As he nears retirement, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb. reflected on the importance of the laity in modern culture, observing that well-formed men and women can bring Christ into the workplace and other areas where clergy cannot.
“We have to face seeing people where they are, and bringing Christ to people where they are,” the bishop told CNA in Rome March 14.
During a recent ad limina visit with Pope Benedict, the 76-year-old bishop noted in an interview that Catholic laity have an irreplaceable duty in sanctifying the world.
He also had pointed remarks for those who identify as Catholics in the U.S. but work to advance policies that harm the Church and morality. “They have to realize that what they are doing is very serious, and very seriously wrong.”
His comments come after decades of controversy over prominent and politically powerful Catholics who support legal abortion, homosexual political causes, and other positions contrary to the faith.
Now Catholic institutions are threatened by federal rules mandating contraceptive and sterilization coverage for their employees and students, with the explicit backing of Catholic politicians like Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Bishop Bruskewitz said the “defects” of recent catechesis need to be recognized as a source of such problems.
“Those defects are reflected sometimes in such phenomena as so-called Catholic legislators supporting anti-Catholic or even immoral things of a gross kind. I think it’s important that we face that challenge,” he said.
Catholics in the U.S. administration backing such policies need evangelization and, sometimes, discipline.
“I would say again and again that we can’t just rely on catechesis,” he continued. “Refusing communion, for example, to politicians who support abortion, is something that we should consider very seriously.”
These problems with prominent Catholics come amid what Bishop Bruskewitz called the “significant challenge” to evangelization in the media of modern communications.
“People are getting most of their information from blogs and tweets and other sorts of things, where previously they had books to do this with.”
The state of the Catholic Church in the U.S. was one of the many topics the American bishops discussed during their ad limina visit.
Bishop Bruskewitz’s conversation with Pope Benedict XVI examined consecrated life in the U.S. and its challenges as well as its satisfactions and joys.
The religious orders have a long history of founding schools, hospitals and other institutions. But they now face the challenge of maintaining their Catholic identity and vocations, which seems to be “in great decline,” the bishop said.
Bishop Bruskewitz said he has had a good relationship with Pope Benedict, and spoke of his great admiration for the pontiff as a “brilliant theological mind” and a “great proponent of correct liturgy.”
The two men also have one pastime in common: the traditional Regensburg card game of Sheepshead.
“I kid him about that regularly when I have occasion to meet with him,” said Bishop Bruskewitz.
During his ad limina visit, the bishop celebrated Mass at the tomb of Bl. John Paul II, which he called a “very moving experience.”
“We were close friends,” the bishop explained. “I always thought one of the great privileges of my life was to know him and to be able to, in some ways, be a collaborator of his. I have many happy memories of eating meals together with him as Pope.”
He felt especially privileged to have known both John Paul II and Bl. John XXIII. The Nebraska bishop is on the verge of retirement and has submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict.
Some from his diocese had great praise for his tenure, like Sr. Collette Bruskewitz of the School Sisters of St. Francis. She is vice superintendent for the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Lincoln and one of the bishop’s personal secretaries.
She is also his biological sister. Sr. Bruskewitz was in Rome with her brother for his visit and told CNA he deserves to retire.
“He’s worked very hard,” she said. “He loves the Church very, very dearly, and very deeply, and will do whatever the Lord wants him to do, no matter how long it takes.”
Msgr. Thomas Fucinaro, a Nebraskan priest who works at the Vatican, said the bishop has been a “spiritual father” to him.
“It’s hard to believe that he’s already reached the time of retirement. But as the bishop himself is fond of saying, 'We stand on the shoulders of the great ones who preceded us.' That was certainly true in the Diocese of Lincoln.”
In his view, the bishop has taken a solid situation for priestly vocations and women religious and “only built it up the more.”
Bishop Bruskewitz said his time in leadership has been marked by “the sociological and political changes in the world that have made the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ more challenging, but nonetheless more satisfying when that proclamation is successful,” he said.
“It isn’t always.”
Despite the difficulties, he said, it is satisfying “to know that one has made a good effort and a good shot to proclaim Christ to the world.”
Bishop Bruskewitz said that he hoped his own legacy would be that others will understand the importance of the priesthood and the importance of being “a channel of God’s grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and pardon and peace and joy to the world.”
The bishop said his own humanity has probably interfered with that channel of grace, but “we hope and trust that it didn’t dam up the work of God too badly.”