In few parts of the U.S. is traditional Catholicism as alive as in the small mid-Western Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. This is due, in large measure, to the long and capable episcopate of Bishop Glennon P. Flavin (1967-1992), who guided his diocese through the turbulent post- Vatican II decades with a sure hand until his recent retirement.
His successor, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, has made it clear that he will be keeping Bishop Flavin's successful policies in place.
Bishop Bruskewitz, who completed his theological studies for the priesthood in Rome, and was ordained in 1960, served in several pastoral posts in his native Wisconsin before returning to Rome in 1965 where he obtained his doctorate from the Gregorian University. At the time of his appointment to Lincoln, he was a suburban parish priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
The Lincoln Diocese has one of the best ratios of diocesan clergy to faithful in the U.S. The 1993 Catholic Almanac listed 136 diocesan priests for a population of just over 80,000 Catholics - twice as high a ratio as in comparable Australian dioceses like Ballarat, Lismore or Rockhampton.
Even more impressive is the level of priestly vocations in Lincoln, thanks to Bishop Flavin's capable leadership - so much so that a new seminary for the diocese is now under consideration. Lincoln's present 46 seminarians study at the more orthodox U.S. major seminaries such as St Charles Borromeo in Philadelphia and Mt St Mary's in Emmitsburg, Maryland. An equivalent number of seminarians for the Melbourne Archdiocese would be over 500!
In a recent interview with Roger McCaffrey of the US-based journal The Latin Mass, Bishop Bruskewitz remarked that his diocese was blessed with a "contented, happy priesthood", an abundance of young priests and seminarians, no external signs of dissent, nor any of the clerical scandals which have plagued other American dioceses.
The Bishop attributed "a good portion of the fine functioning of the diocese" to the priests, who, he said, have "fed into the system a great number of fine candidates for the priesthood", while the priests themselves "take great care of living in a fraternal way". The priests, he added, "have a deep interest in promoting the Church's teaching. Orthodoxy of doctrine is a paramount consideration and consequent to that there is also an emphasis on correct Church order and correct Church discipline."
Following last year's Vatican ruling that bishops may allow altar girls at their discretion, Bishop Bruskewitz has been the only U.S. bishop to forbid them in all circumstances. As he told his interviewer: I don't see any current pastoral need for them and I don't foresee any future pastoral need in that direction."
At the same time, the Bishop has invited the traditionalist Fraternity of St Peter (see report on page 10) into his diocese. The Fraternity in turn has invited him to perform their ordinations in Germany later this year.
The Bishop has kept sex education out of Catholic elementary schools, while "chastity training" is taught in high schools, as the Bishop explains, with "parental involvement" and with "a very strong emphasis on educating wills as well as intellects, and on providing a strong pro-life and pro-Humanae Vitae orientation to students."
The biological aspects of sex education are taught, he says, "in a private kind of way by our natural family planning people, who take mothers and daughters, or fathers and sons, into this educational enterprise. We keep a strong sense of modesty and reserve."
The Catholic education system in Lincoln continues to expand at all levels, thanks to the presence of three flourishing diocesan communities of religious sisters dedicated to Catholic education. This is at a time when there has been a steady decline in the numbers of U.S. Catholic primary and secondary schools and pupils since the 1960s. (There is no State Aid in the United States).
The Lincoln phenomenon - which runs strikingly counter to the secularist, 'modernising' trends afflicting much of the U.S. Church - is a dramatic vindication of the potential of firm, orthodox episcopal leadership, exercised continuously and consistently. It also highlights the advantages of smaller sized dioceses where a bishop - less encumbered by bureaucracy - is better placed to exercise a more direct leadership.