Bp. Conley Lifting Excommunications Without Requiring Renouncing Membership in Heretical Group

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by Alexander Slavsky  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 8, 2018   

Women allowed to stay in Call to Action in violation of diocesan law

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LINCOLN, Neb. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishop of the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska is restoring full communion in the Catholic Church for five women who will remain members of the heretical group Call to Action Nebraska (CTA) — a move causing concern among faithful Catholics.

According to media reports, Bp. James Conley is offering the five women the lifting of their excommunications on an individual basis. Conley, two diocesan officials and the five CTA Nebraska women are reported to have been in talks at the chancery regarding since September 2016.

"Bishop Conley just desires all Catholics to be in union, so he wants to make that possible for as many people as possible," commented Fr. Nicholas Kipper, spokesman for the diocese of Lincoln. "That's really the goal of any bishop."

Church Militant consulted a reputable canon lawyer, who remarked that the unity of the Church "will be seriously damaged by the strange decision of Bishop Conley, because now a Catholic in his diocese can simultaneously be a member of opposing groups that advocate mutually exclusive and contradictory doctrines."

"The public unity of the Faith among Catholics is now torn asunder within the Diocese of Lincoln," he added.


 
 
"The Catholic Church has always held that ongoing and continued membership of a baptized faithful in a group that officially espouses heresy constitutes a public expression of heresy by that faithful, notwithstanding any 'profession of faith' made in private," insisted the canon lawyer. 
 
In a prior statement, Fr. Kipper said, "Bishop Conley is not trying to be soft on dissent within the Church." He stated that the bishop "has serious reservations against positions held by Call to Action nationally that would be in contradiction to the teachings of the Church."
 
The decision affects only the five women who are members of Call to Action Nebraska, which then-Lincoln Bp. Fabian Bruskewitz excommunicated in 1996. The group calls for "reforms" in the Catholic Church like artificial birth control, women's "ordination," and marriage among homosexuals and gender-benders.
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Bp. Fabian Bruskewitz

Bruskewitz declared members of other groups to be excommunicated, including Planned Parenthood, the euthanasia advocacy group Hemlock Society, the schismatic Society of St. Pius X, the Freemasons and five other associated organizations, calling their respective activities "perilous" and membership in them "incompatible" with the Catholic faith.

The diocesan interdicts and excommunications are only contracted by those who attain or retain membership in the forbidden groups within the diocese of Lincoln, but the effects of the censures hold everywhere under canon law. 

CTA appealed Bruskewitz's decision, which was later upheld in 2006 by Cdl. Giovanni Battista Re, former head of the Congregation for Bishops.
 
The meeting sessions between Conley, two diocesan officials (canonists J.D. Flynn and Msgr. Mark Huber) and the five members of CTA Nebraska are reported to have ended with a proposal to repeal the excommunication contracted by individual members of Call to Action who would meet with the bishop to discuss the censure and then merely recite the Nicene Creed and the Easter Vigil Affirmation of Faith
 
In a December letter to CTA Nebraska members, Conley is reported to have said he will not abrogate the particular legislation of the diocese automatically excommunicating those who "attain or retain membership" in the forbidden groups, but that CTA members, in individual cases, will still be able to receive the sacraments: 
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Bp. James Conley
I have been clear from the beginning that no Catholic should become a member of Call to Action. I believe it poses a danger to the Faith. However, I am willing to consider rescinding the excommunication in individual instances where members, currently not prepared to leave CTA, reaffirm their commitment to the full teachings of the Catholic Church. 
Conley said that such members would be "thereby affirming the Catholic faith as received by the Catholic Church and rejecting positions held by Call to Action that are contrary to received Catholic doctrine," even if they not renounce their membership in the forbidden societies.   
 
Edward Peters, a canon lawyer at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, claimed the move was "odd":
Now remission of censures such as excommunication requires, not surprisingly, repenting of the delict [here, membership in CTA] and making some suitable reparation for the scandal caused by one's membership (cc. 1347, 1358). So, how does retaining a penal law against membership in an organization, but remitting the penalties incurred thereunder despite not resigning membership, square with common sense?
He continued, "Consider: the Nicene Creed is not a complete statement of all that Catholics must believe and hold precisely as Catholics. ... [R]eciting the Nicene Creed does not really seem to address the serious doctrinal-disciplinary problems associated with CTA."
 
The five CTA Nebraska members spoke of a "mutual understanding" during the dialogue and a "live-in-tension" regarding issues like women's "ordination" and LGBT advocacy.
 
"I think everybody was honest, sometimes painfully so," said Patty Hawk, a member of CTA in a neighboring diocese, adding, "There was a lot of grief that had been building up for an awfully long time."
 
Bruskewitz is reported to have told CTA members that he wanted to meet one-on-one with them, but allegedly that he later refused to talk. James McShane of CTA mentioned that past encounters with Bruskewitz were "sometimes tense, sometimes intimidating, sometimes confusing."
 
The unity of the Church is 'seriously damaged by Bp. Conley.'
Excommunication is a grave censure, according to canon law, because it prevents a person from receiving the sacraments, ministering in the Church or attaining Heaven should one die in a state of unrepentance. According to the Code of Canon Law, it is a medicinal penalty meant to help a sinner know how he broke away from the Church and aid his return to the Catholic faith by having him backtrack in order to come back into the fold. 
 
"Bishop Bruskewitz's decree is based on the coherent analysis that one cannot simultaneously be a member of Call to Action Nebraska and the Roman Catholic Church," explained the canon lawyer to Church Militant. "The official tenets of membership in both organizations are mutually exclusive and contradictory: heresy and dogma cannot be reconciled conceptually."
 
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Fr. Nicholas Kipper
Father Kipper reiterated that Bishop Conley and the diocese are open to dialogue with any member of CTA Nebraska who desires full communion in the Church. "This is a delicate and sensitive matter that we hope will unfold organically," he said.
 
More gravely, the canon lawyer Church Militant consulted thought that absolution from censure without renunciation of membership in the banned groups to be motivated by "good intentions but very poor counsel."
 
Conley "has been counseled that a Call to Action Nebraska member making a profession of faith to him in private suffices to excuse public adherence to, and cooperation in evil with, a group that officially advocates doctrines and practices most hostile to the Catholic Church," he explained.

The canon lawyer continued: 

The best-case scenario is that the bishop is being ill advised by the canonists providing him counsel, who clearly have little to no expertise in penal canon law. Case in point: Has anyone informed Bishop Conley of the automatic reincidence of the censures of interdict and excommunication upon the newly absolved CTA faithful, by operation of the particular law itself, should those faithful not renounce membership in the forbidden group? It does not appear so. The worst-case scenario, on the other hand, is that he is being duped by canonists or brother bishops advising him who have a greater agenda if not card-carrying membership in certain groups or parties themselves.

Call to Action began in Detroit in the late 1970s before expanding to Chicago and other regions in the United States. The organization was supported by the late archbishop of Detroit, Cdl. John Dearden, who hosted their first conference, which provided a list of recommendations to "modernize" and "reform" the Church. 
 
Church Militant contacted the diocese of Lincoln for comment but as of press time has received no response.
 

 

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