Crux Magazine: Left-leaning priests’ association says they can’t participate in National Eucharistic Congress

By John Lavenburg, 9 July 2024, National Correspondent 

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NEW YORK – An association of American Catholic priests claims that its offer to participate in the upcoming National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis was rescinded because their broader view of the Eucharist was viewed as “threatening and undermining” to the congress’ core message, while the event organizers say they simply ran out of space.

Father Steve Newton, the executive director of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) told Crux that the association was offered a booth at the National Eucharistic Congress in May due to a cancellation – the association’s first offer after first asking if it could participate more than a year ago. Then in June, Newton said the congress told them the spot had been filled.

AUSCP – viewed as a left-leaning association – has about 500 members, according to Newton. The organization’s core values are gospel teaching through the lens of Vatican II, promoting human dignity, and a synodal/collaborative relationship with bishops and laity, according to its website.

Newton noted how they advocate for themes of Pope Francis’s pontificate that aren’t necessarily “looked at well by the majority of the [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops],” and that they would’ve been a “vocal presence” to those ideas and how they relate to the Eucharist at the congress. He insinuated that’s why they were ultimately told there wasn’t room for them to participate.

“I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I can read between the lines,” Newton told Crux in an email. “The USCCB looked at our website, saw who we were, and intuited that our understanding of the Eucharist goes beyond monstrances and processions. We don’t disparage adoration and worship, but narrow theologies and pieties do not limit our understanding of the Eucharist.”

Newton later added that while the congress stresses that the Real Presence is in the host, the association stresses that it is also “in those who receive and compels them [us] to act.”

“I guess they find that threatening or undermining their core message,” Newton said.

A spokesperson for the National Eucharistic Congress

Reached by Crux via email, a spokesperson for the National Eucharistic Congress said that “the reality is that there was just no longer any space left.” The spokesperson noted that the congress will have 376 exhibits, which is one of the largest exhibit halls ever for a Catholic event.

“The hall is completely sold out. When the association originally inquired we added them to a waiting list,” the spokesperson said. “Unfortunately, we were not able to accommodate any additional exhibitors. The NEC team realizes this is a disappointment for many organizations who were not able to exhibit.”

Newton, in a separate phone conversation with Crux, said that the association’s booth at the congress would have been similar to the theme of its recent general assembly in Lexington, Kentucky, which was “Eucharist: Sacrament of Encounter.”

“We wanted to say that [the Eucharist] is an encounter with Christ that changes us into the body and blood of Christ to go out and live that and invite others into it,” Newton explained. “Among the topics are social justice, synodality in how we worship, and who we include, and that sort of thing.”

The association’s general assembly was held from June 24-27. It was the association’s 13th annual assembly, with 220 participants. Among the presenters and attendees at the assembly were Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, and Jesuit Father Thomas Reese.

Of the assembly, Stowe highlighted to Crux in an email how the focus was on the Eucharist as a “dynamic gift to the Church which animates its mission, and not on the Eucharist as an object of devotion simply to be adored.” He also noted how speakers at the assembly emphasized the centrality of the Eucharist to the synodal process “that has had such minimal support in the US Church.”

Stowe said the AUSCP perspective would’ve added balance to the congress.

“Full, conscious, and active participation in the eucharistic liturgy was contrasted with eucharistic processions and benediction which invites a more passive experience of the real presence,” Stowe said. “The emphasis of the AUSCP reflections would have provided some balance to the eucharistic piety and the content of the talks being presented by various Eucharistic preachers.”

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Why the AUSCP is not at the Eucharistic Congress

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Our request for inclusion was denied.

As the National Eucharistic Congress unfolds in Indianapolis, we rejoice in this public celebration of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. We regret, with sadness, that the National Association of U.S. Catholic Priests will have no formal presence among the many thousands of the faithful, lay and ordained, gathering in this public and profound proclamation of the central reality of our faith. After a year-long effort to be included among the many groups and institutions in public witness of our shared faith we have been denied a place at the table. 

The AUSCP is the largest association of its kind in the United States. Our members include bishops, priests and lay faithful. We had hoped to offer our experience of how the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist commissions us and commands us to go forth to serve our brothers and sisters everywhere.

A year ago, we began our inquiry into participation in the congress, receiving no direct response to our repeated requests. A month ago, we were assured that display space was available if we acted swiftly — and we responded immediately. One week ago (June 25), even as we gathered for our own national assembly on a Eucharistic theme, we were informed that all display spaces had been taken, even the one that had been assured.

As our members now have returned from our assembly to our mission and ministry, we will celebrate in solidarity with those who travel to the Eucharistic Congress. We renew our commitment to be the real presence of Jesus Christ beyond the monstrance.

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One Comment

  1. Seamus Ahearne says:

    The article in Crux by John Lavenburg, on AUSCP and the National Eucharistic Congress, is important. The words from Steve Newton and from Bishop Stowe, are very clear on the Eucharist. Most of us aren’t aware of the background story to the events described. However this discussion on the Eucharist matters to all of us. A static version of Eucharist, is anathema to the Word becoming flesh, and the continuing incarnation! Any effort to freeze the Eucharist or to make it passive; or to freeze the understanding of sacrament and priesthood; is dangerous and very wrong. Seamus Ahearne OSA

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