Diocesan News

Ask the Register: What does this decree mean?

(SNR) - Bishop James Conley issued the following decree Dec. 7 for the Diocese of Lincoln. This week, "Ask the Register" explains the meaning of Bishop Conley’s decree:


Granting Faculty to Absolve the Censure Associated with Membership in Forbidden Societies

Whereas Pope Francis has called for an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in which he has granted to all priests during the Jubilee the faculty to remit the censure of latae sententiae excommunication for those who actually procure an abortion (c.f. Canon 1398); and whereas particular law for the Diocese of Lincoln (Article 1.7.7 of the 1996 Diocesan Synod) imposes the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication for membership in certain forbidden societies; and recognizing that priests do not ordinarily have the faculty by law to remit this censure without recourse to the Ordinary (cf. Canon 1356);

In light of the particular graces and mercy offered by our Lord to penitents in this Holy Year, and in virtue of the power granted to me by Canon 137 §1, I, James Douglas Conley, by the Grace of God and the Apostolic See, Bishop of Lincoln, hereby grant to all priests with valid confessional faculties in the Diocese of Lincoln the faculty to remit the latae sententiae censure of excommunication of those who renounce their membership in the forbidden societies listed in Article 1.7.5 of the 1996 Diocesan Synod. 

This faculty is valid during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016.  Remission of the censure is to be granted on the condition that the penitent renounces in the external forum his or her membership in the particular forbidden society. 

The forbidden societies are: 
The Masons and their auxiliary organizations
Planned Parenthood
Society of Pius X
Call to Action (in its various forms)
Catholics for a Free Choice
The Hemlock Society

Given at the Chancery, Lincoln, Nebraska, December 7, 2015, the Memorial of Saint Ambrose.

Most Reverend James D. Conley
Bishop of Lincoln

Q. What does this decree mean?

A. The Catholic Church has long taught that affiliation with certain societies and organization can cause grave harm to Catholics seeking to embrace and live the teachings of the Catholic Church. 

This is especially the case for organizations whose mission and purpose is directly in contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Some organizations, among them Planned Parenthood and the Hemlock Society, advocate social agendas that cause grave evil, such as abortion or euthanasia. Some, like the Freemason societies, advance religious doctrines in direct contradiction with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. And some organizations, such as Call to Action or the Society of St. Pius X, explicitly reject the authority or doctrine of the Catholic Church, seeking to change or repudiate divinely revealed truths about authority, Catholic identity, or sacramental life. These organizations require that their members support or advocate for positions which are false, and therefore, they entrap their members in lies.

The Diocese of Lincoln has always worked to ensure that Catholics are aware of the danger of affiliation with these organizations. And the diocese has taught that membership in these organizations is a serious rejection of the Church’s teachings. This kind of rejection disrupts a person’s relationship to the Christ and the Church, and can imperil the hope of eternal salvation. To emphasize the seriousness of this kind of affiliation, the Church’s Code of Canon Law, in canon 1374, establishes that membership in dangerous associations or organizations carries certain consequences in the Church’s life. In order to observe the Church’s law, the Diocese of Lincoln has determined, since 1996, that membership in certain dangerous organizations will lead to the penalty of excommunication.

Know in canon law as a “medicinal penalty,” excommunication forbids a person from participating in the life and ministry of the Church, including the sacramental life. Excommunication does not mean that a person is expelled from the Catholic Church—since membership in the Church is an effect of the sacrament of baptism, it cannot be withdrawn. Instead, excommunication is intended to ensure the integrity of the Church’s life and ministry, and it is intended to call Catholics to conversion— to remind them of the very grave significance of dangerous situations. Excommunication is intended to be a work of mercy, because it admonishes Catholics to withdraw from sinful situations.  

Ordinarily, excommunication must be remitted, or withdrawn, by the bishop of the diocese in which it is incurred.  However, for some people who may wish to repent, approaching the bishop might seem to be a very difficult burden, or an onerous expectation. Therefore, during the Year of Mercy, Bishop Conley has permitted all priests who hear confessions the right to remit the penalty of excommunication for membership in forbidden societies. 

This permission does not deny the seriousness of membership; instead it is an effort to remind members of forbidden societies that the Church earnestly wishes for their repentance, their holiness, and their eternal salvation. When members of the Church reject her teachings, all of us suffer the absence of a brother or sister in Christ.

If you know members of the forbidden societies of the Diocese of Lincoln, the Year of Mercy provides an opportunity to turn away from the danger of forbidden societies, and to turn to the merciful embrace of Jesus Christ. We should encourage those we know to repent, to seek out a priest for forgiveness and reconciliation, and to return to the freedom, joy, and truth of the Gospel. And all of us should pray for those who reject the Church’s teachings. Pray that they will seek the mercy of God, and pray for the unity of the Church.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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