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Catholic priests claims that its offer to participate in the upcoming National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis was rescinded because their broader view of the Eucharist was viewed as “threatening and undermining” to the congress’ core message, while the event organizers say they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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