Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Perils of Being Catholic in Nebraska

An inquisition 10 years in the making. From the AP:

OMAHA, Nebraska: A Vatican official has upheld the 1996 mass excommunication of perhaps hundreds of people in the Lincoln Diocese affiliated with a church reform group and 10 other organizations the diocese considers anti-Catholic. . . .

In 1996, [Bishop Fabian] Bruskewitz ruled that membership in Call To Action and 10 other organizations was "perilous to the Catholic faith and most often is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith." The other groups cited include the abortion-rights groups Planned Parenthood and Catholics for a Free Choice, the Hemlock Society, which supports physician-assisted suicide, and several Masonic organizations. . . .

Under excommunication, Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion. They cannot be married or buried in the church. Excommunicated Catholics may be forgiven through the sacrament of confession or may be absolved in their dying hour by a priest.

I gather that Bruskewitz considers members of the targeted organizations unrepentant sinners. If one believes that the actions these organizations engage in are sinful (and one would have Catholic teaching on one's side), then I suppose he's right. According to my (albeit limited) understanding of Roman Catholic doctrine, unrepetant sinners should not partake in the Eucharist celebration. Thus, Canon Law seems to support Bruskewitz's decision, and the decision was rightly (in a legal sense) upheld by the Vatican.

But I have a few questions for Bruskewitz and those who support this move. First, is this move intended to remove unrepentant sinners from the communion or to quell dissent? Dissenting voices have played an important role in all Christian traditions throughout history and have led to many important changes in church doctrine and polity. Going to such lengths to silence such voices strikes me as desperate and despotic. Secondly, is the bishop treating all sinners equally? Are persons guilty of avarice or usury or gluttony who have no intention of changing their ways held to the same standards as those who advocate for reproductive choice or belong to masonic organizations?

More fundamentally, what is the role of grace (one of the most persistent and underlying themes throughout Scripture) in excommunication? Jesus obviously communed with many sinners—people who repented only after their Holy Communion with Christ. Moreover, people who act and think in ways contrary to church teaching aren't necessarily hoping to spite the church. Some are engaged in a careful process of spiritual discernment through which they are struggling with and praying about their beliefs and behaviors and how these differ from those of their mother faith tradition. Some largely agree with and uphold the tradition's doctrine and polity but disagree with the church on a handful of matters. Should these persons be pushed away from the church?

Related: "The New Inquisition" by Angela Bonavoglia (Huffington Post)


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