Church Roles and Church Dissent

Author: Archbishop Elden Curtiss


Archbishop Elden J. Curtis

I am writing this pastoral letter to you to clarify some issues regarding Catholic doctrine and practice which have been raised recently in the public media.

1. Catholics who support abortion and euthanasia place themselves in direct opposition to church doctrine regarding the obligation to support human life from conception to natural death.1 Therefore, any Catholics in this archdiocese who publicly support abortion or euthanasia may not be in any teaching, ministerial or liturgical ministry or be a member of any parish or archdiocesan council.

2. Pope John Paul has declared definitively that the church is not able to ordain women to priesthood because of the decision of Jesus to call only men to the apostolic office (bishops and priests) which continues his role in a visible and sacramental way of bridegroom to his bride the church, and of father to each faith community. The pope has made this a doctrinal matter for the whole church.2 Therefore, Catholics who publicly disagree with this papal teaching are in dissent against the teaching magisterium of the church. They may not be in any teaching, liturgical or ministerial role in this archdiocese, or be a member of any parish or archdiocesan council.

3. Celibacy is a required charism for those who are ordained priests as it is for members of most religious communities.3 The clear teaching of the church's magisterium (the bishops of the world under the leadership of the pope) that celibacy is to be retained for priests in the Western church is consistent with our tradition and our ecclesial experience. The charism of celibacy has immense value for those who are free to give loving service to people wherever and whenever they have needs. While celibacy remains a church discipline rather than a doctrinal requirement for valid ordination to priesthood, it will continue to be a necessary condition for seeking ordination because of its value to the whole church.

4. Consultation with lay people is a valuable process throughout the archdiocese. Parish finance councils are mandated by universal law (Canon 536), and parish pastoral councils are required in all our parishes. Most pastors are making use of a variety of ways to consult their people on matters which affect parish life. Members of our archdiocesan pastoral council regularly surface agenda items of importance to the Catholic people of northeastern Nebraska. Our people are invited frequently to be involved in various processes which are used to make decisions in the archdiocese. Anyone who would intimate that lay people are not consulted in this archdiocese is misinformed.

However, the selection of bishops is quite another matter because it involves the universal communion of bishops with the pope.4 This takes the process out of the political arena and popular vote. A number of priests and people are invited to address the needs of a diocese when there is a change of leadership and to recommend the kind of bishop they think is needed. Candidates themselves are usually unaware that they are being considered, and no priest is allowed to campaign for the office of bishop. Individual laypersons or groups of people are discouraged from lobbying for a particular candidate. The pope ultimately selects the candidate he wants for a particular diocese from a list presented to him by the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. Those who promote a popular vote for the selection of bishops either do not understand the present process or they want to assert their own authority over that of the bishops to nominate and even choose their own candidates.

5. A great deal of the antagonism which once existed between the Masonic lodge and the Catholic Church has subsided in recent years, especially in our own country, but there are still differences in fundamental principles and perspectives which cannot be dismissed. A recent declaration by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1983) reiterated the opposition of the church to Catholic membership in the lodge. Even apart from the historical divisions which continue to exist between the church and the lodge, although in lesser degrees today, there are reasons that Catholics should give their time, talent and treasury to Catholic organizations and causes which support the mission of the church. Civic responsibilities and support of the common good in our communities must also be a concern of Catholics, but in circumstances which do not conflict with Catholic values. This is the reason Catholics cannot be active members of the Masonic lodge in this archdiocese or anywhere else in the world.

If anyone in the archdiocese needs to dialogue with me on these issues or needs further information, please write to me at the chancery office in Omaha (100 N. 62 St., 68132) and I will make sure that you have a response.


1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2270, 2277; Code of Canon Law, Canon 1398.

2 John Paul II, <Mulieris Dignitatem>, 26-27 (1988); <Ordinatio Sacerdotalis> (1994); Catechism, 1577, 551, 861; Canon 1024.

3 Catechism, 1579; Canons 277, 1037.

4 Canons 377, 375.