LINCOLN, Nebraska — Five Catholic women who were excommunicated from the Diocese of Lincoln in the 1990s due to their membership in a group that pushes for changes in church policies pertaining to women could be allowed to fully participate in services again.
Lincoln Bishop James Conley is offering the five women the opportunity to lift their excommunications on an individual basis, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
The women are members of Call to Action, a national organization that calls for the Catholic Church to reform its policies related to women’s ordinations, LGBTQ rights and other issues.
Then-Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz issued a blanket excommunication of the group in 1996, calling their actions “perilous” to the Catholic faith.
The decree also excommunicated members of Planned Parenthood, the euthanasia advocacy group Hemlock Society, the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, and the Freemasons and their affiliated societies.
Call to Action members have been working to overturn the excommunication for more than two decades. The group even went to the Vatican in 2006, but wasn’t successful.
Conley, two diocesan officials, and the five women have been discussing lifting the excommunication and making changes within the diocese since September 2016.
“Mostly what’s been happening is sharing our own Catholic journey: Why we’re Catholic and how we’re Catholic,” said Patty Hawk, who has practiced in a neighboring diocese since she was excommunicated from Lincoln’s. “We’ve talked a lot about that pain that surrounded the excommunication and just tried to understand each other better.”
Conley’s decision won’t lift the group’s blanket excommunication and only applies to the five women. It will allow them to continue being involved with Call to Action while also taking part in communion and other church sacraments.
“Bishop Conley just desires all Catholics to be in union, so he wants to make that possible for as many people as possible,” said Father Nicholas Kipper, spokesman for the Diocese of Lincoln.
The overturning of their excommunication is a sign that engaging in difficult conversations with people of different views can lead to a positive result, Hawk said.
“It matters,” Hawk said. “And it doesn’t just matter in this context; it could be a model for how we can talk across political and social divides in the world right now.”
Crux staff contributed to this report.