The thought of excommunication doesn’t scare Marilyn Seiker.
As a mother of four, grandmother of 11 and former president of her Catholic church’s Altar Society, Seiker says she is comfortable enough in her beliefs to withstand excommunication.
However, fear of repercussions for her family persuaded her to bow to a rare excommunication notice from her bishop.
“We had visions of walking to communion with our grandchildren behind us, and having our pastor refuse to give us communion,” Seiker said.
Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lincoln, has ordered the 85,000 members of his flock to sever ties with 12 groups or be thrown out of the church’s grace. The targeted groups include Planned Parenthood, Call to Action, Catholics for a Free Choice, the Hemlock Society and several Masonic organizations.
If Catholics haven’t disassociated with the groups by Monday, he said, they cannot receive Holy Communion or other sacraments of the church until they do so. And if they go past a May 15 deadline, they are officially excommunicated, the church’s ultimate spiritual punishment.
Seiker dropped out of Call to Action Nebraska, a local chapter of a national group that wants the church to discuss allowing women and married men to become priests - issues that Pope John Paul II has said are closed.
She said Bruskewitz’s ultimatum makes it difficult to be a Catholic.
Yet she still attends Mass every Friday and Sunday morning with her husband, and has no intention of leaving her tightknit parish community.
“You don’t just walk away for your own comfort,” she said.
The Lincoln diocese, one of three in Nebraska, spreads across 23,000 square miles in a politically conservative region. More than half its members are in small communities.
No other bishops in the United States have publicly supported the excommunication threat. An editorial in the Boston Archdiocese’s newspaper said Bruskewitz should have consulted other U.S. bishops before threatening excommunication.
Bruskewitz canceled a scheduled interview with The Associated Press last week. Monsignor Timothy Thorburn, the bishop’s spokesman, said Bruskewitz would not answer any further questions about the excommunication warning.
“There comes a point where we have to continue the work of the diocese,” Thorburn said.
The bishop has said before that he wanted to warn parishioners before they became too involved in the organizations, which he said are contrary to the church’s mission.
The Hemlock Society supports doctor-assisted suicide. The Vatican has long held the Masons’ secret beliefs and oaths to be incompatible with the Catholic faith.
Many Catholics in Lincoln support the bishop.
“I, as a Catholic, appreciate his strong teaching authority,” said Sandy Danek, a member of the Cathedral of the Risen Christ Church.
“The Catholic church is not a democracy,” Danek said. “It never has, nor should it be.”