Why Aren’t Other Dioceses Looking to Lincoln?

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(Photo from the 2015 Mass of Ordination in the Diocese of Lincoln, NE)

So often these days we read of the ongoing collapse of Catholicism in the west.  In diocese after diocese we see parishes and schools closing or consolidating, a decline in priests as older clergy pass away at rates higher than new ordinations, and a widespread loss of the next generation to either the secular left or the evangelical right. 

We also read of various plans to counter these trends. Everyone seems to have a program to promote, a new strategy to increase vocations, to increase weekly Mass attendance, to keep teens from fleeing the faith…

However, what’s not as widely known is that we already have a blueprint for success: the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.  The problem is that few are talking about it.  So let’s fix that.

First, a few facts you might not know about the Diocese of Lincoln: 

According to the Official Catholic Directory and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Lincoln, NE is the only diocese in the United States to place in the Top 20 for the ratio of ordinands to population in every survey conducted from 1993-2012.

Despite having a Catholic population of only 97,000, the Lincoln diocese ordained 22 men from 2010-2012.  Only seven diocese in the entire country ordained more.  One of those, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (with a Catholic population over 4.2 million) ordained 34 men during those same three years.  In other words, L.A. only ordained four more men per year on average despite having a population 44X greater than Lincoln.

Bishop James Conley recently noted that, with this year’s class, the diocese will have ordained 17 men to the priesthood in a 24 month span of time; unheard of in this day and age.

As of 2012 the diocese had a total of 150 priests serving 134 parishes. 

There is no permanent diaconate program in Lincoln. There are, however, installed acolytes and lectors constituted of lay men.

There are also 33 Catholic schools, including 6 high schools.  One of those high schools, St. Pius X, produced 18 of the 48 men enrolled at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in 2014.

It’s also interesting to note that 96 percent of students attending diocesan schools are Catholic.

Many of the schools are staffed by female religious, of which the Diocese of Lincoln boasts 141 sisters from 14 different orders. Many have priests teaching high school theology and often serving as principals as well.

Having established that Lincoln is a thriving community of Catholicism, seemingly impervious to many of the challenges encountered elsewhere, we now need to look at the secret of their success.

The Lincoln blueprint can be narrowed down to a few foundational elements:

Orthodox Bishops

Against all odds and the prevailing winds of the post-conciliar Church, Lincoln has avoided the craziness and irreverence that has afflicted so many other dioceses. This has largely been achieved through the stability and orthodoxy provided over the last fifty years by three men: Bishop Glennon Flavin (1967-1992), Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz (1992-2012), and Bishop James Conley (2012-present). They succeeded despite the occasional scorn of their brother bishops, and by making the Church’s perennial priorities their own.

The National Catholic Reporter (known as the Fishwrap to Fr. Z readers) once bemoaned that it was as if the “reforms” so prevalent in the aftermath of Vatican II had missed Lincoln altogether. Exactly.

The Male Only Sanctuary

Several things immediately differentiate Lincoln from nearly every other diocese in the country when it comes to the sacred liturgy.

To a large extent, Lincoln has preserved a male only sanctuary. In this area the diocese has simply given more weight to tradition and common sense instead of “modern sensibilities” that are more secular minded.

The diocese remains the only one in the country to maintain an altar serving policy of boys only. As I have written about before, this is in direct recognition of what Rome itself acknowledged back in 1994:

The Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.

Lincoln also utilizes installed acolytes and lectors for the Holy Mass. Since it is an instituted ministry, the role of an acolyte is only open to men. Both of these instituted ministries commenced during Bishop Flavin’s time during the 1970’s.

As an example, a parish with 1,200 or so families could have as many as 30-40 acolytes. They function mainly in a capacity to serve during Mass, often much like an altar boy or deacon: they turn the missal pages for the priest, carry the processional cross, distribute communion, handle the thurifer for incensing, and so on.

These acolytes are utilized on an as needed basis and are not viewed as simply another way to increase lay participation. An average Sunday mass with 800 people would typically have only 2 main acolytes and 3 more assist the extra priest to distribute Holy Communion. It’s also interesting to note that the faithful only receive under one species in Lincoln, foregoing the need to double the number of acolytes. This is of course in stark contrast to most dioceses that make ordinary use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, to the point of abusing the intention set forth by Rome.

As stated previously, Lincoln also utilizes installed lectors for most Sunday Masses. Back in the early 1980’s Bishop Rembert Weakland (the progressive homosexual prelate of Milwaukee at the time) publicly chastised Bishop Flavin of Lincoln for not embracing the innovation of female readers for Mass. While Flavin’s successor Bishop Bruskewitz would eventually acquiesce and permit their use in the diocese, female readers are still more commonly utilized for daily masses and school masses, with lectors more prevalent for Sunday’s and holy days of obligation.

Tradition Friendly

Those in Lincoln will speak of the lack of Catholic tribalism and the absence of the liturgical wars so prevalent in other dioceses. In large part this is due to the environment established by Lincoln’s bishops. Reverent Novus Ordo liturgies have served the faithful well, preventing the frustration that so many encounter in other dioceses.

However, Lincoln has also avoided the hostility toward tradition that so often defines the traditionalists experience elsewhere. Back in the 1990’s then Bishop Bruskewitz invited the newly established Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) to the diocese to establish a North American seminary, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Denton, NE. The Fraternity exclusively celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form and adheres to the liturgical books in use in 1962.

Presently there are about 7 or so diocesan priests who offer the Traditional Latin Mass; however, more are learning it. The rector at the diocesan seminary (St. Gregory the Great) offers it to the seminarians once a month.

This is probably one of the more interesting sides of Lincoln. The Latin Mass community is not very large in Lincoln. Because the diocese has historically been so conservative there has never been a great battle cry from traditionalists for the exclusive return of the Latin Mass. Many within the community can even be seen at various Novus Ordo parishes participating fully within the liturgy .

The number of priests learning the old Mass is on the rise, though mainly among the younger priests (of which there are many). Most of the older priests will delegate it to the FSSP priests in the diocese at the seminary or to St. Francis’ parish. Bishops Bruskewitz, Conley and Robert Finn (formerly of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph) all offer it regularly in the diocese.

Lincoln’s diocesan priests and the FSSP priests have an excellent relationship, and it is only getting better. St. Gregory the Great diocesan seminarians have gone to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and vice versa, for evenings of prayer and fraternity and for vespers in both the old and new rites.

Liturgical Continuity

As stated previously, the Lincoln diocese has intentionally avoided the modern tendency to clericalize the laity by delegating liturgical roles to the faithful. Thanks to its use of acolytes and lectors, instead of the more common excessive use of readers and EMHC’s, the diocese has not blurred the lines between ministers and laity, or between sanctuary and nave. It’s obvious to see how this would reinforce the ministerial priesthood in Lincoln, as well as the continuity between both forms of the Roman Rite.

Proper liturgical orientation has been further reinforced through the manner in which many masses are offered in Lincoln: with the priest facing toward the liturgical east, or Ad Orientem.

As I have written about before, the last two years Bishop Conley has offered all Sunday masses Ad Orientem during Advent. Further, he has publicly encouraged the priests of his diocese to do the same. From what I have been told, about 40% of parishes chose to follow his lead. For many, however, this was not anything new, as most large diocesan masses are already being offered Ad Orientem.

A Catholic Education

While I have saved this for last, in many ways education is the primary ingredient to Lincoln’s recipe for success. Bishop Glennon Flavin’s vision for a diocese that allowed its children to go to Catholic school at an affordable cost and to be taught authentic Catholicism by religious sisters and priests is integral to the diocesan mission.

While Lincoln’s Catholic population is less than 100,000, they have provided the faithful with 27 elementary schools and 6 high schools to educate the next generation. More importantly, most diocesan schools have at least 1-2 habited sisters and all Catholic schools are staffed by at least one priest.

As noted earlier, high school theology classes are only taught by priests and religious sisters. For example, the Catholic high school in Lincoln, Pius X, has over 1200 students and is staffed by 4 religious sisters (in traditional religious habits) and 15 priests who always wear their clerics. Each newly ordained priest can expect to teach high school for at least 5 years. Priests who are assigned to parishes in smaller towns with a Catholic high school are still expected to teach as well.

Unlike other dioceses which require school masses only once a week, or in some cases once a month, each grade school in the Diocese of Lincoln is required to offer daily mass for the entire school each day.

However, there may be no better example of Lincoln’s commitment to the future than the fact that it’s diocesan schools have some of the lowest tuition costs in the entire country. As an example, St. Teresa’s Catholic School in town has an annual tuition cost of only $100 per student, and yet it is a thriving school with a habited sister as principal.

As one local explained, “These good, solid, Catholic schools are the roots of the diocese and continue to pump out religious vocations and plain good Catholics, thanks to the work of our clergy, diocesan staff, and laity.”

Why Aren’t Other Dioceses Looking to Lincoln?

Why more dioceses aren’t looking to incorporate the Lincoln model is a mystery. It is easy to see how some might dismiss it, however.

Lincoln is a rural diocese. It’s exceptionally high number of religious sisters help to reduce tuition costs for schools. The relatively small size of the Catholic population creates an insulated environment unlike that found in such diverse and populous areas as Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York.

Of course there may be other reasons why the Lincoln blueprint is apparently being ignored.

No doubt many bishops, priests, and lay faithful would rather forgo a boom in vocations if it means having to reestablish clear divisions between the nave and the sanctuary, or ending such post-conciliar innovations as altar girls or Extraordinary Ministers. The secular push for egalitarianism has been enthusiastically embraced by most bishops these past few decades. It would seem that either pride, or fear, or an agenda that is not exclusively focused on saving souls, is keeping many from reversing course. Or maybe some dioceses simply don’t want orthodox Catholicism.

We can only hope and pray that more of those within the Church hierarchy humbly and attentively look to Lincoln for some answers. There is a blueprint for rebuilding a vibrant Church, an authentic and thriving Catholicism.

Look to Lincoln.

(I would like to thank Tanner Lockhorn of Lincoln, NE for his assistance and significant contribution to this post. Tanner is a life long resident of Lincoln and a graduate of St. Pius X High School).

Posted on April 30, 2016, in life, liturgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 163 Comments.

  1. If we are going to roots, permanent diaconoate of men and “women” was in place at the beginning of Christianity. I think women are being moved aside. This more clericalism than fidelity to roots, as men lead the route.

  2. Deacon Steve McGlone

    It seems that the author thinks permanent deacons are a problem or less effective ministry than installed acolytes. I am wondering if this is correct and why.

  3. Deaconess in the early Church serve a very limited rolle They were chosen from widows and virgins. Remember St. Paul said no women could preach or teach.. The early Christians were baptized seperately as they wore no clothes.Deaconess assisted the women. They brought communion to ill women who lived alone as it would have been scandalous for a Deacon to do so.
    By the 4th century Deaconess no longer were used.

  4. Why was it necessary to say “homosexual” when speaking of the progressive bishop in Milwaukee? Do you point out that others are heterosexual?? Sex isn’t a part of the priesthood, whatever the previous leaning may have been.

    • Because Archbishop “Weakland was toppled in the church hierarchy in 2002 by a disclosure that he paid $450,000 in diocesan funds to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he was the archbishop’s lover.” See: http://triblive.com/news/westmoreland/6494915-74/weakland-vincent-archabbey. In retirement, his own abbey did not want him back fearing his sexual lust and manipulation of the young, beautiful, healthy, virile, male novices and his need for decadent Novus Ordo liturgies.

      In any event, he was leading a double life as an unrepentant Pagan and Demonic Sodomite, like so many other Catholic clergy, and breaking his Benedictine vow of chastity.

    • In the Roman Catholic Church, a discussion over “the priesthood of the laity,” there usually is not talk of gender. When the topic is about “vocations to the priesthood,” morally acceptable men are at the center of the discussion. Especially after the past several decades.

    • #BChristLike

      Bonne, your response is of a progressive that participates in the persecution of Christ’s church. Speak truth here in the short term for eternity is more important. Have courage to swim against the tide, not with it.

  5. June Vendetti

    The Diocese of Lincoln has been blessed because it never wavered from the traditions of the Church. I received my First Holy Communion pre-Vatican II Council. The Liturgy always had a sense of the holy to it. In the late sixties and through the seventies, liturgical abuses were evident, making the Liturgy less holy. The Church has suffered greatly over the past fifty years because of it, and it breaks my heart to think that all the changes that took place, were allowed to prevail; they were not stopped! I applaud the Diocese of Lincoln, and I pray that the rest of the Dioceses throughout the country will follow Lincoln’s lead.

  6. Around what age does the Diocese of Lincoln offer the Sacrament of Confirmation?

  7. I think there are too many trying to bend the Church to their will by embracing mediocrity and minimalism. By evangelizing with charismatic protestant programs like Alpha.

  8. The Bishop encourages the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When I go home for Christmas, they are offering it before Daily Mass and throughout the day. They also have asked the faithful to pray for vocations at mealtimes. They also encourage adoration…

  9. Maurice Richard OFM Conv.

    Their “success” could also mean that more conservatively leaning men are going to this one diocese which has been ministered to by more conservatively leaning bishops . . . Or in other words, the “orthodox” vocations are not all necessarily coming from the diocese of Lincoln, but from all over the United States and landing in that conservative diocese. This should not presume a better or worse Catholic environment, but a unique community who do things in a conservative way. Two million Catholic youth attended the World Youth Day in Poland this summer and four million in Brazil a couple of years ago. Should we presume that the “novus ordo” liturgies celebrated there and youth leadership are the winning combination for the church of tomorrow? Numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story. I’m happy for the diocese of Lincoln and their success . . . I certainly don’t presume that their way is the best or only way to go.

    • Fr. Richard:

      In an interview this week, Bishop Conley indicated seven out of ten of their vocations have come from Diocese of Lincoln Catholic high schools. It’s possible these families had moved to Lincoln while these men were still children in some cases, which might make the men “imports” in a technical sense, but they’ve at least spent sufficient time in the diocese to arguably qualify as “home grown.” His Excellency does not clarify where the other three came from – whether they were from Lincoln in some other capacity, or from outside the diocese.

      I’m not sure how helpful a comparison to World Youth Day or similar events are. A commitment to attend a retreat abroad for a few days is not the same as the commitment to the priesthood for one’s entire life. Generating numbers for the latter is a far more formidable task. And few dioceses in the West are successful at it. Given how critical the need for priests is in most such places now, looking at the few places that actually succeed has some logic going for it. It may turn out that certain aspects of what they do in Lincoln may not translate without some modification to other dioceses. But it seems hard to argue with most of the basic elements Liturgy Guy highlights.

      To make the contrast more stark, in a 24 month period, Bp. Conley has ordained about one third as many priests (17) as all the dioceses in Germany (a country with 24 million nominal Catholics) put together this year. Whatever they are doing in Germany, it’s simply not working, at all. From what I have seen over there, most or all of these factors are lacking in most German dioceses.

  10. Theresa Adewuyi

    Lord help us and bless us with various initiative to continue to develop the church for our salvation and to draw souls closer to You O God

  11. Miranda Hutlet

    I was saddened that no mention was made of placing a priority on Adoration of the Holy Eucharist, unless I missed it. That is what I would have expected from an article in which it seems we have found a diocese where Catholics in North America have finally “done it right”.

  12. The story above about why Bishop Anthony Taylor removed Father James Melnick from his parish had nothing to do with the latter “occasionally saying a Tridentine Mass.” As this article from Arkansas Catholic makes clear, the bishop removed Father Melnick for serious sexual misconduct and abuse of the sacraments. http://www.arkansas-catholic.org/news/article/3997/Father-James-Melnick-suspended-from-ministry

  13. With respect for a thought provoking article; ‘handling the thurifer’ may result in criminal charges. Handling the thurible will not.

  14. A small thing to most people, but irritating to me…..Not just in this article, but in many I read across a wide range of authors, the word “Mass”, when referring to, obviously, Sunday Mass, the Holy Mass, etc., writers do not capitalize the word. It is the THE Holy Mass, not mass, like a mass of people in a crowd…..Always capitalize “Mass”, please, when referring to the Holy Mass.

    • Actually, it’s “The Holy Sacrifice of Jesus.” “Mass” is a lame synonym for His Holy Name. Why it has become “The” word instead of “Jesus,” and remains so, I guess is a liturgical fact of life.

  15. I recently found out that our diocese also has the largest, most active women’s group, Lincoln Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.
    Another plus is the Catholic Church on the University of Nebraska campus and it’s activities for students.
    We have many incredible blessings! Praise God!

  16. How I wish my diocese (OnMission for the Church Alive!) would follow Lincol’s example

  17. In your op-ed you stated that Lincoln has 6 catholic high schools and that is incorrect. I am from Lincoln and went to school at Pius X and it is the only catholic high school available in Lincoln.

    • I believe the author meant the Lincoln *Diocese* has six Catholic high schools:
      Pius X (Lincoln), Sacred Heart (Falls City), Our Lady of Lourdes (Nebraska City), Aquinas (David City), St. Cecilia’s (Hastings) & Bishop Neumann (Wahoo)

      🙂

  18. I am not a member of your diocese as I live in Illinois but frequently visit parishes in the Lincoln diocese. I find the church very unwelcoming and exclusive. Excluding the laity from participating fully in the Mass makes me feel like a child of the church rather than a full, adult, responsible member of the Catholic church. My home parish constantly reaches out for all members to participate in all aspects of the Mass including women as servers, lectors, and sacristans. It is appalling that the Lincoln diocese excludes women.

    • John D. Horton

      I wish the Vatican would establish “women only” parishes so they can parade around in front of each other to their hearts content. With only women in the audience, there won’t be any female participation due to lack of interest. Women want to parade around in the sactuary so they can be seen and be on display for men.

      You will notice that since women’s liberation hit the convents in the 1960s even the sisters are not interested in being around each other and have zero ability to attract new candidates. Vatican II and its communist, atheistic and secular propaganda of “tolerance,” “inclusiveness” and “diversity” have destroyed the Church which was the idea in the first place by those subversives who proposed the New Church.

      If you want women’s liberation and equality (communist and socialist concepts propagated by the Left to destroy the Catholic Church and Western society), go and start your own church. No one is stopping you.

      The Vatican II “changes” in the Church were propagated with the explicit intention of destroying the Church and they have been very successful.

      What is the recipe for destroying the thriving Catholic Church USA in the 1950s? Change everything about it so that in 2017 it is totally recognizable from what it was in the 1950s.

    • Participation at Mass doesn’t mean that everyone needs a job. The deepest participation is silent prayer and adoration during the Mass. This idea of having a job during Mass is immature worship similar to entertaining a toddler to keep them distracted and amused so they won’t stray.

      • All this regressive talk about minding your place at Mass reminds me that the Apostles at the last supper must have been very reluctant to participate in the meal as good Christians apparently must stay silent and know their place!

      • Paul, our place at Mass is to worship God, Period. Don’t know how that translates to “minding your place”. Reducing the Holy Sacrifice to just a meal is the problem with modern liturgy. The faithful have lost (or never had) the understanding of what is happening, supernaturally, right in front of them. If they did they wouldn’t want to be distracted with the modern sense of participation.

  19. How can you equate Deacons the same as altar servers this show a deep lack of understanding of ordination in the Catholic Church

    • John D. Horton

      For the 1 millionth time, for those who are lacking in history or the willingness to look things up:
      — Pre-Vatican II Mass Server, Acolyte, Altar Boy, etc. was one of the “Minor Orders” on the road to ordination to the priesthood.

      What are the “Minor Orders” (see wikipedia) listed in order lowest to highest :
      — 1. Porter,
      — 2. Lector,
      — 3. Exorcist,
      — 4. Acolyte, otherwise known as Mass Server, Altar Boy, etc.

      What are the “Major Orders”:
      — 1. Sub-Deacon,
      — 2. Deacon,
      — 3. Priest,
      — 4. Bishop.

      So, as is evident in the above to list, there is a clear progression of ministries that begins with Porter and ends with Bishop and that Acolyte or Mass Server are the ministry just before receiving Sub-Diaconate.

      Even in the Vatican II rite, you have to receive the “Instituted Ministry” of Acolyte prior to ordination to the permanent or transitional Diaconate.

      More Wikipedia: “Minor Orders”:

      By Pope Paul VI’s motu proprio Ministeria quaedam of 15 August 1972, the term “minor orders” has been replaced by that of “ministries”.[15] Two of what were called minor orders, those of reader and acolyte, are kept throughout the Latin Church, and national episcopal conferences are free to use the term “subdeacon” in place of that of “acolyte”.[16] The motu proprio specified the functions of each of these two ministries,[17] A prescribed interval, as decided by the Holy See and the national episcopal conference, is to be observed between receiving them.[18] Candidates for diaconate and for priesthood must receive both ministries and exercise them for some time before receiving holy orders.[19]

      Conferral of the minor orders or ministries is by the ordinary: either a diocesan bishop or someone who is equivalent in law to a diocesan bishop or, in the case of clerical religious institutes and societies of apostolic life, a major superior.[20] The two ministries that are in use throughout the Latin Church could be conferred even on men[21] who are not candidates for holy orders.[22]

      Commentary from forums.catholic.com:

      (Men only in the sanctury): It is mostly because it is proper that only men serve in the sanctuary. All allowances for women in any liturgical role does not negate the ideal. There are many threads on the issue of only men in the sanctuary so I will not go into the whys at the moment.

      Fr. Gabriel Thomas Mosher, OP

      The 1972 Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam has: “7. In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, institution to the ministries of reader and acolyte is reserved to men.”

      So, in conclusion, todays Acolyte, Mass Server, or Altar Boy is a very important ministry, role, activity or position in the Mass or other liturgies because it is the immediate precursor ministry, role, activity or position to the ordained ministry and order of Deacon.

  20. “Why more dioceses aren’t looking to incorporate the Lincoln model is a mystery.”

    I don’t think there is any mystery about it.

    All a person needs to do is look at who the majority of bishops in the U.S. are, as well as a good swath of the clergy, and he/she will understand why more dioceses don’t incorporate the Lincoln model.

    A huge section of the clergy comes under the heading of “hireling.” For many, the salvation of souls doesn’t even seem to be on their radar.

  21. I wonder how the RCIA program is faring in the Diocese? There was no mention of it in this article…would the author clarify its status, please?

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