTION to they want. To keep on mumbling trite words about dialogue is meaningless and intellectually dishonest if they do not state what they want.

I would be interested in dialogue from ACTA about their Action Plan from 2012 which was previously published :

Have meetings locally, as already proceeding. Discuss this and other action

Have a national meeting. Find a charismatic, coherent and respected lay
leader who is under 60, and representative of 'the lay-person in the pew'.
Elect her or him as leader.

Draw up a double plan of action - run both the same time.


Characterise the failure of the RC Church in England and Wales (understand
'Church' hereafter to refer to this) as a failure of the Bishops (Understand
RC Bishops) to ordain enough priests.

a.. The key problem for the future of the institutional Church is that
priests are dying out;
b.. only Bishops can ordain them;
c.. the Bishops are therefore in a position of power:
d.. but they have ceded that power intellectually and morally to the Pope
and the Vatican;
e.. Any correction of the problem theref

Comment by: Edmund Burke
Posted: 02/04/2015 23:48:54

What, in this context, does "loyal" mean? Or, putting it another way, how do these "loyal" Catholics differ from "disloyal" Catholics? The Church is not a democracy, with the equivalent of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Being Catholic involves signing up to minimum of essential doctrines Successive popes have reaffirmed traditional teaching on several of the matters proposed by ACTA and declared that the Church has no authority, for example, to ordain women. This organisation,however, insists that a matter defined by the Church as not capable of being "opened", remains "open to debate".

Comment by: Michael
Posted: 02/04/2015 21:07:26

Over 5,100 parents responded to the Strong Catholic Families survey asking what they most wanted to hear from the Church/church leaders. The results highlight two specific messages that were clear preferences and also indicated that leaders and parents did not always agree on what were the most important messages for parents. See the results at: http://www.strongcatholicfamilies.org/surveyResults.htm

Comment by: Paul
Posted: 02/04/2015 18:50:05

"Loyal ACTA has been misunderstood"

No it hasn't.

  Loading ...