Modern Inquisition in Nebraska
cyncooper printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 03:51:52 PM EST
The new year is a good time to think about action, and action is definitely in order in Nebraska, where Inquisition is in the air.

Angela Bonavoglia, who wrote inspirationally about people fighting reactionary forces within the Catholic Church in Good Catholic Girls, now blows the whistle on a shocking development to summarily eject reformers. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Nebraska declared a mass excommunication of members of Planned Parenthood, Catholics for a Free Choice, the progressive reform group Call to Action, and others. The Vatican has just announced a go-ahead for the plan.

The prospects are ugly and disturbing, writes Bonavoglia:

Imagine this conversation at the altar rail: Are you now or have you ever been a member of Call to Action? If the answer is yes, and you live in the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, there will be no Communion for you. Nor will you be able to participate in a Catholic baptism or even have a Catholic burial.

As a Christmas gift to Lincoln's progressive Church reformers, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Vatican Congregation of Bishops, heartily approved the Inquisitional action of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who excommunicated every single local member of the country's largest and most progressive church reform group, Call to Action.

The original excommunication order came in 1996.  At that time, Bruskewitz gave members one month to renounce their membership in a list of organizations that he specified or be "automatically excommunicated." Call to Action or CTA, newly formed in Lincoln, appealed the decision and the Vatican finally heard their call -- and rejected it.

As Bonavoglia notes:

In his letter of response, Cardinal Re confirmed that membership in or support of CTA was "irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith," and declared that Bruskewitz's decision to issue a blanket excommunication was "properly taken."

The letter is specific to Call to Action, a group which is particularly supportive of gays and women in church roles, but others were also fingered for condemnation by Bruskewitz. In addition to Catholics for Free Choice and Planned Parenthood, the original Bruskewitz broadside named for ejection members of Rainbow Girls, Freemasons (including Shriners), Eastern Star, Job's Daughters, Demolay, Hemlock Society, Society of Saint Pius X (Lefebvre Group) and Saint Michael the Archangel Chapel.

The people of Nebraska were probably unaware that, according to Bruskewitz, "membership in these organizations or groups is always perilous to the Catholic Faith and most often is totally incompatible with the Catholic Faith."  Bruskewitz declared: "All Catholics in and of the Diocese of Lincoln are forbidden to be members."

Rainbow Girls might be especially shocked to find that they are "perilous," since they emphasize leadership, poise, public speaking for girls and teach "three basic virtues: Faith in a Supreme Being and other people, having Hope in all that they do, and Charity toward others."  But they are apparently affiliated with Freemasons, and Masons were condemned in the 1800s by Pope Leo XIII for anti-Catholic teachings. Job's Daughters, DeMolay, Eastern Star are also affiliated with the Masons, and the Society of St. Pius X and St. Michael the Archangel Chapel are forboden because they oppose certain reforms of the Second Vatican Council, according to the National Catholic Digest.

At the time that Bruskewitz issued the order, others try to soft-soap it. Father Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, told Catholic World Report in May 1996 that the "edict is so irresponsible that no one is bound by it."

The new Vatican support for the Bruskewitz Inquisition highlights other illuminating positions of the bishop. For example, in 2003, he wanted the Catholic Conference of Bishops to declare that homosexual acts are "intrinsically evil, and if they are done with free will and due deliberation, they are mortal sins and place one's salvation in jeopardy," according to Daniel J. Wakin, writing in The New York Times. The sex abuse crisis in the church is a "homosexual problem, not a pedophile issue"  Bruskewitz told
The Wanderer, ignoring the abuse of girls and boys as young as five and sex.  Bruskewitz also stands alone in rejecting the participation of altar girls, according to Bonavoglia.

Bruskewitz has fans in the religious blogworld.  "Hopefully, his leadership style will spread ... and get THE Church back to orthodoxy," wrote one poster on

But Call to Action is still in action, vowing an appeal and mounting a new public campaign: "Justice Cannot Be Silenced,"
the group declared.

"We will not let this excommunication letter stop our work for justice," says Patty Hawk, a member of CTA/Nebraska and CTA/USA board co-president. "We are asking Catholics across the country to sign a letter to Bishop Bruskewitz objecting to the denial of due process we experienced during the excommunication proceedings and also requesting his compliance with the national charter to protect our children from sex abuse. These letters will also be delivered to Bishop Skylstad, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops."

The tenacity of Call to Action in the face of difficult odds is a bright bit of fireworks to take into the new year.

Call to Action urges people to visit its website for more information on its Nebraska action campaign, linked here.

Call to Action describes itself as "Catholic lay people, religious and clergy working together to foster peace, justice and love in our world, our church and ourselves in the spirit of Vatican II and the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Call to Action."

by cyncooper on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 04:04:34 PM EST

I am a Catholic, but it seems to me Bruskewitz wants to be a mini-dictator in his own diocese. From what I understand, Bruskewitz won't report an audit of sexual abuse claims in his own diocese, and he is the last diocese in the United States to forbid female altar servers. Supposedly his flock mostly agrees with him. I am not a member of CTA, although I can agree with a lot of what they stand for. I wonder if he is going to excommunicate readers of the National Catholic Reporter next? Bruskewitz's behavior and the way the bishops mishandled the sexual abuse cases world wide are two reasons why I don't have much respect for the hierarchy as a whole, although I am a churchgoing Catholic.

by khughes1963 on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 10:36:02 AM EST

The definition of the word catholic is universal. Bruskewitz, by shrinking the Church in such an arbitrary manner is acting exclusively, not inclusively; the very antihesis of the teachings of Jesus.

Clearly, the inmates have taken over the asylum.  

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 04:13:41 PM EST

in this piece is not so much the activites of one crank Bishop. (Every big international movement has a few crank leaders.) The key here is that the Bishop has the blessing of the Vatican, which makes this potentially normative in the Church. Will it be?  The current Pope headed the section of the church that used to be called the office of the Inquisition.  This post is aptly titled.

This may be a case of the exception that becomes the rule.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 04:31:55 PM EST

Yes, I agree -- the scary thing is that the Vatican sealed the deal.  

Call to Action USA co-director Nicole Sotelo commented on the serious ramifications and dangerous precedent for all Catholics. "Does this recent letter from the Vatican mean than any Catholic who advocates for the protection of children in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis could be subject to excommunication?" she asked.

Helping Call to Action reverse this decision seems essential.

by cyncooper on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:06:32 PM EST

I am quite concerned about this.  Instead of healing souls and being Christlike, this bishop has chosen the path of top-down heirarchy and abuse.  

If this bishop follows through, he's separating HIMSELF from Christ.  What he has chosen to do is contrary to God's will.

Please, keep us posted with followups.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 10:41:53 AM EST

The people of Nebraska were probably unaware that, according to Bruskewitz, "membership ... incompatible with the Catholic Faith."

When this story began -- has it really been ten years? -- it was a lively topic here in Lincoln whether one was Catholic or not.  For many of us it was merely our first acquaintance with the good Bishop and his penchant for publicity.  My guess is that embarrassment was/is the most common reaction.  We'd rather be ignored than to be known for this.

by kewball on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 03:22:02 PM EST

...excellent post! Thank you for call this to our attention.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 04:15:00 PM EST

My guess is that no bishop of an American diocese can do this without making himself the laughingstock of half the diocesan laity. B-u-t.....he REALLY, REALLY wants to get out of Lincoln NE to some bigger diocese, so playing to the Curia is the key.

by NancyP on Tue Jan 02, 2007 at 04:07:24 PM EST

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