In February, the Lepanto Institute received a curt, 1-page letter from the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP) threatening legal action if we did not cease to refer to the organization as “heretical” and insisting that the organization promotes “women’s ordination to the priesthood.”
We responded to this cease and desist demand with a seven page letter detailing the AUSCP’s published words, actions, and organizational decisions, followed by 18 very simple yes or no questions asking about the AUSCP’s disposition regarding certain aspects of Catholic moral and theological teaching.
We didn’t really expect a response but just a couple of days ago, we received a letter bearing the AUSCP’s logo on the envelope. Here is the letter:
The letter begins with a stated intention to “correct the mistaken assumptions” we made in our response. Unfortunately, in failing to make any actual corrections at all, the AUSCP reveals a duplicitous disposition by engaging in misdirection, double-speak, and outright falsehoods.
In the first place, Fr. Stephen Newton (Executive Director for the AUSCP) claims that the bishop of Toledo, Bp. Daniel Thomas, is not the ordinary of the AUSCP because the organization is incorporated in Chicago, IL. Conspicuously absent from this statement is the date of incorporation. While it’s possible that the AUSCP had always been incorporated in Chicago, the available documentation we could find seems to indicate otherwise. As you can see below, the AUSCP’s tax form 990 for the years 2017 and 2018 give the address for the AUSCP as Tiffin, OH, which falls within the boundaries for the Diocese of Toledo.
However, in the AUSCP’s tax form 990 for 2019, the address was changed to Notre Dame, IN. This is a most curious and dramatic shift, but the timing of this change of location is consistent with an incident identified by Bp. Daniel Thomas in a public letter mentioning the AUSCP. On 26 May 2020, Bp. Daniel Thomas issued a letter noting the excommunication of a woman named Beverly Bingle who had attempted ordination as a woman priest. In the letter, Bp. Thomas indicated that:
“on 20 August 2019, Ms. Bingle formally represented the Association of US Catholic Priests, Toledo Chapter, as the “authorized agent” on an “Application for Permit to Use Lucas County Government Buildings and Grounds” for an event on 20 September 2019 for which the Association of US Catholic Priests Social Justice Subcommittee was the principal organizer and sponsor. This action, along with her continual simulation of the Sacraments at the “Holy Spirit Catholic Community” in Toledo, Ohio, are a cause of great concern, and a source of confusion and scandal to the faithful in the Diocese of Toledo.”
Given Bp. Thomas’ knowledge of Bingle’s work on behalf of the AUSCP in August of 2019, it stands to reason that he communicated his concerns to the AUSCP. And since the tax form 990 is filed in 2020, it would appear that the AUSCP changed its official location so as to avoid any further difficulty with Bp. Thomas, which could have included canonical sanctions and a denial of the right to use the word “Catholic” in its name. And while Fr. Newton asserted in his letter that the AUSCP “[does] business wherever the persons doing it are located,” it is worth noting that Fr. Bob Bonnot (former executive director for the AUSCP) had signed the 990s for 2017 and 2018 with the stated address as “Tiffin, OH.” And this, despite the fact that Fr. Bonnot is a priest incardinated in the Diocese of Youngstown.
Because of this, one can logically deduce that the AUSCP’s change of location on its tax form 990s was not due to “[doing] business wherever the persons doing it are located,” but was a direct result of rising tensions between the AUSCP and Bp. Thomas. Incidentally, Fr. Newton’s statement that Cdl. Cupich “does not share the opinion of Bp. Thomas” is hardly surprising, and only further indicts Cdl. Cupich as a destroyer of the Catholic faith.
But what Fr. Newton wrote regarding the AUSCP’s relationship with Beverly Bingle contradicts the actual facts of the situation. Fr. Newton said:
“Beverly Bingle … is not now, nor has she ever been, a representative of AUSCP. As I understand it, she belonged to a local Toledo peace and justice group, which included some members of AUSCP.”
If Beverly Bingle has never represented the AUSCP, then perhaps Fr. Newton can explain why Bp. Daniel Thomas indicated in his letter that Bingle was the “authorized agent” for a permit filled out on behalf of the Toledo Chapter of the AUSCP. And for that matter, perhaps Fr. Newton would like to explain the following. On September 15, 2014 at 1:02 pm, an email with the subject line “Re: Toledo Events for the Climate March” indicated that Bev Bingle was an “AUSCP coordinator.”
At 1:17 pm, that same day, a subsequent email in the same chain identified Bev Bingle with the email address “auscp.toledo.”
On September 17, Bev Bingle is identified as having participated in an AUSCP subcommittee meeting for the Climate March in Toledo.
On September 19, Tom McDonald, identified Bingle as his partner “in AUSCP.”
And to prove that Bev Bingle was indeed using “auscp.toledo” in order to coordinate and make arrangements on behalf of the AUSCP, on September 21, Bev. Bingle was identified as the AUSCP rep who had previously sent out lodging details pertaining to the Friday and Saturday of this particular climate event.
The previous day, an email from “auscp.toledo” went to the event participants, stating, “Here are the things that the Toledo Chapter of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) has planned,” with all the additional details indicated in the subsequent email.
Given all of this, Fr. Newton’s assertion that Bingle “is not now, nor has she ever been, a representative of AUSCP,” is proved completely false.
In the next paragraph, Fr. Newton claims that the AUSCP “was not among the sponsors of Fr. Helmut Schuller’s speaking tour in 2013, nor [has AUSCP] ever officially harbored him or anyone else.” It seems strange that Fr. Newton would make a denial about something of which the AUSCP was never accused. In our letter to him, not once did we claim that the AUSCP was a “sponsor” of Fr. Helmut Schuller’s speaking tour. In fact, in the article we referenced, we specifically noted that AUSCP was NOT identified among the list of official sponsors, but did “quietly support and promote this tour behind the scenes.” However, that the AUSCP undermined the authority of local bishops, promoted Fr. Schuller’s speaking tour, helped him acquire speaking venues, and hosted him as a speaker at its 2013 Annual Assembly is indisputable.
In January of 2013, according to AUSCP board meeting minutes obtained by the Lepanto Institute, AUSCP’s board met and approved the following item : “ACTION: AUSCP will publicize tour of Helmut Schuller of Austria to our members.”
As the Tipping Point tour kicked off, several U.S. Bishops including Boston’s Cardinal O’ Malley, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput, and Detroit’s Archbishop Vigneron banned Fr. Schuller from speaking in their dioceses. Remember, as shown above, the AUSCP was hosting Fr. Schuller in Detroit and as priests “in good standing,” their duty would be to obey and cancel the engagement. However as reported by Call to Action, the AUSCP’s Fr. Gerry Bechard simply moved the venue out of the local parish to a high school:
“DETROIT, FRIDAY JULY 26 – Over 800 folks heard [Fr.] Helmut [Schuller] in Detroit after an archdiocesan ban of the program at SS Simon and Jude Parish appeared on front page of Detroit Free Press Friday AM. Instead, Fr. Schuller gave an EXCELLENT presentation at a local high school and received a standing ovation. Sr. Chris Schenk welcomed folks in the name of all sponsoring groups, thanked the Elephants in the Living Room and local Association of US Catholic Priests for their sponsorship. She also thanked the hierarchy in Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit for all the great PR (the crowd loved that). Afterwards, Fr. Gerry Bechard, the Pastor of Ss Simon and Jude hosted a reception for everyone at the parish hall.
An estimated “40 – 50 priests attended the presentation.” (emphasis original)
Fr. Schuller was also invited to and gave a presentation at the 2013 AUSCP annual Assembly.
Fr. Newton’s assertion that the AUSCP “was not among the sponsors of Fr. Helmut Schuller’s speaking tour,” and his claim that the AUSCP “never officially harbored him or anyone else” is an obvious dodge of the fact that the AUSCP is closely linked with Fr. Schuller and his agenda. And for him to then attempt to subtly exonerate the AUSCP’s involvement in assisting Fr. Schuller obtain speaking venues in dioceses where he was forbidden to speak, Fr. Newton said:
“Incidentally, while individual ordinaries do have the authority to forbid persons from speaking on church property located in their dioceses, they have no such authority over any other venues.”
To this, we say, “Fr. Newton, you miss the point.” The AUSCP assisted a priest accused of heresy (specifically, shilling for the priestly ordination of women) to obtain speaking venues in direct opposition to the wishes of the local ordinaries. An association of priests “in good standing with the Church” would never engage in such obvious subversion.
Thus far, despite Fr. Newton’s attempt to “correct the mistaken assumptions of the Institute,” it is plain for all to see that Fr. Newton has corrected nothing, but only further entrenched the AUSCP as an untrustworthy institution. But perhaps the most glaring dodge in the entire letter is his refusal to address the list of 18 simple “yes or no” questions we posed to him. Fr. Newton said:
“The remainder of your letter asks for responses to 15 questions you have formulated. My response is simply this: AUSCP has not taken a pro or con position on any of these issues, nor can I foresee us ever doing so.”
Let’s remember that AUSCP stands for “Association of United States CATHOLIC Priests.” The 18 questions (not 15, as Fr. Newton mentioned) we asked are all aspects of established Church theological and moral teaching and law. As a “Catholic” organization, it is expected that it should be able to easily affirm Catholic teaching and law, and reject those things which contradict such teachings and laws. When one is asked a binary question, there are always three possible responses: 1) in the affirmative; 2) in the negative; and 3) refuse to answer. Fr. Newton (and by extension, the AUSCP) has chosen response number 3. If an alleged “Catholic” institution refuses to affirm Catholic teaching when asked, then its identity as a Catholic organization is automatically cast into doubt. As Our Lord said, “He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.” (Luke 11:23, Matthew 12:30)
Following this, Fr. Newton said, “we are only answerable for positions made by consensus of the membership at an annual assembly.” In our previous response to Fr. Newton, we spent considerable time examining troubling portions of AUSCP white papers on the Status of Women in the Church, and on clericalism. We then compared those portions with magisterial teachings of the Church and noted the discrepancies. And despite the fact that these positions were represented in documents presented and affirmed at the 2019 AUSCP Annual Assembly, Fr. Newton refused to answer questions based upon those documents.
In what is quite possibly the most egregious claim in Fr. Newton’s most recent letter, he wrote: “we are extremely careful lest any of our positions or statements directly contradict Church dogma.” Not only does this expose the intended craftiness of the organization to skirt the line between heterodoxy and outright heresy, but it isn’t even true. While Fr. Newton may THINK it is true, as indicated above, the fact of the matter is that in our letter to him, we pointed out many examples of statements published by the AUSCP and juxtaposed those statements with the Church teachings they contradict.
Lastly, Fr. Newton wrote (regarding the support for priests promoting women’s ordination, like Fr. Tony Flannery, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, and Fr. Bill Brennan):
“We have and will continue to speak out for due and just processes for any priests, members or not, who have been accused of any canonical violation by Church authorities. This is quite different from supporting any and all of their personal positions.”
Again, the priests in question were all either silenced or excommunicated due to their involvement in women’s ordination after due and just processes were followed. What is very interesting is that Fr. Newton claims to support “any priests,” and yet chose to support those with the common crime of promoting women’s ordination to the priesthood. Can this really be a mere coincidence? Given the AUSCP’s arguments on behalf of the ordination of women contained in the white paper On the Status of Women in the Church (again, affirmed at the 2019 AUSCP Annual Assembly), it doesn’t appear to be. That said, we won’t hold our collective breaths for the AUSCP to support good priests who have been silenced, sidelined, maligned, abused, stripped of their faculties, and even excommunicated for their preaching and support for Traditional Catholic teaching and their performance of Traditional liturgies.
Be that as it may, nothing in Fr. Newton’s letter does anything to “correct the mistaken assumptions of the Institute,” but only further entrenches the AUSCP’s status as a deceitful enemy of the Catholic Faith to be opposed with full force and at all times.