Lincoln Journal Star - Nebraska
Lincoln Diocese attracts conservative Catholics
Saturday, Nov 18, 2006
The Lincoln Roman Catholic Diocese has a reputation as one of the most conservative dioceses, if not the most conservative, in the country.
That conservatism — many prefer to call it orthodoxy or traditionalism — makes some Catholics uncomfortable, especially when they come to Lincoln from other places. But others praise it, including some who moved here specifically because they were attracted to Catholicism as practiced in the Lincoln Diocese.
Julie and Alton Davis raised their four children in San Antonio and figured they’d stay in Texas their entire life. But after their oldest son, Matt, moved to Lincoln to study for the priesthood, he had such glowing reports about Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz and the priests in this diocese, that his parents wanted to move here, too.
Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz blesses congregants as he leaves St. Mary's Catholic Church at the end of the Saturday evening Mass that concluded the Culture of Life Conference. (Robert Becker)
“We were really impressed by a man who would exercise such leadership, because it was so unheard of,” Julie Davis said.
They also were impressed with the spirit of piety and devotion in the Catholic churches here. They moved here in 1998, after Julie Davis got a teaching position at Pius X High School. They’re active members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
“The priests seem like they’re praying the Mass, not just saying it,” Alton Davis said. “They really seem to mean the words, especially the young priests.”
They liked their priests in San Antonio, but felt some churches there deviated from correct doctrine and practice. When Julie Davis joined a Catholic Women Speak program there, she discovered she was the only woman who took a traditional approach, supporting a male priesthood, the prohibition on artificial birth control and a “non-competitive” role for women in the church.
“I felt we were excluding the real genius of women. I feel we have our own unique gifts,” she said.
Here, Julie Davis is active in Magnificat, a spiritual ministry to women, and is part of a group promoting “Dressing with Dignity,” a campaign encouraging teenage girls to wear more modest clothing.
Marilyn and David Friesen lived in Catholic dioceses in Kansas and Missouri before coming here six years ago. They were attracted mainly by Bruskewitz’s leadership.
“He’s like a good father to the priests,” David Friesen said. “They respect him — they may not agree with everything, but they love him as a father figure. And they try to do things correctly.”
All churches follow the proper order and words of the Mass, not adding or omitting things for the sake of innovation as in some other dioceses where they’ve lived. “They (the priests) want to do things right, which helps the laity be obedient to what is right,” Marilyn Friesen said.
The Friesens came here without jobs, but both now work for the diocese — Marilyn as a secretary in the chancery office and her husband in the Catholic schools administration. They attend St. Teresa’s parish.
Paul Lewandowski has lived in six dioceses and considers Lincoln the best. He believes in the truth of the Christian Gospel and came here because, he said, “I wanted the purest form of that truth.”
Both he and his wife participate in perpetual adoration at North American Martyrs Church. Paul does his hour of prayer in the church at 3 a.m. each Friday. “I would never trade my hour,” he said. “It’s where I find peace in the presence of Jesus.”
The 24-hour prayer vigils are something of a rarity in Catholic churches in other places, he added.
The Lewandowskis have six children, four of whom attend Catholic schools. Lincoln parishes support their parochial schools, and tuition is low compared to Catholic schools in other states, he said. “A good school system is critical to a diocese staying healthy,” he said.
One obvious difference between the Lincoln Diocese and others is that Bruskewitz is the only bishop in the country who does not allow girls to be altar servers. Serving as altar boys can encourage young men to consider the priesthood, which may be one reason Lincoln has a high number of vocations to the priesthood compared with other dioceses, Lewandowski and others said.
“Boys in general are more lazy than women,” Lewandowski said. “Women will step into that role and men will let them.”
But many of the things that appeal to those who have chosen the Lincoln Diocese turn other Catholics off. Several people interviewed by the Journal Star talked about the rigidity of the church here, with little variation in worship style or preaching from parish to parish. They also noted not only the absence of girl altar servers but of lay women as eucharistic ministers, which is common elsewhere.
Louise Baskin, who grew up in the Lincoln Diocese but moved to Colorado nine years ago, said when she began attending a Catholic church in Arvada, Colo., “it was the first time I understood that Mass was a celebration, not solemn, quiet and reverent.”
Rachel Pokora, president of Call to Action-Nebraska, was a eucharistic minister when she lived in Indiana, helping serve communion during Mass. They also regularly received both the wine and bread during communion, while in Lincoln in most services it’s only the bread. Priests in Lincoln are “overly cautious on the eucharist,” she said. “They’re afraid to let it into anyone’s hands. They treat it with respect, but they don’t treat us with respect.”
Baskin disagrees that allowing girls to be altar servers will discourage boys from becoming priests. “Here in Colorado we have an equal number of girls and boys. No one feels left out.”
Her church in Arvada is large, but builds close relationships among parishioners through what she called “small church communities” that meet in people’s homes. Her parish priest gave a talk supporting evolution but also examining the claims of creationism and is planning another on stem cell research.
Karla Jensen, a communications professor at Nebraska Wesleyan who grew up in Scottsbluff, in the Grand Island Diocese, tried attending several Lincoln Catholic churches and felt “the voice of the liberal Catholic” was lacking. “It just didn’t seem like a place for open dialogue. I didn’t feel I would be free to ask questions or openly challenge anything.” Jensen doesn’t attend a Catholic church in Lincoln, but goes to Mass when she is home in Scottsbluff.
Catholic students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln quickly notice that the Lincoln Diocese is more conservative than the church in some other places.
Valentia Obafunwa, a UNL sophomore from Nigeria who has lived here since 2002, said she likes the methods of the Lincoln Diocese more than other dioceses she has seen. She attends St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on campus and is involved in the Fellowship of Catholic Students (FOCUS) at the Newman Catholic Student Center.
“I think the traditionalism is a really good thing,” she said. “Lincoln is a diocese that’s very consistent across the board. There’s no room for personal opinion. The ways and rules are set.”
Jason Thiele, a UNL junior, finds the Lincoln Diocese “a little more conservative” than the church in his home town of Clearwater, in northeast Nebraska. “I noticed it right away. I thought it was a little weird at first,” he said.
But he eventually got used to the way things are done here, and regularly attends St. Thomas Aquinas. Thiele said he’s only heard a few negative comments from students.
“There was one time where I remember some of the girls in choir wanted to do a more contemporary type of song for Mass but they didn’t think it would fly,” he said. “It’s usually things like that.”
Despite a national trend toward contemporary music and informal worship as a way to attract young people, the Lincoln Diocese keeps students coming back for traditional Mass. It’s possible Catholic students don’t necessarily want contemporary services, Thiele said.
In fact, he’s just happy to have a close place for worship.
“I wouldn’t say I like it any better or worse,” he said. “Mass is Mass everywhere. It doesn’t make a difference to me, conservative or contemporary.”
Erin LaFleur, a UNL junior, is also involved with FOCUS. Originally from Omaha, LaFleur said many students seem to connect with the more orthodox approach.
“I think we just feed off the energy everyone brings in and allow God’s music and word to flow,” she said.
In an interview, Bruskewitz said he isn’t familiar with what happens in other dioceses around the country. “We hope and pray that we serve God’s people here,” he said. “We do what we’re supposed to do and do it the best we can.”
Since St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward opened nine years ago, most of its students have come from the Lincoln Diocese, but some came from other places because they wanted to serve in this diocese, said Father John Folda, rector. The biggest factor in encouraging vocations here, he said, is that “young men have an opportunity to see young priests who are happy in their priesthood (and) they’re willing to try that experience themselves.”
On the question of women as eucharistic ministers, Bruskewitz said they should only be used in“extraordinary situations where a priest is not available or might have difficulty, such as in taking communion to a female-only ward in a hospital.
Bruskewitz doesn’t take most of the credit for the Lincoln Diocese being so traditional. His predecessor, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, set the tone, which Bruskewitz has continued since he came here in 1992.
The Lincoln Diocese isn’t perfect, he said, but strives to follow Catholic teachings as completely as possible. “It has a great deal to do with the fine quality of the clergy here. We have some wonderful, dedicated priests.”
Examples of greater traditionalism or orthodoxy in the Lincoln Diocese:
* Only boys, not girls, may be altar servers.
* Women act as eucharistic ministers only in extraordinary situations.
* Vocations to the priesthood are high, with few signs of the priest shortage that is plaguing other dioceses.
* Lincoln is one of few dioceses that is successfully recruiting nuns.
* All parishes follow the traditional form and wording of the Mass.
* Lincoln’s Catholic schools are healthy and well-supported, while Catholic school systems in some other places have closed.
* There’s a strong emphasis on religious devotion and worship. Many parishioners attend daily Mass or participate in perpetual adoration.
* Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz requires strict adherence to correct doctrine and practice.
* In 1996 Bruskewitz issued a list of 12 groups local Catholics are forbidden to join, calling them “perilous to the Catholic Faith.” They include several Masonic groups, Planned Parenthood, Catholics for a Free Choice, Society of St. Pius X, Hemlock Society and Call to Action.
Vatican affirms excommunication of Call to Action members in Lincoln
By S.L. Hansen
Catholic News Service
LINCOLN, Neb. (CNS) -- The Vatican has upheld Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz's decision 10 years ago that membership in Call to Action "is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith" and results in automatic excommunication for Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln.
In a Nov. 24 letter to the Lincoln bishop, made public Dec. 8, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, told Bishop Bruskewitz that his ruling "was properly taken within your competence as pastor of that diocese."
"The judgment of the Holy See is that the activities of Call to Action in the course of these years are in contrast with the Catholic faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint," the cardinal said in his letter.
"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 organization 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 legalize 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 organizations 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.
"The Lord loves everyone and died for everyone, and he wants all to be saved," he said. "The best lesson that can be learned from everything that has happened is that one finds happiness, joy and satisfaction in obedience to the church."
Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Ore., 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 U.S. 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.
The Chicago-based national organization claims a membership of more than 25,000 people in 53 local chapters, and holds an annual conference in Milwaukee.
Talking about his 1996 warning that Catholics would excommunicate themselves by maintaining membership in Call to Action and/or Call to Action Nebraska, which drew national media attention, Bishop Bruskewitz said he was "determined to face up to the media so that it didn't look like I was ashamed of my decision."
The diocese was soon flooded with feedback, 95 percent of which supported his decision, he said.
The bishop said he did not anticipate a similar reaction to the Vatican's official ruling on the matter. "I can't imagine that there is much interest," he said.