Uncatholic Behavior in Nebraska (The Catholic Right, Nineteenth in a Series)
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 09:03:24 PM EST
Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

Catholic \Cath"o*lic\ (k[a^]th"[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + "o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]

1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. --Southey.

Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.

2. Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

3. Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.

After reading Cyn Cooper's piece last week about Lincoln, Nebraska's Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, I immediately knew the topic for this post.
As Cyn told us:
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.

She then told us what is at stake for Lincoln, Nebraska, Catholics who associate themselves with theses groups:

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.

But just what is the de facto result of Bishop Bruskewitz's abuse his power of excommunication? Simple: he is doing the very thing that the Religious Right constantly complains about, being forced "to check its religious opinions at the door."

Call to Action describes its agenda as "...a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society. An independent national organization...CTA believes that the Spirit of God is at work in the whole church, not just in its appointed leaders. The entire Catholic Church has the obligation of responding to the needs of the world and taking initiative in programs of peace and justice." To that end, it serves as a necessary vehicle to question Church hierarchy on the validity of certain Catholic teachings such as on birth control and the rights accorded to Gay coreligionists. Along with Voice of the Faithful, it bears witness to the Church's mismanagement of the pedophilia scandals. It is a necessary counterbalance to groups such as the "Catholic" League that seems more effective at providing Bill Donohue with an annual $300,000 plus salary (i) than protecting the rights of individual American Catholics. Just as Jesus challenged the inconsistent practices of certain members of the Sanhedrin, CTA performs the very same function with reactionary forces with the Catholic hierarchy.

Surely many of Bishop Brusckewitz's supporters will point out his excommunication order also included the anti-Vatican II Society of St. Pius X. But to equate the two is wrong. Unlike SSPX which openly seeks to return the Church to its pre-Vatican II dogmas, Call to Action advocates adherence to Vatican II and sees its agitation in line with its spirit.

And yet contrary to CTA's very Christ-like practice of open dissent Bishop Brusckewitz seeks to stifle the voices of progressive Catholics. He uses the penalty of excommunication and its consequences to impede on an America Catholic's freedom of association. In short, he wants Catholics to use the public square only to further official Vatican political positions--otherwise, check your dissenting opinions at the door.

As I discussed in Part V of my series on the Catholic Right more authoritarian minded members of my church's hierarchy quell dissent as a means to avoid accountability. This is all to clear in the Vatican's response to the recent pedophilia scandal. Ultra-orthodox talking heads such as George Weigel derisively tag fellow Catholic who simply want overdue accountability and aggiornomento reforms as being part of "a culture of dissent."  They desire a secular society that takes its moral direction from the Vatican, even if it infringes on the religious freedom of others. Theirs' is an arrogant Catholicism.

Weigel's words should be a warning not just to Catholics, but to all Americans. His statement about dissent needs to be superimposed upon the actions of Bishop Brusckewitz just so that we can better understand what could happen if the wall that separates church and state would be dismantled.

If a Bishop Brusckewitz were able to evoke secular as well as sectarian punishments for citizens who associated with organizations not to his liking could state inquisition really be that far off? Is it really out of the question to question whether those who would seek to avoid accountability from their congregants would similarly seek a government that does the same to its citizens? And most of all, is it really wise to take the advice of some and cease speaking out in support of keeping church and state separate?

Perhaps more disturbing than Bishop Brusckewitz's actions is the fact that his excommunication order was upheld by an increasingly reactionary Vatican. Inherent in this action is a certain amount of hypocrisy. Call to Action is punished with hierarchical authority whereas many clergy urged their parishioners to see Passion of the Christ--even though it was made by Mel Gibson, a man who refuses to accept the legitimacy of every pope starting with John XXIII. Not a peep  was uttered by one bishop or Cardinal while neoconservative Catholics such as George Weigel and Michael Novak openly called for the 2003 invasion of Iraq--even though Pope John-Paul II condemned it. Clearly those who dissent from Church teaching get a dispensation--that is if they are among the hierarchy's friends on the Right.

Granted, the Roman Catholic Church is a private entity and as such has the right to expel or censor certain members. But with that said, the penalty of excommunication is exercised so rarely that both Bishop Brusckewitz's use of it as well as Cardinal Re's approval is nothing more than an abuse of discretion that is shocking to most American Catholics' objective sense of fairness.

Rome's "blessing" of this abuse of discretion will have a chilling effect upon the faithful--perhaps as it was designed to do. Many mainstream Catholics will think twice about dissenting from Church dogmas. And that is sad. The definition of the word catholic is universal. The Vatican's approval of Bishop Bruskewitz, shrinking the Church in such an arbitrary manner is an exclusionary act, the very antithesis of the teachings of Jesus. It is uncatholic behavior.

Orthodoxy can be a very intoxicating. It relieves the individual of the need to reason, much like a drug that anesthetizes the brain. And it is no accident that many of the same public figures who sneer at reasoned religious dissent and liberalism often write about the need for a non-meritorious inequality in American society.

As Bill Moyers observed, "An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only on partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, to ask questions and be skeptical. That kind of orthodoxy can kill a democracy -- or worse."

(i) Catholic League IRS form 990 for 2005.
The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank Cocozzelli :  Part One  Part Two  Part Three   Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen
Part Eighteen

You've nailed Bruskewitz's scheme. It seems to me that he advocates a vision of the church which is about "them" and "us." His real beef with the SSPX folks is that they don't "obey" him, and members of CTA and the other groups he sees as not "obeying" him. Bruskewitz isn't God, and NCR has a pretty good article about the dubious legalities (under canon law) about the whole excommunication. Bruskewitz is just throwing his power around the way Raymond Burke did in excommunicating the people at St. Stan's in St. Louis.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jan 07, 2007 at 06:28:53 PM EST
Kathy, I can't but help but thinking, how arrogant of these people to attempt to separate individuals not only from their religious community, but from God--all for loyal dissent.

Now with that said, if they ever obtained the power to "excommunicate" citizens within secular society merely for holding unpopular beliefs, don't you believe that they would so?

Beyond that, armed with the powers of judical equity, just imagine to what legnth they might go to obtain a communitarian "unity" of belief.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jan 07, 2007 at 06:59:15 PM EST

I was reading Gregory Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation, and it ties in well with your discussion. Boyd argues that Christians should not attempt to establish worldly power because he believes it would undermine their witness as Christians. He gives as examples of this the Crusades and the Inquisition.  Damon Linker examines the goals of the Catholic Right (i.e. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus) in The Theocons.

Your comment here reminds me of what the Spanish government and Church did during the Inquisition. As James Reston, Jr. points out in Dogs of God, the Inquisition was a way for the Spanish crown to make money by getting money out of the accused. The English did the same thing during the periods of persecution of recusant Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries. Finally, as a stark reminder of where all this might lead, I recommend Chris Hedges' book American Fascism about the goals and desires of the Christian Right. I am happy about the outcome of the 2006 elections, but I am not convinced that this will put paid to the ambitions of the Christian Right. I say this because I've come across some book reviews that attempt to make the case that the risks of theocratic fascism are low now that the Democratic Party controls the House and Senate, but I think the reviewers are wrong.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jan 07, 2007 at 08:32:42 PM EST

When Jesus Christ went on the road and preached his word of God.  The Religious Hierarchy condemed him and finally set him up to be crucified. All old structures resist change as this conforms to God's Intelligent Design and thus is beneficial to society.  The key word is "resist".  Most old large structures are controlled by weak people who will do whatever it takes to gain power and maintain it, thus they must refuse to accept any responsible challenge that may weaken their power as the weak do not have the ability to adapt.  The larger the structure the more difficult it is to adapt.  
For all that God has provided and enabled for Man.  God only asks Man in return to practice two characteristics.
  1.  only put into action those actions that are responsible and take responsibility for those actions.
  2.  accept responsible challenges.

Recognise that no action is evil or just.  It is the curcimstances of the act that determines if an act is evil or just.  Therefore for anyone to mass excommunicate a group using the edit -my way or the highway is practicing cowardice and Evil.
Church must act as the unofficial moral opposition to Government.  Today we have legal confidentially between lawyer and client which can enable evil to be hidded.  I have not heard even one Church speak out against this Evil.
Facilitator Peter
The Church of the Living Word of God.net

by Facilitator Peter on Sun Jan 07, 2007 at 04:40:16 PM EST
While this is off-topic, the attorney-client privilege exists to prevent a much greater evil: the violation of due process. You can easily level the very same criticism about the privilige of confidentiality that exists between a priest and a man who confesses to him an incident of criminal activity.

I would rather have the discussion return to the greater issue of excommunication as a means of surpressing dissent within a both religious community as well as our democratic society.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jan 07, 2007 at 05:04:16 PM EST

Excommunication has been used in the past as both a worldly and religious power play. The Popes in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance used excommunications and interdicts as a means of forcing secular rulers to heel and getting them to submit to papal authority in political and worldly matters.  The examples of the excommunications of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I (who never regarded herself as anything but a Protestant) are examples of excommunication used as both political and religious tool.

Pope Pius XII excommunicated Fr. Leonard Feeney for religious reasons, because he refused to submit to ecclesiastical authority. He was a predecessor to the SSPX and SSPV people.

I view Archbishop Burke's excommunication of the parish officials at St. Stanislaus in St. Louis as a worldly power play wrapped in religious trappings. Officially, Burke argues that the parish officials excommunicated themselves when they refused to turn over the parish's monies to the archdiocese, but really he's trying to tell them that he thinks he's boss.  I rather get the impression that his action was not universally popular in St. Louis, or even in other parts of the country, but we lay Catholics have a disturbing tendency to be too acquiescent to the people that run the institutional church.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jan 07, 2007 at 08:44:42 PM EST

Uh, Khughes. I don't know one Catholic who has expressed an opinion on the affaire d'St. Stan's that agrees with Burke. Burke has made himself very unpopular with the laity. He's done several other clueless things, mostly around the clergy sexual abuse issue. A significant number of lay Catholics also scoffed at his attempt to interfere in the 2004 elections.

In other words, the laity here feel and do what most laity everywhere feel and do about their bishop - dislike and ignore him. So what's new?

by NancyP on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 11:48:29 AM EST


It's great to hear that a lot of the Catholics in the archdiocese saw through Burke's game and recognized the St. Stan's incident as a rather blatant power-play and money grubbing.


by khughes1963 on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 12:26:45 PM EST

Mainstream and Liberal American Catholics must stand up to the bullying of Bishop Brusckewitz. If we fail to speak up against this first great abuse of excommunication, then its use will become the Catholic Right's primary weapon to quell legitimate dissent.

To learn more and to take action, just click here.

Speak now while outrage can still accomplish something!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 07:11:51 AM EST

Thanks for that link, Frank.  Very good piece.  Is there any history of the success in the Catholic laity getting concessions or action from the Church?  Especially on liberal concerns?

by cyncooper on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 12:21:55 AM EST

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