Group Critical of Lincoln Diocese Turned Away at Bishops' Meeting

By Nate Jenkins
Beatrice Daily Sun
November 12, 2007

LINCOLN, Neb. - A group critical of the Lincoln Diocese for being the only one in the nation not to participate in a sex abuse survey said it was turned away Monday when it tried to hand-deliver petitions to bishops from across the country.

The Catholic reformist group Call to Action instead planned to use a person not known as a member of the group to sneak roughly 1,000 petitions into the hotel where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was meeting in Baltimore, said a member of the group.

"It's been very discouraging to us that our own bishops won't meet with us," said Call to Action national organizer Nicole Sotelo, who was in Baltimore.

A spokesman for the Lincoln Diocese called the attempt in Baltimore a publicity stunt, saying that the group's motivation is not protecting children, but attacking Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. Members of Call To Action, who have long been critical of how the Catholic church handled allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests, were excommunicated by Bruskewitz in 1996.

That action was upheld by a Vatican official last year.

Monsignor Timothy Thorburn of Lincoln said in statement that Call to Action is "venting its ire" at the bishop for his decision to "not allow the group to operate in the Diocese of Lincoln because of its anti-Catholic doctrines."

The Lincoln Diocese was the only one of 195 nationwide that refused last year to conduct the sex abuse audit, which was implemented by the same bishops' group Call to Action tried to deliver the petitions to Monday.

The Lincoln Diocese participated in the initial audit in 2003, but has not taken part since.

It is also the only one in the country that does not allow women and girls to assist priests during Mass or serve at the altar.

About a dozen members of various groups calling for reforms to prevent sexual abuse tried to enter the Baltimore hotel where the bishops were meeting, according to Rachel Pokora, who tried to enter and is president of the Nebraska chapter of Call to Action.

"We were told we were not allowed on the property at all," Pokora said.

A marketing director of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, Bobby Vaughan, confirmed that the group was not allowed in the hotel but was uncertain of the reason why.

When it developed the audit several years ago, the bishops' conference said it would take action against dioceses that didn't take part and implement other policies designed to protect children. But no action has been taken against the Lincoln Diocese, said Gordon Peterson, a Call to Action member.

"It's a disappointment ... because Bishop Bruskewitz has just thumbed his nose" at the policies from the bishops' conference, Peterson said. "The position he takes is he's only answerable to the pope."

Studies for the bishops' conference have found Roman Catholic priests have been accused of molesting more than 12,000 young people since 1950, and the allegations have cost the church more than $2 billion.

Bruskewitz could not be reached to comment Monday but said earlier this year that the abuse survey was pointless and that he wouldn't assume wrongdoing by the diocese and its priests.

"We assume the other way _ that our people are decent and good and that they don't have to be continually monitored, checked and audited because they are not under suspicion," Bruskewitz said.


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