Vatican Upholds Mass Excommunications of Members of 11 Groups

By Josh Funk
Fremont Tribune
December 9, 2006

Omaha, Neb. - A Vatican official has upheld the 1996 mass excommunication of perhaps hundreds of people affiliated with 11 groups the Lincoln Diocese considers anti-Catholic.

But local Call To Action members question whether the Vatican had accurate information because they never presented their side; the group plans to continue appealing, which will further delay enforcement of the excommunication order.

A Nov. 24 letter to Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Lincoln Diocese from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re said Bruskewitz's decision "was properly taken within your competence as pastor of that diocese."

The cardinal leads the church's Congregation for Bishops.

Call To Action holds "views and positions which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint," Re said. "Thus to be a member of this association or to support it, is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith."

Call To Action has long been critical of how the church handled allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests and questions the church's tradition of a male-only, unmarried priesthood.

An article about Re's letter was posted on the Web site of the Lincoln Diocese's newsletter.

In 1996, Bruskewitz ruled that membership in Call To Action and 10 other organizations was "perilous to the Catholic faith and most often is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith." The targeted groups also included Planned Parenthood, Catholics for a Free Choice, the Hemlock Society and several Masonic organizations.

The excommunication order was put on hold while Call To Action members appealed.

Under excommunication, Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion. They cannot be married or buried in the church. Excommunicated Catholics may be forgiven through the sacrament of confession, or may be absolved in their dying hour by a priest.

Recently, officials with the Lincoln diocese began telling members of Call To Action that their appeal had been denied. Efforts to reach Bruskewitz or his representatives were unsuccessful Friday because the diocese offices were closed.

Lincoln diocese officials have said the appeal was rejected because it challenged a church law _ specifically, legislation from the 1996 Synod of the Diocese of Lincoln _ which prohibited membership in the organizations.

But Call To Action members requested documentation of the ruling from the Vatican.

"We've been reluctant to accept the statement of the guy we appealed against that the appeal was denied," Jim McShane said.

In the newsletter article, Bruskewitz said Call To Action has been linked to and cooperates with abortion providers and virulent abortion supporters. But that's something the group's members deny.

"We are most certainly not pro abortion," said Patty Hawk, who is co-president of the national organization's board and active in the Nebraska chapter.

Call To Action members say the bishop could have easily learned that if he had talked with the group.

"It's sad that he (Bruskewitz) did not feel they could sit down together and talk as Jesus would have," said Nicole Sotelo, acting co-director of Call To Action USA.

Local and national Call To Action leaders said Friday they would appeal the endorsement of Bruskewitz's order to the Signatura, which acts as a sort of supreme tribunal for the Vatican.

Leaders of the local group said they still have never received a direct response to their appeal or had a chance to explain their appeal directly to Vatican officials.

"I guess it's a little sad that some leaders in our church chose to handle it this way," Hawk said.

The policy of the Lincoln Diocese isn't likely to change while Bruskewitz remains in charge, Hawk said, but her group will continue trying.

"We're still determined to see the spirit move in Lincoln," she said. "Change is never going to happen if no one speaks."

But Bruskewitz said in the newsletter article that he is committed to leading Catholics away from organizations he considers perilous to their faith.

"My prayer will always be that when people understand they have taken a wrong turn, they will stop and take the right turn," he said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.