A new take on tradition for incoming Lincoln bishop
By Joe Duggan
LINCOLN — He’s got folk rockers Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers on his iPod.
He’s on Twitter and Facebook.
And he’s passionate about poetry, art and classical English literature.
But when it comes to Roman Catholic doctrine, Lincoln’s incoming bishop says he’s ready to carry the torch of his predecessors who have made the Lincoln Diocese one of the most traditional in the country.
“The Diocese of Lincoln has never suffered an identity crisis,” said Auxiliary Bishop James Conley of the Denver Archdiocese. “In other words, the church in Lincoln has always known who she is. People want to be a part of this because people want to know where the church stands.”
The 57-year-old native of Overland Park, Kan., will be installed Nov. 20 as the ninth bishop of Lincoln, a diocese that includes 96,000 Catholics in 135 parishes across southern Nebraska.
He will replace retired Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, 77, who led the diocese for two decades.
The diocese is known for traditional church practices, such as boy-only altar servers and distributing Communion in the form of consecrated bread, not, as a general rule, from the cup. And unlike in many other Catholic churches, women in the Lincoln Diocese are not permitted to give the Eucharist to their fellow worshippers.
Conley said he has no plans to change those practices.
Bruskewitz, who has said he strove to preserve the “undistorted” Catholic faith, also made decisions and took actions that generated controversy.
For example, in 1996, he excommunicated Catholics who belonged to a list of 10 organizations he said opposed fundamental church teachings, such as opposition to abortion, gay marriage and assisted suicide. Among the listed groups were Planned Parenthood and Call to Action, an organization seeking church reforms such as ordination of women.
The excommunications will remain in force, Conley said.
“It can have a medicinal purpose,” Conley said. “The purpose is to not cut them off, but to persuade them to come back.”
The incoming bishop said he also wants to keep and strengthen the impressive track record Lincoln has in promoting vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. With 44 men currently studying for the priesthood, the diocese has the highest ratio of seminarians to Catholics in the nation, he said.