An Interview With Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz
by Paul Likoudis
In the weeks since Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz of Lincoln issued a formal warning to
Catholics who belong to groups which are opposed to the Catholic Church that they are
in danger of excommunication, the flurry of national press attention to this
unprecedented action has not abated.
Newspaper, television, and radio reporters are still requesting interviews with Bishop
Bruskewitz, and THE WANDERER joined the queue last week to ask the bishop
questions about what implications his action might have for other dioceses.
Q. How are you and the Diocese of Lincoln coping with all the national attention
you've both received recently?
A. I think we are coping quite well. The national attention was unexpected and
unintended, but we are able to manage our lives well notwithstanding it all.
Q. Did your action create as much controversy in Lincoln as it did outside the diocese?
A. My impression is that it did not. The national uproar was disproportionate to
whatever attention was paid within Lincoln. I thought the Diocese of Lincoln was
extremely supportive of the extrasynodal legislation that was passed, and I have the
impression that the priests of the diocese are in accord with the legislation. The
overwhelming majority of the lay faithful are in accord with the legislation as well.
We have found some of the national attention to be a source of amusement. said we were "floundering in an atmosphere of fear."
When I mentioned this to the priests of the diocese for the Chrism Mass, it evoked
Q. Do you think the warning you issued was "extreme" or drastic?
A. No. I think it was serious. It was serious because we are dealing with serious issues,
that is, putting in peril one's Catholic faith, or being a member of an organization
whose principles are incompatible with the Catholic faith.
Q. Isn't it true that the excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre did not apply
to his followers or individual members? Is your decree, by including Catholics who
belong to the St. Pius X Society, going beyond what the Vatican decree does?
A. The sanction of interdict and excommunication that is in the legislation of the
Diocese of Lincoln applies to membership on the part of people who are in or of the
Diocese of Lincoln in the Society of St. Pius X and/or the St. Michael the Archangel
Chapel. Both have been fraudulently advertising themselves in Lincoln as "in full union
with Rome," causing confusion, ambiguity, and uncertainty on the part of many of the
faithful in Lincoln, and giving rise to many serious questions which the legislation was
intended to answer.
Q. Are you surprised that none of your brother bishops have publicly supported you?
A. No. I am not surprised and I don't expect any nor have I asked for any. I am
reassured, however, by many private communications from bishops of their support.
Q. Would you agree that there are reasons for the ordinary Catholic to be confused by
your action, since you have warned your flock that involvement in certain groups is
dangerous to their faith, but other bishops have endorsed those same groups, such as
Call to Action?
A. The legislation that I enacted for the Diocese of Lincoln is not meant to apply to
other places where other pastoral situations exist which may be quite different from
those in the Diocese of Lincoln.
I don't see how legislation which is meant to apply only to Lincoln should cause undue
consternation for people who live elsewhere and whom I would urge to follow the
legislation that exists in their own diocese.
Q. What advice would you offer to rank-and-file Catholics who might become confused
because your actions differ so much from what their own bishop might allow?
A. Once again, I would say that a bishop is a legislator for his own diocese, and
therefore his legislation applies only to that diocese. I would not pretend to legislate for
any place outside of Lincoln; nor do I have any desire to. Catholics should follow the
legislation that applies to their own diocese.
I am not in a position to determine whether some of these organizations are different
from one diocese to another, although I suspect they are not. I would also point out that
legislation for the universal Church regarding Masonic organizations seems to be for all
Catholics everywhere. On Nov. 26th, 1983, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in a Declaration
on Masonic Organizations said that Catholics who join these organizations are in a state
of serious sin and may not receive Holy Communion. And this declaration was
approved and promulgated by the Holy Father.
Q. What would you do if a Catholic in the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn., asked you for
your opinion on joining the local chapter of Call to Action?
A. I would say that I have no jurisdiction over any action in New Ulm. I do not know
what is going on in New Ulm and would make no statement at all about the situation
Q. Isn't it a fact that it is a fundamental duty of bishops to maintain the unity of the
Church? How does an individual bishop address the obvious disparities in the Church
in regard to discipline and teaching from diocese to diocese?
A. I certainly agree that bishops have a duty to maintain unity in the Church. This unity
is basically maintained by full and obedient communion with the head of the college of
bishops, the Successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Holy Father.
Diversity of pastoral situations and problems can certainly allow for a diversity of
diocesan legislation regarding such issues as groups or organizations which pose a
danger to the Catholic faith or which are actually contradictory to the Catholic faith.
Q. To what extent do differences within the Church in one particular country, say, the
United Statesin discipline and teaching affect the fundamental unity of the Church?
A. If these differences are about those matters on which Catholics must and should be
in agreement, then obviously these differences will be harmful. However, pastoral
approaches sometimes can be different and not be harmful to basic unity.
Q. In chapter 1, paragraph 6 of the Pastoral Office of Bishops issued by Vatican 11, it
clearly states that bishops "should be solicitous for all the Churches.... They should be
especially solicitous for those parts of the world in . . . which the faithful are in danger
of falling away from the obligations of the Christian life or even of losing the faith
Doesn't that mean you have a responsibility to show solidarity with Catholics in other
dioceses where bishops are actually engaged in deconstructing the faith?
A. I certainly hope that I show solidarity with all Catholics everywhere. However, it
would seem to be presumptuous of me to judge that bishops are, as you say it,
"deconstructing the faith," particularly when I haven't made a thorough study of these
matters or these places and have not been authorized by the Holy Father to make any
I hasten to add that it is the duty of all lay Catholics to bring to the attention of the
pastors of the Church their needs, their desires, and their views of ecclesial matters.
This duty is set forth in the chapter on the laity in the Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church, . So those lay Catholics who see "deconstructing" going on,
it seems to me, should exercise their right and duty to make this known to those who
they feel are engaged in such activities.
Q. You told that your action was not intended to
touch the jurisdictions of other bishops in other dioceses, but once your action was
publicized nationally, you have touched on their jurisdictions and competence, haven't
you? To put it simply: How can one be a bad Catholic in one diocese for belonging to a
certain group, and a good Catholic in another diocese for belonging to the same group?
A. I certainly have no ability or desire to interfere in the jurisdictions or competence of
other bishops. I don't believe a national media uproar does that. I think that it is clear in
my mind, as a conscientious bishop, that the 12 organizations that I listed are not able
to be anything else in the Diocese of Lincoln than a danger or peril to one's Catholic
faith or even a contradiction to one's Catholic faith.
It seems difficult to me to understand how they would be different for Catholics in
another place unless the nature of the organization is different from place to place.
I already used the example of the Masonic organizations which are prohibited
everywhere on earth. Certainly they are prohibited under an implicit interdict, since
the declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states that
Catholics enrolled in them are guilty of serious sin.
Q. But Catholics all over the country know that Call to Action is composed mostly of
priests and nuns, ex-priests and ex-nuns, and people who work for the Catholic Church
in chanceries, schools, and so on. If belonging to Call to Action is an excommunicable
offense in Lincoln, aren't you telling Catholics everywhere that CTA Catholics are not
A. That may explain why I received some letters with a lot of invective and obscenities
from that outfit.
I must say that the overwhelming majority of the letters I received are very supportive.
They are running in the hundreds-or-thousands-to-one. I am overwhelmed by the
Call to Action has as one of its proclaimed purposes the ordaining of women, and that
is to go against the Catholic faith. The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
said that this teaching is part of the infallible teaching of the Church. I don't know how
anyone can hold a position contrary to the Catholic faith and maintain membership in
an organization that is in contradiction to the Catholic faith.
Number 25 of says we are to give religious submission of mind and
will to the Supreme Pontiff. I don't know how this organization can be said to do this.
Furthermore, when it met here in Lincoln, CTA violated the Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy by inventing a totally different Mass text than any that had been approved by
any bishop or Pope. They recited a creed which was at variance with the Creed of the
Catholic Church, and which bore little or no resemblance to what Catholics recite or
Q. What are you going to do with all the letters, faxes, and telegrams you received?
A. We are going to keep them on file here, and make them available to those who have
a good reason to read them. I have to cry when I read some of these letters. Some are
extremely moving, particularly those from parents and devout nuns and wonderful
priests who have written letters of remarkable spiritual depth.
Q. Is there a common theme or thread to the letters?
A. Almost all are congratulatory and supportive. Many are also very suspicious of, or
antagonistic to, the media presentations. There is also a common theme in almost all the
letters warning me of the persecution and suffering I will have to endure for enacting
this legislation, but [these messages are] also accompanied by words such as "don't
waver," "don't give up," "hang in there."
This article was taken from the April 18, 1996 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street,
St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price: $35.00 per year; six months
Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN