LINCOLN, Neb. (CNS) – The Vatican's highest court said it has no jurisdiction over a decision by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz of Lincoln that Catholics in his diocese who are members of a dozen organizations were automatically excommunicated.
In the wake of the ruling, Bishop Bruskewitz renewed his invitation to Call to Action Nebraska members to leave that organization and return to full communion with the church.
Rachel Pokora and Gordon P. Peterson of Call to Action Nebraska had asked the Apostolic Signature, the church's supreme court, to overturn Bishop Bruskewitz's 1996 decision and its affirmation last year by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.
In a Jan. 27 letter to Pokora and Peterson, which was copied to Bishop Bruskewitz, the court said it had "no competence," or jurisdiction, in the matter.
In extrasynodal legislation issued in 1996, Bishop Bruskewitz said Catholics who were members of certain groups would be automatically excommunicated if they did not quit the groups. The penalties applied to members of Call to Action, Call to Action Nebraska and 10 other organizations.
Call to Action Nebraska was the only group to ask the bishop to reverse his decision, to no avail.
The Nebraska group's initial appeal to the Vatican was rejected in 2005. A second appeal to Cardinal Re was declined last November.
In that decision Cardinal Re supported as correct Bishop Bruskewitz's 1996 decision that membership in Call to Action and 11 other groups "is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith" and results in automatic excommunication.
"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 Nov. 24 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.
In their appeal, Pokora and Peterson asked the Vatican court to overturn Cardinal Re's decision based on paragraph 123 of Pope John Paul II's 1988 apostolic constitution, "Pastor Bonus" ("The Good Pastor"), which describes the organization and workings of the Roman Curia. The two said Cardinal Re "exceeded his authority" in affirming the diocesan decision.
In response, the Apostolic Signature noted that "Pastor Bonus" refers to individual administrative acts issued or confirmed by dicasteries, or departments, of the Roman Curia. "A diocesan law is not an individual administrative act, nor is a statement of a dicastery of the Roman Curia concerning the legitimacy of the same law," the letter said.
Bishop Bruskewitz expressed his hope and prayer that Call to Action Nebraska members will soon cooperate with God's grace, repent and return to the church.
As he has said repeatedly, those affected by the 1996 legislation will be welcomed back to the church as soon as they officially renounce their membership in the cited organizations and seek the sacrament of reconciliation. Some may also be asked to make a profession of faith if their affiliation required them to renounce Catholicism.
Although the Vatican appeal only dealt with Call to Action, the other groups named by Bishop Bruskewitz 10 years ago 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.
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops