We continue to review an interesting case in Madison, Wisconsin where Bishop Morlino is holding the high ground in a battle led by lay people who want to get rid of some priests he brought in from Spain to fill the gaps due to the priest shortage. Some people, but not all, do not like the priests because they are more traditional. See Part 1 and Part 2 of my post series for background.
Bishop Morlino Holds the Moral High Ground
|"Charlie & the Chocolate Factory"|
In the movie, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", we see what happens to children whose parents have an unwillingness to check inappropriate behavior and demands. They become narcissistic. The same thing happens to parishioners when bishops engage in false charity towards the rebellious.
Who really closed the school?Bishop Morlino did not close that school, nor did the priests! People who withheld donations in a prideful bid to get rid of the assigned priests closed that school, and some used immoral means in an attempt to have their way.
The bishop starts out his letter explaining that after reviewing financial records, he sadly must agree with the pastor of the St. Mary's that the school must be closed. The bishop, having learned of the dire straights of the school offered support to keep it afloat through the end of the school year. You have to admit that if this pattern of withholding donations had gone on for two years, there really wasn't any reason for the diocese to entertain keeping the school open for another year because attitudes were not likely to change. From where would such money come? The bishop writes:
I deeply lament the closing of St. Mary's School. There are a good number of parents who, in their responsibility for forming their children, have relied upon the generosity of the parish community and the goodness of their Catholic sisters and brothers, to assist them by way of a Catholic school. These Catholic parents, their children, and those to come after them, suffer tremendously because of this. Your whole community suffers. I suffer with you.
When I learned that the school had financial trouble, last year, I immediately sent word offering a guarantee of emergency finances for the school until the close of the current school year, as well as my promise of weekly prayer and fasting particularly for St. Mary School. It was never my desire that the school be closed.
He goes on to explain that he sent diocesan staff to help the school come up with a reduced budget, hoping buy the parish time to come together. He talks about the many good people who assisted at the parish. Then he writes:
If, in time, people of similar good will wish to petition for the reopening of the school and if there is clearly support from the community, I am very eager to receive your petition.
With regard to the here and now, it has been said that the only solution for saving the parish school would be for me to remove Fr. Faustino Ruiz and Fr. John Del Priore. This would, I have been told by many people, ransom the school from those who are protesting and return giving to it's previous level.....But, as evidenced by the very fact that this situation of protest and refusal to support the needs of the Church, the deficiet at St. Mary and St. Augustine Parishes is of a much greater kind.There you have it: People trying to coerce and manipulate a bishop to get their way.
The Zeal of Younger PriestsThe plan to bully the bishop backfired. Children and families in the community were affected - again, by people using immoral means to get their way. Watch where he goes next:
Ultimately, a Catholic School - to be what it is meant to be - must be animated at every stage, by faith, hope, and love. The provision of a school is not the principal focus of a parish community; rather a school should flow from that community as a fruit of its faith, hope, and love. The loss of this Catholic school is a tragedy, but there is more at stake for each of us and as a community. What must be undertaken at this time is fervent prayer and then action for deepening faith, hope, and - most of all - charity.
The priests who have come to serve you have themselves admitted that they undertook some changes in a way that was abrupt for many people. This resulted in some instability, misunderstandings, and hurt – all of this I heard about at our recent meeting and in many letters. Those feelings are not insignificant, and action should be taken to bring a return to stability, increase understanding, and heal the hurt – the priests know this and I encourage them once again to apply themselves to these actions.
I have a couple of thoughts here. I like how the bishop looked at things from both sides.
But from where can firm stability, true understanding, and real healing come? It can come only from Jesus Christ. It is only Jesus, and the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which He founded that can be the vessels of stability, understanding, and healing. I have no doubt that Fr. Faustino and Fr. John will provide Jesus Christ, the teachings of His Church, and the Sacraments.
This new generation of priests has some things that their predecessors often did not. If you look, for example, at the 70's, the information priests got in formation was limited to what a seminary stocked in their library. In some quarters, this was tightly controlled and front-loaded with material written by dissenting theologians. This was, after all, a period of time which followed Humanae Vitae - Pope Paul VI's prophetic document on contraception which was rejected by a group of bishops and theologians. The Land O'Lakes statement came out in 1967, paving the way for an era of Pravda-like censorship and distorted teaching by Catholic institutions of higher learning. The National catholic Reporter got on the train of dissent resulting in a condemnation by the local bishop in 1968. There was no internet back then and Vatican documents were not available instantly as they are today. Seminarians would have had no reason to doubt they were being properly formed, just as past generations had. But, there was an agenda to undermine the Church's teachings on contraception. It became convenient to just cease discussion of sin. That era also ushered in liturgical innovations; and, philosophical positions which were not in harmony with Catholicism: Relativism, consequentialism and proportionalism. These were condemned by Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor in 1993, but not before decades of damage had been done in clerical ranks. The latest visitation of seminaries by the Holy See has helped restore things and, as with many things in the Church, we see incremental changes.
This new generation of priests has benefited from changes in formation. Because most changes happen incrementally, it will be another 10-20 years before the full effects are realized. This is nothing unusual in the life of the Church. In the Invitatory of the Divine Office, we read how the Jews in the Old Testament were left wandering out in the desert for 40 years and God would not let them enter His rest (Psalm 95:10-11)
Don't underestimate the benefits of the internet age which allowed seminarians to study raw documents involved with Vatican II, along with things like Humanae Vitae, Veritatis Splendor and everything that comes out of the Holy See, or from the Holy Father, immediately. Some priests of previous generations are also benefiting from this, when they open themselves to the information. Others don't take the time to study (and some have so much responsibility they don't know which end is up and rely on what they were taught in seminary). Still others have read the documents, but choose to believe was they wish and not with the mind of the Church. Pray for them. I believe some are truly prideful, but most are still guided by errant philosophies and attitudes. Many are victims and we please God most by begging His mercy upon them and for their conversion of heart.
With all of that being said, the point I wanted to make here is that this younger generation of priests are filled with zeal to restore authentic Catholic identity into parishes, schools and other venues. Sometimes, in their zeal, they do not have a sense for how delicate the faith of uninformed and malformed people can be. Moreover, as I said earlier, people have been conditioned to get their way. This has to be unlearned and if a heavy hand is used and too much is done at once, the flock scatters. You will notice that Pope Benedict has moved forward, but he makes a change then he waits for things to settle. He makes another change, there is another uproar, then he lets some time pass before making his next move.
Bishop Rebukes Rebellious LaityOn the other hand, the bishop doesn't leave it squarely on the backs of priests. What he gets into next concerns the laity who are rebelling.
From the beginning, some have claimed that the priests I sent do not teach according to the precepts of the Church and, particularly, as restated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. I repeatedly responded to these claims by asking for concrete examples to be given of any straying from the doctrine and discipline of the Church. It is my duty to ensure that the authentic teaching of the Church is handed on, and I stand ready to make corrections where needed. To this date, however, I’ve received no examples of teaching or practice contrary to the teachings of the Church. I have received examples of permissible differences in style, and, as I mentioned above, I’ve received examples of human errors, which resulted in relational hurts. I have every confidence that your priests continue to stand ready to resolve any personal issues you might have. But I’ve not received a single substantiated claim of false teaching or of a liturgical violation. I am still open to receiving claims of such correctable errors (with suitable reference to the proper documents).
I think, however, that at the end of the day, the Catholic faith is being taught according to the proper understanding of the Second Vatican Council, and that what remains are personal likes and dislikes, along with inflated rumors and gossip, some of which may even rise to the level of calumnious inciting of hatred of your priests, the faith, and myself. For these likes and dislikes, gossip, and hurt feelings, the Catholic faith is rejected and a school is closed.
Recall that to admonish the sinner is a charitable work. St. Thomas Aquinas tell us:
The correction of the wrongdoer is a remedy which should be employed against a man's sin. Now a man's sin may be considered in two ways, first as being harmful to the sinner, secondly as conducing to the harm of others, by hurting or scandalizing them, or by being detrimental to the common good, the justice of which is disturbed by that man's sin.
Now, I call your attention to the use of the bishop's words above, "calumnious inciting of hatred of your priests, the faith, and myself." We see in that short sentence that he is speaking of harm to others, scandalizing others (sinning alone is one thing, but pulling others in is much more serious), and the common good was affected when the immoral actions resulted in a school being closed.
This "inciting" also has canonical consequences. Hold that thought for now as we will hear that again later. Bishop Morlino continues:
This, tragically, is where we are today. In charity and in justice, I must caution you most strongly that this cannot continue. I do this now in sincere hopes of avoiding the issuance of Canonical warnings in the days ahead. Attached to this communication, is a list of texts upon which I would ask you to reflect prayerfully. I have a responsibility to do what I can to foster stability, understanding, and healing in your community, so that the Gospel message of Jesus Christ can shine forth. Where there are women and men of good will ready to renew their efforts in this regard, I believe that stability, understanding,and healing can come. Where there are individuals who do not truly seek the good, and who even work actively against it, where there are those who work to incite hatred, there may need to be more formal warning and action. First, though, I exhort you, with the words of St. Paul to the Church in Ephesus:
“Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil...And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Eph 4:25-27, 30-32)
Bishop places eternal salvation of souls over temporal feelingsI'm going to close this post with the rest of Bishop Morlino's letter, then get into the canonical issues he raises in Part 4. This is a highly catechetical rebuke he is offering, not only out of love for his priests who are suffering injustices, but for the innocent children and families who are also suffering the loss of their school because of the actions of others behaving badly. This is something that I don't think bishops reflect enough on today - the feelings of others - the humble, silent majority. If a bishop doesn't stand up for his priests, and for the people entrusted to him against this kind of tyranny, who will? God help that bishop when he must account for having placed the feelings of people, especially bullies, ahead of their salvation.
The bishop closes:
Your feelings do matter to me, and I do not take them lightly. However, our end goal should not be simply to restore good feelings. No, there is something greater than good feelings at stake, as good feelings come and go. Much deeper than feelings, what these priests have been sent to offer, is Jesus Christ, He who suffered with and like you, who died for you, and who has been raised to new life, so that you might have lasting joy, lasting hope, and lasting peace – eternal life. The reality of following Jesus is not at every moment full of good feelings; neither Jesus Himself, in His human nature, nor Mary, nor the Apostles were even granted that gift of freedom from painful emotions. By allowing ourselves, with openness, to enter into the mystery of His Church and His Sacraments we find that deep inner joy which passing emotions can’t eradicate.
As Christ’s Church, we profess faith in one Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that descended upon the apostles at Pentecost, the third person of the Blessed Trinity. It is this same Spirit that guided the early Church; has led the Church through two millennia, and will lead her until the end of time. The same Spirit that led the Church from the beginning and through the Second Vatican Council leads her today – and His message is the same, it cannot change. To think otherwise, or to claim that the hierarchy in union with the Pope, and the People of God might receive conflicting direction from the Spirit, would be mistaken. There is only one Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit poured out on the Church, which Christ, Himself, established. Objectively, the priests of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, with their human weaknesses and faults, their differences in style, and permissible practices, walk with the Church, as guided by the Holy Spirit.
There can be no “firing” of priests by the parish community in the Diocese of Madison. Thus, the priests of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest will remain in priestly ministry at St. Mary and St. Augustine Parishes in Platteville, and they stand ready to serve you and to seek stability, understanding, and healing. I beg you to seek the same so that the light of Christ might shine. I ask you to forgive, whatever that takes, and to move forward in faith, in hope, and in love.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino
Bishop of Madison
No one should accuse the bishop of being heavy handed. He has been dealing with this childish behavior since 2006 when he brought these priests in from Spain. Every letter I have read that has been made public is loaded with catechesis rooted in Scripture. I don't recall seeing him mention canonical warnings until now. He has been more than patient with the situation giving people every opportunity to reflect on their positions with regards to Scripture, Church law, and ordinary prudence.
One last point of reflection for everyone is Bishop Morlino's mode of communication. He is not in any way condescending. He comes across as a father concerned with the consequences for the immortal souls of his children - not just those rebelling, but those who may be incited by them. A willful, unrepentant act of calumny, can get you into hell as fast as murdering someone. It destroys, or "murders" the reputation of others.
Let's focus on the canonical aspects Part 4.
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