Catholics disputechurch issues

Molly Armstrong

Two leaders of the University’s Catholic community agreed that a Nebraska bishop tried to draw the lines of the church too narrowly earlier this month when he excommunicated Catholics in his Lincoln, Neb., diocese May 15. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz targeted members of groups he says oppose official Catholic doctrine.
The excommunication came about two months after Bruskewitz ordered churchgoers to stop participating in 12 groups he said “had a very questionable relationship with the church.” Call To Action, Planned Parenthood and Catholics for a Free Choice are among the groups he banned. Newman Catholic Student Center Director Father Steve Bossi and Sister Jeri Cashman, Justice and Peace program leader at Newman Center, said Bruskewitz went too far.
“I don’t think he had grounds for doing it,” Bossi said. “The only way the church can be effective is to open the discourse as broadly as possible.”
This discourse is precisely what Cashman said Call To Action represents. Cashman is on the development committee of the organization’s national board. Call To Action claims more than 15,000 members nationwide, including 5,000 priests and nuns. It discusses issues that are controversial within the Catholic Church, such as birth control and the ordination of women and married men into the priesthood.
Bruskewitz has used the term “anti-Catholic” to describe members of groups such as Call To Action. “How can I not be a Catholic?” asked Cashman, who is a Dominican nun. She said she works for and wants what is best for the church, and so does Call To Action.
“I’m baptized. I’m female. I’m Irish Catholic. I don’t know how to stop being one of those,” Cashman said.
Campus Minister Tom Conry spoke last weekend about the fundamental need for the church to be more inclusive in his homily at Newman Center. Quoting a biblical passage from the apostle Paul — “For in one spirit we were all baptized into one body” — Conry said: “Now this doesn’t say that just the bishops were baptized into one body. It doesn’t say that just the liturgists or just the Paulists or just the (College of Liberal Arts) students or just the Irish … we were all given to drink of one spirit.”
For Catholics, excommunication is the worst sentence that could be passed down by the church, Cashman said. It means that one cannot receive Eucharist, the bread of communion offered to the congregation at mass. The Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. Bossi said the Eucharist is the defining factor of who is in communion with the church and who is not for Catholics.
“Excommunication is like spiritual capital punishment,” Cashman said. “It means you’re out of the family.”
This runs contrary to what Bossi said the church’s purpose is. “The Catholic Church is not about pushing people out,” he said, “it’s about inviting them in.”
“Just because you disagree with me doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop talking to you,” Cashman said. To her, that is the position Bruskewitz took by stopping discussion in his Lincoln diocese.
Bruskewitz has said there is no way of knowing who is heeding his ban. That, he said, will be left up to each person’s conscience. According to the National Catholic Reporter’s April 5 issue, the bishop asked the co-chairpersons of his diocese to advise banned groups’ members that “membership constitutes a grave act of disrespect and disobedience to their lawful bishop.”
Some of those excommunicated in Nebraska said they will act out of their own conscience and also continue to receive communion.
But as to whether those people were disobedient, Bossi said, “Ingrained deep in the Catholic teachings is the importance of the individual conscience; to seek the truth, know it, embrace it and live it.”
“I think Catholics have been using the primacy of conscience for a long time,” said Cashman, who is on the mailing list for Call To Action, Nebraska. Cashman joined the Nebraska chapter’s mailing list to support the group when she heard Bruskewitz’s warning.
“That shows you how blurry this is — am I excommunicated because my name is on a mailing list?” Cashman asked, smiling. She could not be, as she is not under the Lincoln diocese. But she pointed out the incongruity of the ruling that Bossi spoke to as well.
“Call to Action members are not dissenters, they’re people wanting to keep the conversation going,” Bossi said.
Controversial contemporary issues such as the Nebraska excommunication show why the Catholic Church has to be on the University campus, Bossi said. About 500 students attend mass each week at the University’s Newman Center, he added.
“The campus is a community of discourse where the church brings a perspective that can add to, and benefit from, the conversation. That’s why this center exists here,” said Bossi of his campus ministry.