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Bishop Threatens Excommunication of Abortion Rights Supporters

March 24, 1996

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ A Roman Catholic bishop is threatening to excommunicate church members for joining abortion rights and right-to-die groups.

Church members in the Lincoln diocese have until May 15 to drop their membership in 12 groups, including Planned Parenthood, the Hemlock Society and Catholics for a Free Choice.

``Membership in these organizations or groups is always perilous to the Catholic Faith and most often is totally incompatible with the Catholic Faith,″ Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz wrote in the latest issue of the Southern Nebraska Register, the diocesan newspaper.

Catholics who still belong to the organizations after April 15 will not be able to receive Holy Communion, and one month later will be excommunicated, he said.

Excommunicated Catholics are not allowed to receive any of the sacraments.

Monsignor Timothy Thorburn, a spokesman for Bruskewitz, said the bishop issued the warning partly in response to an announcement that Call to Action was organizing a Nebraska chapter. The liberal Chicago-based organization of Catholic lay people promotes dialogue on issues such as women in the priesthood and clerical celibacy.

Thorburn said the threat of excommunication was a ``medicinal sanction″ intended ``to call persons back to the faith rather than to punish.″

``They know who they are ... and if a priest knows who they are, he would refuse them Holy Communion,″ Thorburn said Saturday.

Excommunicated Catholics could be reinstated if they resigned from the organization, Thorburn said.

Other groups on the list are Masonic organizations and groups which support exclusive use of Latin in celebrating the Mass.

The warning is not subject to the approval of Nebraska Archbishop Elden Curtiss, Thorburn said. Messages left for Curtiss on Saturday night were not immediately returned.

``If someone wanted to appeal to the pope, the pope is the only one who could overturn Bishop Bruskewitz’s decision,″ Thorburn said.

Randy Moody, a Catholic who serves on the boards of Planned Parenthood of Lincoln and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the statement ``totally ridiculous.″

``I challenge them to excommunicate me,″ he said. ``This may end up in some court if they would proceed to do that.″

Although Catholic doctrine already prohibits followers from belonging to the Freemasons, or other such designated ``secret societies,″ the head of Lincoln’s Sesostris Masonic Shrine said he was ``shocked″ that Bruskewitz included such groups in his list.

The Shriners, which are part of the Masons, and the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization, hold an annual spring dinner-dance together, Bob Metcalf said.