Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bruskewitz vindicated

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.

The incredible gift of forgiveness

It happened again last night. We had the second of our communal reconciliation liturgies. It was truly powerful to sit and reconcile people to God. It was just one of those times when being the intermediary of God's grace is just incredible.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dealing with Life's Hard Pathways

For some reason, I tend to think and preach about my three and a half month experience in Israel a lot around this time of year. I'm not sure if it is just because I was getting home on a frosty cold Minnesota day similar to the ones that we had this past week or exactly why, but I remember a time in Israel, when I had the opportunity to visit the area in which John the Baptist did his ministry. I imagine that, like me you don’t know that the best viewing time of the Dead Sea area is at sunrise, or at least that’s what my professor said. I remember feeling hostility at that professor while standing at one of the city gates by 6:30 in the morning waiting for two Jeeps to haul us Sout. Nonetheless, I was there along with the rest of my class and heading out of a very quiet and peaceful Jerusalem and into the cold hilly desert. The name Jordan means "coming down" and that's pretty much what we did for the next couple of hours of driving. There would be short periods where our driver would negotiate a small hill but, for the most part, we got accustomed to the perspective of a angular descent.

We passed by the area where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. Of course, we were all trying to pretend that we were wide awake listening to our instructor tell us about the animals and plants native to the area when, in truth, we were all sleeping with our eyes open. We soon came upon this area that reminded me a lot of the bluffs along the Mississippi River. The main difference was that, instead of lush vegetation and beautiful houses lining these bluffs, it looked as barren as any other part of the desert. Our driver pulled over and we all got out of our Jeeps yawning and stretching. Essentially, we were out in the middle of nowhere. When our instructor pointed to the top of one of the bluffs and said, "That is cave one. We're going to climb up there." I thought to myself, "no sweat. I can make it. I've walked at Loras College in Dubuque, the college built on a hill that will never fall. I can make it up this thing." The problem was that there was no footing while walking in all that sand. We all struggled partway up the hill until our instructor taught us a trick. Instead of going directly at this kind of hill, it's best to walk at angles so that the hill is not so steep. Sure, it did increase the distance but it was a fair trade-off to not take one step forward and slip two steps back in the sand.

It made me appreciate the kind of difficulty that John the Baptist would have had when he lived in that area. And he didn't even have the luxury of cars and highway 30s that we have today. He would have had to walk everywhere in that sandy desert up hill and down. I think that's why both he and our first reading from the prophet Baruch sought the day when "Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth..." That way when they were doing ministry just getting there wouldn't be so hard. It is much easier to do ministry if you didn’t blow all your energy going from place to place.

But something even more profound than that is happening in our readings today. John and Baruch aren't just lazily trying to get out of hard work. They are also using this as an analogy to talk about life. Oftentimes, our church talks about us as a pilgrim people to describe our relationship to God. Our life on earth is really a journey of drawing closer to God. Sometimes there are mountains that get in our way when problems pile up and we wonder if God really is out there. Sometimes we make mountains out of molehills, especially when we allow fights between siblings to destroy our families. Other times, there are valleys that get in the way of our relationship to God, like when we realize that we haven't taken the time to pray as we should and we feel like we could never get started because we are so far behind. We don't realize that God isn't keeping score. He just wants us to start! So often, we allow other things to take priority over building that primary relationship we have with God. Technology can slowly dig a hole between us and our family and friends. Sometimes the best thing we can do is turn off the TV or computer and spend some time talking to our family or our God. This past week, we began a tradition here at St. Thomas by inviting you all to come for catechesis on the Jesse Tree. Many of you responded and discovered how the Jesse Tree, from the book of Isaiah, connects us through out ancestors to great people of faith. We hope that you can see in that exercise the importance of getting rid of all the valleys and mountains that interfere with our relationships to our family and friends and how important it is to take time with one another.

Yet, sometimes we encounter a winding road that seems to waste our time with all its twists and turns. Maybe it’s a friend or a family member that seems to drift in and out of our life. Maybe it’s those days when work is full of frustration and home is anything but peaceful. Maybe it’s when we think that we have a free day and end up spending the whole day doing some unexpected job. These experiences seem frustrating and can leave us ready to rip our hair out. Yet, pay attention to these curvy roads because they are the ones that help us appreciate our straight paths. They can teach us about what we truly value in life.

Ultimately this path that we walk is one walked with others toward God. What kind of path are you on right now? How can you make it a little more straight and smooth?