Vatican affirms excommunication of Call to Action members in Lincoln
By S.L. Hansen
Catholic News Service
LINCOLN, Neb. (CNS) -- The Vatican has upheld Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz's decision 10 years ago that membership in Call to Action "is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith" and results in automatic excommunication for Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln.
In a Nov. 24 letter to the Lincoln bishop, made public Dec. 8, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, told Bishop Bruskewitz that his ruling "was properly taken within your competence as pastor of that diocese."
"The judgment of the Holy See is that the activities of Call to Action in the course of these years are in contrast with the Catholic faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint," the cardinal said in his letter.
"Thus to be a member of this association or to support it is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith," he added.
Bishop Bruskewitz said he hopes Cardinal Re's letter will bring clarity to Catholics who have continued their affiliation with Call to Action, Call to Action Nebraska or the 10 other groups cited in the original "statement of extrasynodal legislation," a formal canonical notice that they would be automatically excommunicated if they remained members of those groups.
"My prayer will always be that when people understand they have taken a wrong turn, they will stop and take the right turn," the bishop said.
He said Catholics who wish to return to full communion with the church must repudiate their membership in the groups by sending a letter to the organization and having their names removed from any rosters or mailing lists. Then they can seek out the sacrament of reconciliation, where their priests can guide them in confession and penance.
Although the Vatican letter only dealt with Call to Action, the other groups named by Bishop Bruskewitz were: Planned Parenthood, Society of St. Pius X, Hemlock Society, St. Michael the Archangel Chapel, Freemasons, Job's Daughters, DeMolay, Eastern Star, Rainbow Girls and Catholics for a Free Choice.
The Hemlock Society works to legalize physician-assisted suicide, and Planned Parenthood and Catholics for a Free Choice both support keeping abortion legal.
Job's Daughters, DeMolay, Eastern Star and Rainbow Girls all are affiliated with the Masons. The Society of St. Pius X and St. Michael the Archangel Chapel both oppose the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and celebrate Mass in the Tridentine rite.
After the Vatican decision, Bishop Bruskewitz said he felt a duty to lead the people under his pastoral care away from organizations perilous to the faith.
"Parents have to tell children that they can't test everything in the medicine cabinet or drink everything under the sink," the bishop explained. "The church is our mother and gives us these instructions as protection against dangers we might not perceive. ... It is liberating, not enslaving."
The bishop said he hopes people affected by his ruling will remedy their situations without delay.
"The Lord loves everyone and died for everyone, and he wants all to be saved," he said. "The best lesson that can be learned from everything that has happened is that one finds happiness, joy and satisfaction in obedience to the church."
Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Ore., was vicar general of the Diocese of Lincoln in 1996 and general secretary of the diocesan synod that issued the decree of excommunication.
Upon hearing of the Vatican's response, he said, "There never was any question of the bishop's right to do this and the suitability given the circumstances. I'm pleased to see that the Holy See has publicly affirmed Bishop Bruskewitz's decree and authority."
Call to Action, founded after the U.S. bishops' national Call to Action conference in Detroit in 1976, works to change church teachings in such areas as mandatory celibacy for priests, the male-only priesthood, the selection process for bishops and popes, and opposition to artificial contraception.
The Chicago-based national organization claims a membership of more than 25,000 people in 53 local chapters, and holds an annual conference in Milwaukee.
Talking about his 1996 warning that Catholics would excommunicate themselves by maintaining membership in Call to Action and/or Call to Action Nebraska, which drew national media attention, Bishop Bruskewitz said he was "determined to face up to the media so that it didn't look like I was ashamed of my decision."
The diocese was soon flooded with feedback, 95 percent of which supported his decision, he said.
The bishop said he did not anticipate a similar reaction to the Vatican's official ruling on the matter. "I can't imagine that there is much interest," he said.