Nebraska Call to Action to Appeal Excommunication

By Tom Carney
National Catholic Reporter [Lincoln NE]
December 14, 2006

The Vatican has upheld the 1996 excommunication of Call to Action Nebraska by Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz.

Call to Action Nebraska president Rachel Pokora said her organization met Dec. 9, the day after the affirmation was announced. With help from the national group, she said, Call to Action Nebraska intends to appeal the decision to the Apostolic Signatura — the Vatican equivalent of the Supreme Court — and is seeking an English-speaking canon lawyer to be its advocate in Rome.

Bruskewitz's excommunication of the group, a local chapter of the national Call to Action church-reform movement, resulted in nationwide publicity a decade ago, with mentions on "NBC Nightly News," CBS' "60 Minutes," and comments by talk show host Rush Limbaugh. The action also prompted public comments from several prelates, including the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin of Chicago, who said he would not take the kind of action Bruskewitz took.

Besides Call to Action Nebraska, Brukewitz's 1996 excommunication included Catholic members of 10 other organizations, including Masonic groups and Planned Parenthood.

A Nov. 24 letter to Bruskewitz from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, obtained by NCR, acknowledged a Feb. 19 letter to the Vatican from James McShane, a Call to Action Nebraska board member, asking for "authoritative judgment" on the 1996 excommunication.

"You can explain to Mr. McShane that the Holy See considers Your Excellency's ruling ... was properly taken within your competence as pastor of that diocese," the letter said. It said that Call to Action's activities are "in contrast with the Catholic faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint. Thus to be a member of this association or to support it is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith."

McShane told NCR that his organization appealed the original 1996 excommunication but until now has never received a response from the Vatican. Over the years, various members have tried to meet with Bruskewitz but have been refused a meeting. Patty Hawk, a Call to Action Nebraska member and co-president of the national Call to Action board, said members have tried to hand-deliver letters to Bruskewitz and chancery employees "wouldn't take them in their hands."

Bruskewitz sent a copy of the cardinal's letter to McShane; John Krejci, a founding member of the Lincoln Call to Action; and to Pokora. The bishop's cover letter said that if members repent and seek absolution in the sacrament of penance, that penance must include "public renunciation of membership in the forbidden society."

Fr. James Coriden, a professor of church law at the Washington Theological Union, said it may be that the Congregation for Bishops is simply ruling that the excommunication is within Bruskewitz's authority. The language, "in contrast with the Catholic faith," is a mild form of censure, and may not be a ruling on the substance of the excommunication, he said.

Bruskewitz was unavailable for comment, according to vice chancellor Fr. Andrew Menke, who said no one else in the chancery office was available. At Menke's suggestion, NCR sent a fax with questions to the bishop's office but no response was received by the requested deadline.

A story in the diocesan newspaper, the Southern Nebraska Register, described Call to Action as an "offspring of secular humanism," saying it is "closely linked to and cooperates with abortion providers and virulent abortion supporters." A chart in the newspaper presented "differences at a glance" between Roman Catholicism and the group. Call to Action, according to the chart, recommends popular election of bishops by laypersons, has an "undefined" stance on the Nicene Creed, defines sin as "affronts to self," views belief in the Incarnation as "optional," and doubts the virgin birth.

It also said Call to Action opposes priestly celibacy, supports the ordination of women and artificial contraception, views abortion and euthanasia as "matters of conscience," and promotes homosexuality as a lifestyle.

Call to Action and its Nebraska group said members have various views on those issues. The Lincoln chapter, according to a news release from the national office in Chicago, "has advocated for women's equality in the church, opportunities for altar girls, and protection of children in the sexual abuse crisis."

Krejci described the diocesan newspaper's characterizations of Call to Action Nebraska as "lies." He said he knows of no Lincoln members, for instance, who deny the Nicene Creed.

McShane said, "It's an outrage for him to say we don't accept the Nicene Creed and belief in the Incarnation is optional. These are very serious accusations and contain not an iota of truth."

Pokora, an associate professor of communication at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, said the Vatican's confirmation of the excommunication is "painful, especially for someone like me for whom Catholicism is part of who she is." Every time she attends Mass, she said, she wonders if she will be denied Communion.

"That's horrible to think about when approaching the altar," she said.

Krejci, a former priest with a dispensation from the Vatican, said he is the only one in the Lincoln chapter who has been refused Communion, and that the refusal happened at three parishes.

McShane, a retired English professor at the University of Nebraska, said that since the 1996 excommunication he has been denied the role of sponsor at a baptism and was told by his pastor that he "is not in good standing" in the parish. At age 68, he's concerned that the excommunication will prevent him from receiving a Catholic burial.

"It's the equivalent of sacramental extortion," said McShane.


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