In 1996, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, excommunicated all Catholics in his diocese who belonged to Call to Action, a dissident group which he called “totally incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The Nebraska chapter of Call to Action appealed the decision to Rome, but the Vatican found it was “properly taken” and agreed with Bishop Bruskewitz that membership in the group “is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith.”
In February, the National Catholic Reporter noted Call to Action’s latest conflict with the bishop: its petition to get the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “to bring Bishop Bruskewitz into compliance with the national charter . . . in order to protect the youth of the Lincoln diocese.” (In 2002, the USCCB proposed a “charter” for protecting children from sexual abuse.)
CWR recently interviewed Bishop Bruskewitz about this controversy and others in the Church today.
What is behind this Call to Action petition?
Bishop Bruskewitz: The antics of Call to Action in these last few months have simply been publicity stunts in which they are trying to call attention to themselves. The group in Lincoln is incredibly small. They are mostly dissidents from the 1960s era who have abandoned the Catholic faith. They don’t have any children in our Catholic institutions that I know of.
They have made themselves into an anti-Catholic sect, and so it is absurd for them to pretend to be concerned about children’s safety in the Church. They have some slight nuisance value for themselves, but they really don’t annoy me by and large, and except in the eyes of a few journalists in the secular media they really don’t count for anything in this part of the world.
Your diocese is not known for having a problem with abuse. Is that right?
Bruskewitz: No, we haven’t at all. We publish an abuse hotline in our diocesan newspaper. Anyone who knows anybody who is being abused should immediately go to the civil authorities.
As a matter of fact, if you know of any abuse, it is a crime in Nebraska not to report it to the authorities.
I think our standards are working quite well. The [USCCB’s] audits don’t seem to accomplish anything. Some of the dioceses that are bankrupt and others that have had tremendous problems in the area of sexual abuse are the ones that get the best marks on the audits. That is a little bit incongruous. Proper measures are in place here and if people don’t trust me or the Pope doesn’t trust me, I would be glad to give way to someone else.
There is no obligation for a bishop to follow the USCCB’s charter, correct?
Bruskewitz: No, there is not at all. The charter, which was passed in Dallas in 2002, is not a law. What they did was take some aspects of the charter and present it to the Holy See to see if those aspects could be accepted by the Holy See as particular law for the Church in the United States. Now those particular laws that derive from the charter and that the Holy See has accepted have to be obeyed, and they are obeyed here with great exactness.
But the charter itself is not a law. If it were to become a law by the Holy See, I would obey it instantly in every particular. The fact is the bishops’ conference has no power to make laws; it can propose laws to the Holy See, which can make laws for the Church. But bishops’ conferences aren’t lawmaking bodies and this is often misunderstood.
Call to Action sent a letter to Cardinal Francis George that I should be reprimanded. But the bishops’ conference has never reprimanded bishops and that’s not its job.
These fallen-away Catholics don’t even have a basic understanding of the rudimentary structure of the Church. And the bishops’ conference has no reason to reprimand me. They haven’t even reprimanded bishops who have been removed from office for malfea-sance, so they are certainly not going to reprimand me.
But it would make no difference to me if they did, because they have no authority. The conference is not that kind of body. This is just a publicity stunt by Call to Action because they dislike me intensely for not letting people in my diocese belong to their anti- Catholic sect.
Does the Dallas charter address the fundamental causes of the abuse scandal?
Bruskewitz: I don’t think it does. I think it is trying to do these studies and gather data, but it doesn’t address the basic problem we are dealing with. Most of the abuse scandals these past few decades have been homosexual. We are not talking about little children but adolescents. And there has still been no adequate study of the relationship between theological dissent and sexual misconduct.
If you can disagree that the Church’s teaching in one area is correct, why not in other areas? The dissent that started in 1968 against Humanae Vitae, I think, accounts for a good portion of the soil in which these abuse problems arose.
So if the American bishops were serious about addressing the abuse scandal, they would stop ordaining homosexuals to the priesthood?
Bruskewitz: Absolutely. I don’t think homosexuals should be ordained priests. It is completely improper for people who do these kinds of acts or have an inclination to do them to be considered appropriate candidates for the priesthood, however that inclination came to be in them. This kind of attraction inside of them is an indication that God does not want them to be priests.
I am not judging individual persons if they have inclinations that are not their fault. But those inclinations still make them unsuitable for the priesthood, in the same way people who are inclined to be pyromaniacs and set fires are not suitable for the duty of watching gasoline storage tanks; or people who are kleptomaniacs wouldn’t be good as bank tellers.
Turning to another controversy, has there been any progress amongst the US bishops on the issue of confronting Catholic politicians who support abortion? St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has written that priests have a duty under canon law to withhold Communion from them.
Bruskewitz: The bishops don’t have unanimity about that. They leave it to local bishops. I would certainly agree with Archbishop Burke on that issue. I would like to see coherence and consensus and collective proclamation. Burke has my complete support. I greatly admire his very learned treatment of this matter. I would never allow any of my priests to knowingly give Holy Communion to pro-abortion so-called Catholics.
What are your thoughts on Summorum Pontificum and the resistance to it in some quarters?
Bruskewitz: It has been a source of some controversy in some places. In Lincoln it is not. We have had the extraordinary form of the Roman rite used quite extensively for a long time. It hasn’t had any controversial aspect here, but in other places there has been difficulty and dissent and confusion about it.
The upcoming clarification from the Ecclesia Dei commission will be a big help. The outlawing, so to speak, of what is now called the extraordinary form of the Roman rite caused 40 years of habit and mindset, and so to change that is difficult. The Holy Father said it was never outlawed, but many bishops and others thought that it was. Summorum Pontificum clarified that, but there is still misunderstanding.
Some bishops are reportedly applying competency tests before priests can say the extraordinary form. Is that a proper reading of Summorum Pontificum?
Bruskewitz: I don’t think that is there in Summorum Pontificum. In my diocese, I just ask the priests to do it properly and in the event that they want a certificate I would give them a test. But I don’t know if Summorum Pontificum permits bishops to prohibit priests from using the extraordinary form on the basis of not having passed a competency test, and I don’t even know what that would involve.
Have the bishops set up any competency tests for saying the Novus Ordo?
Bruskewitz: Well, no. I think the Holy Father says very delicately that the lack of oversight of the new liturgy allowed horrible abuses to creep into it which caused great damage to souls. This among other things caused the Holy Father to issue Summorum Pontificum.
Do you think it will influence the Novus Ordo?
Bruskewitz: I think so. My guess is that there will be an interaction between the extraordinary form and the ordinary form, as they are called now, and I think that they will modify each other.
What are your thoughts on the Pope’s upcoming visit to the US? And how would you assess the state of the Church in America today?
Bruskewitz: I would hope it will assist the bishops in the heavy responsibilities they have of teaching the faith in its integrity and beauty and maintaining the discipline of the Church. There are always shadows and lights, as there have been throughout history.
I don’t think there is any doubt that we are going through some very difficult and tumultuous times. I think the bankruptcies of the dioceses and the continuing tragedy of these dreadful sex crimes have been detrimental to evangelization, vocations, and the good of the Church. On the other hand, we don’t want to be pessimistic. If we can get some momentum in the other direction, it can build.
I have a tiny little diocese of fewer than 90 thousand Catholics, but we have had a wonderful increase in vocations to the priesthood. Nineteen young men entered the seminary for my diocese this past year and for our little diocese that’s a very significant number. That’s not my doing; it is God’s grace . . .
But it is a great sign of hope that young people are looking for a deeper and more profound spirituality. I think the superficialities of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, which afflicted the Catholic community, are now seen for what they are—frivolous, trivial, and unimportant issues.
Collectively, the American bishops are taking some of these areas much more seriously and taking charge of things that they had left in years past to bureaucrats. That’s also a sign of hope, as is the Holy Father, who builds upon the wonderful work of John Paul II.
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