Vatican affirms US bishop's excommunication of lay group

The Holy See has upheld a decision taken 12 years ago by Nebraska Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz to excommunicate members of the lay organisation, Call to Action, for "unacceptable" doctrinal and disciplinary positions.

Catholic News Service reports that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, told Bishop Bruskewitz in a 24 November letter made public on Friday that his ruling "was properly taken within your competence as pastor of that diocese."

"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 organisation 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 legalise 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 organisations 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.

Bishop Robert F Vasa of Baker, Oregon, 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 US 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.

mmm (Catholic Online, 9/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Call to Action USA
Congregation for Bishops
Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz (Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska)
Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska

Alternative priests' council hits back on mandatory celibacy (CathNews, 28/1/05)
Group says US Catholics have not lost faith in Church (CathNews, 4/11/02)

11 Dec 2006