A Pastoral Disaster: Bishop Morlino and the Parish in Platteville, WI

I still remember when I learned the word “interdict.”

It was in high school world history class (this still pretty much meant European / Western history in the 1970s) in the public school down in Franklin, Minnesota. Pope Innocent III put the entire kingdom of England under interdict for five years in 1208, our text said, which meant for the entire populace no sacraments or rites such as Christian burial.

“Wow, that’s kinda harsh,” the sixteen-year-old thought to himself.

I recall also thinking to myself that it’s kinda cool that we Catholics were still part of this church extending back to the Middle Ages, we still had a pope today, but the Methodists and Lutherans in my class couldn’t claim that. (In this world, which looks rather small in retrospect, Lutherans and Methodists were The Other.)

I suppose our history text must have said that it was because King John refused to accept the pope’s appointment of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, but I admit that I had to check Wikipedia just now to jog my memory.

And now I see that Innocent III also placed the Kingdom of France under interdict, but only for eight months so that’s no big deal. And the Kingdom of Norway, for four years. Busy pope. If you got it, use it, I guess.

Oh, and in 1955 white parishioners near New Orleans were put under interdict for refusing entry to a black priest. It’s a good, progressive cause, racial equality. I expect the more liberal readers of Pray Tell welcome such use of interdict, yes?

I never thought I’d get to use my newfound word in today’s Catholic Church.

But Bishop Morlino, over in neighboring Wisconsin, has provided.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the bishop has threatened parishioners in Platteville, Wisconsin with interdict if they don’t put a stop to their opposition to the conservative priests he appointed to their parish. Just as in 1208, the issue is accepting a controversial appointment.

It all started in Platteville in June 2010, not even two years ago, when Madison Bishop Robert Morlino installed three priests at St. Mary’s from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, a traditional Catholic society founded in Spain. They do not allow girls to be altar servers or allow parishioners to distribute communion. The parish website lists a daily Tridentine (pre-Vatican II) Latin Mass as well as a daily Vatican II Mass.

It didn’t take long for it all to blow up. Donations plummeted, and about 40 percent of the church’s 1,200 parishioners signed a petition seeking the ouster of the priests. The parish school was in danger of closing at midyear, then frantic fundraising made it possible to complete the school year, but now the bishop has accepted that the school will close when this year ends.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t the “mutual enrichment” between old and new which Pope Benedict envisioned when he issued the “motu proprio” in 2007 allowing any priest, any time, without bishop’s permission, to celebrate the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. Pope Benedict wrote at the time to the world’s bishops:

The fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded.

It looks as if the Bishop of Madison is on solid grounds canonically. Priests have every right to use only male servers, to disallow lay eucharistic ministers, to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. Canon law is clear that parish councils are merely advisory, and authority remains vested in the priest. Bishops appoint priests, and parishioners have no right to remove them.

The pastoral disaster in Platteville brings to a point what has and has not been accomplished through the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. At the level of admonition we have ringing conciliar statements about collegiality, ordained ministry as service, church as people of God, the important role of the laity in the Church, and so forth. At the level of legal reform, to large extent, power remains firmly in the hands of the clerical authorities – pastor, bishop, curial official, pope.

The clergy may and even should act with pastoral sensitivity, but they are not legally required to do so.

At the level of pastoral sensitivity, there is much to talk about in Platteville, wide range for differing opinions. The priests themselves have admitted that they have made some mistakes and moved too quickly with their reforms.

But the parishioners have no right to remove their priests, no matter how insensitive the priests are. The law is clear on this point, and so is the bishop. As he wrote in his letter to the parish, “There can be no ‘firing’ of priests by the parish community in the Diocese of Madison.” And there you have it.

Pope Innocent appointed Stephen Langton, and Bishop Morlino appointed the priests of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest.

I’m trying to conceptualize how an interdict might look in pastoral practice.

“Dear friends, we regret to inform you that our wedding celebration has been postponed during this time our parish is under interdict.”

Or at the end of an obituary: “Funeral services will be held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Platteville as soon as the interdict is lifted.”

I predict it won’t come to that. Watch this space.

Pray for everyone involved.



  1. When the kingdom of England was under interdict, did that include the clergy? What did they do during those 5 years? Was it like an extended sabbatical? And if the clergy was not interdicted (?), then, in that case as well, what were they supposed to do with their time?

    I’m trying to imagine what would happen if we academics were forbidden from teaching any class or giving out any grades or publishing any papers for 5 years…

    1. Copy of a comment I posted earlier:

      What reasons did the article have to claim that Bp Morlino was making all those threats? An addendum [to the letter] cites many church laws, including one in which anyone who publicly incites animosities or hatred toward church authorities “is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.”

      I wondered if the article was not exaggerating and reading threats where none were intended. So I looked at the bishop’s letter itself. This is what I found inside the letter:
      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 […]. Where there are women and men of good will ready to renew their efforts in this regard, […]. 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.”

      The letter is followed by two pages of quotes from Lumen Gentium, from the catechism, and from canon law.

      My take is that the article accurately reflects the threatening tone of the bishop’s message.

      1. No, he is clearly – and quite pastorally, I think – explaining the situation and asking the parishioners to read and reflect on pertinent writings.

  2. A cross-posted comment of mine from earlier in the week on another blog:

    Three reminders to Bp Morlino:

    One place: The Most Serene Republic of St Mark (aka the Republic of Venice)

    One year: 1607.

    One name: Paolo Sarpi.

    * * *
    The imposition of interdict on a place and people who are unlikely to recognize its validity is a classic violation of the supreme Roman virtue of prudence. Rome has been extremely wary of using interdict for the past 400 years, because it learned the *very* hard way: the Venetian experience contributed greatly to the sense among European powers that Rome’s day as a power (seen as recently as the Battle of Lepanto) was fading. By the time of the Treaties of Westphalia-Osnabrück-Münster, this impression was sealed, with it only taking another 150 years for two successive Roman pontiffs to be carted off by Napoleon as prisoners. Consequently, Romans learned that seeming muscularity can make you seem even weaker.

  3. I imagine that enormous shifts in pastoral style (style is the word the bishop uses in his letter) either way can drive people away from a parish, at least temporarily. I’ve heard from time to time in conservative circles the notion that shifting to a more conservative style will attract more people than it will drive away. Clearly that is not the case here. Is there any data from CARA or other sources on this?

    1. I’ve heard from time to time in conservative circles the notion that shifting to a more conservative style will attract more people than it will drive away. Clearly that is not the case here.

      There’s a timeframe issue. What is effective in the long-term isn’t neccesarily effective in the short or medium-term and vice versa.

      1. It’s definitely interesting to think about the time frames — on both sides. Why the (acknowledged) rush to change? And how long does one wait to see if a change in pastoral style is effective or not before suggesting that yet more change is needed. And is the number of people in the pews a useful or important measure of success in pastoral terms?

      2. And how long does one wait to see if a change in pastoral style is effective or not before suggesting that yet more change is needed.

        Probably more than a generation.

  4. The local interdict as a penalty doesn’t exist under the 1983 Code of Canon Law. It wouldn’t make sense anyways, since all the news reports indicate that the parish is divided over its current pastoral leadership, not unified against it (and the historical reason that one might interdict a place that isn’t uniformly rebellious e.g. a country or a parish is to put pressure on its leaders, who in this case already back and have the backing of the ordinary).

    What the Bishop is threatening is personal interdicts, like in the St. Louis case. (Canon 1373 and 1374).

    1. Your technical correction is rather beside the point. Threatening interdict in this way is not likely to work, and that remains the problem. Playing at being Zeus with canonical lightning of this sort merely invites Toto to peel back the curtain (to mix metaphors).

  5. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen in a place very close to my heart and it wasn’t because of a conservative priest, but one who was (either rightly or wrongly) considered progressive or liberal. In either case, the vitriol and downright un-Christian attitudes, conspiracies and desire to oust the pastor by a clique who infected the droves was astounding. People left the parish, stopped donating and hoped that the parish school would go under.
    In either case, I think there is a subversion not only of Vatican II but of basic Christian charity that pushes people into corners and alienates the innocent. Fortunately those who stayed and supported the priest and the parish in the scenario I described weren’t caught up in all the politics and dissent.

  6. I think that a bishop could justly permit a dedicated EF/”Reform of the Reform” (ROTR) parish in a diocesan region under certain conditions. Perhaps a dedicated church for liturgically conservative Catholics should only be allowed if a liturgically mainstream alternative is a reasonable traveling distance away (perhaps 10 mi/16 km radius or less).

    My diocese has two EF/ROTR parishes in two cities. Neither church is an undue burden since each city has at least three other mainstream Catholic churches. The parishioners of the EF/ROTR parishes are mostly self-selected and quite supportive of the liturgical programs. Also, the parishioners of these two churches often give generously to maintain their parishes. If there is a group of liturgically conservative Catholics who have the means to support a new parish, then perhaps Bp. Morlino could allow the Society to build a new church or renovate a dilapidated church. A new parish for the Society would preserve St. Mary’s parish community.

    I do not know Bp. Morlino’s motivation for the changes at St. Mary’s. However, the salvation of souls is the supreme law. The souls of Platteville do not desire drastic changes but certainly require the sacraments for their spiritual good. Bp. Morlino’s interdict communicates the erroneous notion that the sacraments exist for the clergy and not for all the baptized.

    1. Live and let live? What as novel idea!

      I’m not certain whether one can compare the New Orleans bishop refusing to sanction racial prejudice with Bishop Morlino enforcing a cultural change on a parish which by all accounts was well within the norms.

      Finally, how would one go about enforcing such an interdict? Would a parishioner who has retreated to another parish be under interdict? How would the bishop know when to lift the interdict? Will people have to show up in sack cloth and ashes?.

    2. I do not know Bp. Morlino’s motivation for the changes at St. Mary’s.

      The pastor of the parish has made changes, not the bishop. Subsidiarity!

      However, the salvation of souls is the supreme law.

      No one is disputing that?

      The souls of Platteville do not desire drastic changes but certainly require the sacraments for their spiritual good.

      The sacraments are not the only thing people require for their spiritual good. Also required is their obedience to their bishops and their pastors. If they’re openly campaigning against their pastors for false reasons (e.g. Morlino says some people have accused the pastors of not being orthodox) the sacraments do them little good.

      Bp. Morlino’s interdict communicates the erroneous notion that the sacraments exist for the clergy and not for all the baptized.

      What? He a) hasn’t interdicted anyone and b) so you’re opposed to excommunication and (nota bene: personal) interdict generally on principle?

      1. Actually, Morlino made the initial and first change. Do you really think he has been unaware of the other changes? Subsidiarity doesn’t remove the bishop from both responsibility and accountability. (you are only half using the concept of subsidiarity – unity and solidarity are parr of the equation and these two concepts go both ways – from the bottom up and the top down)

        Salvation of souls – curt reply on your part. suggest that this very non-pastoral approach does put salvation of souls at risk

        Actually, the people of the parish have a responsibility (even in canon law) to speak up responsibly if pastors/bishop are not acting for the good of the church. Let’s not get into the same old – who is more orthodox here?

        Yes, would suggest that “interdict” has outlived any purpose it ever had.

      2. Requiring obedience to bishops and pastors.

        AKA the “Stern Father” approach. Do what I say because I say it!

        Sorry, but that nonsense is NOT necessary for anyone’s spiritual health or salvation.

    3. re: Samuel J. Howard on May 3, 2012 – 1:29 pm

      He a) hasn’t interdicted anyone

      This is my error.

      b) so you’re opposed to excommunication and (nota bene: personal) interdict generally on principle?

      No, I am not opposed to ecclesiastical penalties if applied after more reasonable measures. How does Bp. Morlino benefit by threatening interdiction to force a parish to accept liturgical traditions which are not theirs? He could have invited a religious order which celebrates the postconciliar liturgy to staff the parish. Why the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest instead of Franciscans, Passionists, or Redemptorists? Orthodox catechesis and sacraments can be guaranteed through postconciliar liturgies. Bp. Morlino could ensure the care of souls at St. Mary’s through much less drastic methods.

      The sacraments are not the only thing people require for their spiritual good. Also required is their obedience to their bishops and their pastors

      Shouldn’t a bishop also be a wise shepherd to his churches? One might think that an ordinary would attempt the best match possible between clergy and community. I strongly suspect that Bp. Morlino knew the Society offered the EF frequently. Why would a bishop intentionally create a social and spiritual collision?

      If they’re openly campaigning against their pastors for false reasons (e.g. Morlino says some people have accused the pastors of not being orthodox) the sacraments do them little good.

      St. Mary’s parishioners might have made an innocent accusation of heterodoxy given that some might never have seen the EF, for example. Not everyone has an immediate grasp of the right words to express anxiety over drastic liturgical changes.

      1. Jordan, you seem to think that the parish now only has the EF. That is clearly not the case. They don’t even offer the EF on Sunday according to the parish web site. They have 2 daily Masses an EF Mass at 6:30 AM and an 8 AM non-TLM Mass. They have three Sunday Masses a Vigil on Saturday, a 9 AM non-TLM Mass and a noon “Hispanic” Mass.

        Folks (including Bill) have been wondering why these priests were assigned there. They serve both St. Mary’s and the other parish in Platteville, St. Augustine’s which is associated with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. They charism of the group involves ministry to young people and they’re Spanish speaking. That would seem to explain their presence reasonable in a place where there’s both university chaplaincy and hispanic ministry.

        St. Mary’s parishioners might have made an innocent accusation of heterodoxy given that some might never have seen the EF, for example.

        OK… but it’s been a year and a half since the Oct. 2010 letter from Bishop Morlino responding to their petition for the removal of the pastor. At this point, it’s not “innocent accusation of heterodoxy” based on never having seen the EF.

      2. Samuel – your are stretching to justify a “bad” situation and it appears you are grasping at straws.

        Jordan makes some reasonable points
        – most priests these days esp. large religious orders speak spanish (no reason to bring this group in)
        – the one “Hispanic” mass need could have been met without the “rupture” that this “society” has caused
        – this is not similar to bringing in a foreign diocesan priest – this is a “special society” that has a mission marked by an “non-US cultural tone”, focus on seminarians, focus on EF. Sorry, just because there is a university chapel doesn’t mean that this society meets the needs – focus on seminarians is a far cry from focusing on youth and education
        – there seems to be an “ideology” bias in play here – even Morlino indirectly suggests this in his comments
        – again, there is little evidence that any type of pastoral discernment and involvement of these rural parishes happened – why not?
        – this was a “crisis” waiting to happen
        – how unfortunate

  7. In 1850, Bishop Timon of Buffalo, NY issued a ban of interdict on St. Louis Church in Buffalo. The dispute was over the land rights of the parish. The Board of Trustees of the parish claimed that the parish owned the land. Bishop Timon claimed he did. The dispute went to court. Bishop Timon lost. Google “St. Louis Church Buffalo Interdict” for the whole story.

    1. Alan – you can find numerous stories around this issue. Poor Bishop Timon (good Vincentian).

      Reality – by the late 19th century, the US Church had clarified the issue of who owns church parishes, property, etc. Even the various courts ultimately supported that the bishop owns the property.

      From time to time, you continue to see “hold overs” that get a lot of press and go to court e.g. St. Louis and St. Stanislaus.

      1. Bill: slight correction. The US Church did not clarify the issue; the US clergy “clarified” the issue.

        There’s a world of difference there.

      2. Jimmy Mac – the whole history of “trusteeships” is interesting and there were many different types and formats. To say it was clearly a clerical vs. lay issue is too simplistic. Read up on the 3rd Plenary Council of Baltimore – they recommended a model (yes, blessed by Rome) that was in use in New York in which a parish was set up under trustees but clearly owned by the bishop and the board was made up of bishop, vice-diocesan leader, pastor, and two lay members. You will find differences in this approach diocese by diocese and parish by parish.

  8. Sad situation – no one wins and the people of God suffer.

    A few questions and history that aren’t clarified:
    – guessing that Morlino, like many dioceses, needs foreign priests so every parish has sacraments
    – given this reality, why use this specific group – link to history of group:


    Comment – this society was only recognized in 1980; only has 25 priests, 13 consecrated women, two laymen and 12 seminarians studying for the priesthood. It is based in Spain. So, what type of discernment was conducted with the parish that pointed to this “society” as aligned with the diocese and parish? Not only do you have language difference, you have cultural and, by the society’s own statement, liturgy/sacramental/ecclesiological differences. Did priest shortage drive this decision?

    Jason Berry always says “follow the money” – given the very small size of this “society”, is this US placement a way to obtain financial payment that they would not receive in other parts of the world or even in Spain?

    Per this article: “The relationship between the society and the Madison diocese dates to the spring of 2006 when representatives from the society visited several U.S. dioceses to gauge interest in their priests serving here. Very simply, Bishop Morlino was the most inviting,” The only other place in the U.S. where priests from the society serve is the Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey, where there are four.”

    What is there about this “society” and its charism that lends it to working at this parish? Per their founder’s statement – “The mission of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest is to increase the number of boys entering the priesthood”. What does this have to do with ministering in Wisconsin and in this specific parish?

    Morlino cites this reason to justify this move – he ordained three priests for the society last year. Will these priests stay in Wisconsin or belong to the society?

    Here is another point that does not seem to have been considered in this decision and is at the heart of Fr. Ruff’s post:

    “The Society of Jesus Christ the Priest seems to hew to a theologically traditionalist line that is in favor today and indirectly encouraged by the Vatican through a renewed emphasis on Latin Masses, said the Rev. Steven Avella, a history professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee and a Catholic priest.”

    Well, that may resonate with Morlino personally but is that the best way to make a pastoral decision and then to prolong the impact as things developed. Was the parish even consulted about this decision almost three years ago?

  9. I blame the “spirit of the council” thinking in general and dissenting individuals who prize power above christian love and cooperation. Bp Morlino and the priest involved show courage because they know that the corrective they are applying are long overdue.

    Let us pray for all involved, but especially for the dissenters that they might repent and return to the fold.

  10. I too remember medival instances of interdict from college. Interdict is nothing but balckmail, a way to throw power around to get what you want. It can’t really work anymore – unlike in the middle ages, there won’t be piles of unburied bodues laying about.

    1. I think so. Plenty of bishops appear to be itching for a public fight. I doubt that Bishop Morlino wants to be buried in Madison, and to move on (and up) he needs to look good to the Congregation for Bishops, which would include Raymond Cardinal Burke…

  11. I guess I don’t see why the need to threaten or warn here. The petition was given to the Bishop and he declined. He can, assumedly, continue to ignore pleas for relief from the disgruntled.

    He can’t, on the other hand, interdict or excommunicate people for refusing to give to their parish. Otherwise this would surely have been tried by now in many struggling dioceses! Nor would it be prudent for him to go after the folks who are speaking openly about the situation. Most of the time, in these instances, it is the whisper campaigns that cause the real harm, not the outspoken folk.

    1. Bishop Morlino has handled this very badly. His confrontational, micro-managing ways are laughable. A VP acting like this in a corporate environment would be cleaning out his desk at the end of the day.

      Watch for this and similar efforts by other U.S. bishops to demonstrate they have cajones and are faithful dragoons in the Ratzingercorps, blow up in their faces as powerful and influential lay folk fight back. This guy will end up being kicked upstairs to a created job in the Vatican, or promoted to an archdiocese where his buffoonery will get even more negative press.

      In the end, the Church is not well served by these people.

      1. Indeed. Bp Morlino is treating this flock as if it were his employees, rather than shareholders, as it were.

      2. Reminds more of the image of a 19th century “company town” – owned, operated, and employees/families billed to live and work there. Under the complete control of the owner.

        Or it is like a 19th/20th century landowner and his tenant farmers……completely at the mercy of the landowner.

  12. Interdicts?
    Like the one in Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”?

    What century is Bp Morlino living in?
    Oh, how he has caused a big stir, angered his parishoners for over a decade and seems to relish the limelight. People are laughing, this may be the last straw.

    Can he spell “B i s h o p M a r t i n o”?

  13. Bishop Morlino has hewed to a traditionalist approach. He has asked that the song “All are Welcome” not be used at mass, saying that all are not welcome. The sad situation in Platteville is further driving away members of the church. Ironically, this occurred in the same week in which the weekly diocesan newspaper published an article asking Catholics to ask fallen away Catholics to rejoin the church. The new evangelization seeks to return members to the faith, yet there is an overreaching hierarchy that continues to driver persons away.

    I know of no traditionalist who has left the faith, but many, many others who are fed up with its stands on contraception, women’s rights, arrogance, divorce, and a host of other issues. A Sunday “worship service” at Holy Wisdom Monastery is becoming more popular among disaffected Catholics.

    The Platteville parish was built by the current members and their parents and grandparents, not the Bishop, nor the priests from Spain. As soon as the hierarchy realizes that the church is the people and not themselves, perhaps pastoral efforts will result and not harsh rulings and pronunciations.

    I suspect the hierarchy sees traditionalism as the way to bring persons back, because they pay attention to the Pius Society, and not the number who leave and join another faith, or simply not practice. If the Vatican paid as much attention to retaining the moderates and liberals now leaving as to the traditionalists who left, perhaps the church would be more accepting.

    Bishop Morlino’s column in the “Catholic Herald” consistently uses “truth” and “reason” to explain his positions. If the positions are the “truth” and stand to “reason”, he should have no issue with Platteville and would welcome open discussion.
    Quite simply, the church needs to be reclaimed by those with more moderate position.

    1. re: Tom Hovel on May 3, 2012 – 6:05 pm

      Tom: Bishop Morlino has hewed to a traditionalist approach. He has asked that the song “All are Welcome” not be used at mass, saying that all are not welcome.

      For more on Bp. Morlino’s position on “All Are Welcome”, c.f. Bishop Thomas C. Morlino, “The beauty of our worship in the liturgy”, Catholic Herald, 20 October 2011.

      Consider this quotation from the aforementioned editorial:

      Beautiful means, in the first place, embodying the truth. Some of the songs that we sing at liturgy contain lyrics which clearly are not true — for example, the song “All Are Welcome.” As a matter of fact, the liturgy takes place mystically in the heavenly sanctuary. All are welcome at the liturgy who truly seek salvation in and through Jesus Christ, by following God’s Will, as spelled out through His Son’s very Body, the Church. People who have little interest in doing God’s Will don’t fit at the liturgy. And certainly, by their own choosing, the poor souls who suffer in Hell for all eternity are not welcome.

      Persons who are not interested in doing God’s will are the very persons who belong at Mass! I am often not willing to do God’s will, but that’s precisely why I show up every Sunday. Reconciliation with one’s brothers and sisters, sacramental reconciliation, and holy communion not only joyously reincorporates a person into the Body of Christ but also strengthens his or her commitment.

      The psychological and spiritual cancer of Jansenism is creeping back into the Church. There is no division between a preordained elect and reprobate in Catholicism. The Eucharist is not a special reward for the particularly pious; it is the sustenance for those yearning and struggling to live in Christ. If I were a pastor in the Madison diocese, I would conspicuously display a Sacred Heart icon and preach on its significance.

      1. Thanks, Jordan – well stated. If this truly represents both his sacramental approach/understanding and his ecclesiology, then he really does not belong in the episcopal ranks and the people of God need to be “protected” from this guy.

        But, then, most commenting here have already reached that conclusion. Sad.

    2. He has asked that the song “All are Welcome” not be used at Mass, saying that all are not welcome.

      Apparently, all are not welcomed, specifically these Priests. I can picture the irony…the assembly singing “All Are Welcome” while passing around a petition for the removal of their Pastor.

      1. Ridiculous & superficial statement. All are welcome – but doesn’t mean you allow a pastor from Spain to come into a small rural parish and turn the community (and generations of catholic families) upside down.

        Your comment might have some traction if there was a “level playing field” – but Morlino has insured that that will not happen.

  14. The clergy may and even should act with pastoral sensitivity, but they are not legally required to do so.

    While many parishes advertize themselves as communities, the Vibrant Parish Life study found that after Liturgy, people saw community as the second most important priority but (like Liturgy) was rated as mediocre in being well done. .

    Parishes are business, which like many mental health nonprofit corporations use volunteers and have much consumer input. Paid and volunteer staff may see and experience them as communities to which everyone is invited to spend time, talent and treasure, but most people do not buy into the non profit corporation model as community. Sociologically they are correct.

    Thinking of Catholicism as a corporate hierarchy of congregations (communities) is not very faithful to the complexities of our history.

    My conceptualization of place of parishes has been strongly influenced by my fascination with the stational churches Since I have gone to many parishes in many places, I think of Sunday liturgy as stational. When I returned home to my parents for Christmas and Easter, I would write in my diary, “station at the church of my baptism.” When I was a member of the local parish’s council, I kept station there. But when not involve in the local parish as a community, I usually keep station at another parish with a better liturgy. I return to the local parish for the SVDP and Food bank collection Sundays because I strongly support them. I keep station on some feasts at the local Orthodox parish.

    So for anyone who is dissatisfied with their parish, I would say find another, or even better find several.

    1. Jack: maybe your experience of church is not that of living and “churching” in a small rural community such as Platteville. That town is the community for the people living there, and their parish (usually the only one in town) is their parish community. It’s not like living in a large city where there is not quite the same connection. One can easily go to a different parish in a large city. Small rural communities (I was born 9 miles south of P’ville) view their town and parish as theirs. Their family histories are deeply tied to those towns and those parishes. Other towns (and parishes) belong to someone else. Transitioning out of one’s community into someone else’s is not easy nor should it be necessary. Roman Catholicism could stand a healthy infusion of the spirit of congregationalism and a diminution of “Father Knows Best” attitudes.

  15. Three spiritualities have also shaped how I view parish in the Catholic tradition.

    Parishes are very Benedictine, with liturgy, education (spiritual formation) and community being important. Sometimes my life has been very Benedictine, such as when I was a member of a voluntary parish staff. But I do not feel an obligation to be spiritually a “Benedictine” day in and day out as if that was the only gift that God has given me or the Church.

    So to people who are fed up with the liturgy and community in their parish, I would say perhaps you will find God in other spiritualities.

    The Jesuit dimension of spirituality has certainly helped me to find God in all things, particularly in my work. After a period of intense happiness as a voluntary pastoral staff member, while considering a diocesan position, I experienced a strong call to my own work in the public mental health system and to a flowering of the Jesuit dimension of my spiritual life. (We should recruit talented parish volunteers for a several years precisely to help mission them to other parts of their lives).

    Last but most importantly solitude has been the most important dimension of my spiritual life largely because of the personal recitation of the Divine Office.

    The hermits of the desert were often far from parish life and the Sacraments for weeks, months, years and even decades for some of the greatest of the Saints. The desert as a place without social structures and culture was a withdrawal not only from secular structures but also from existing Christian structures. People who find parish structures inimical to their spiritual development may want to consider the possibilities of the solitary life perhaps in a loose network with others. In the early church it was considered the greatest form of religious life.

    People fed up with parish liturgy might want to consider the personal, family or small group recitation of Divine Office as a place where they can more easily express themselves.

  16. It appears to me that there are many alternatives open to Catholics dissatisfied with our parishes other than confrontation. However, confrontation may not only be necessary but helpful to the whole Church.

    The opposition to a dozen parish closings in Cleveland has stimulated thinking in both the Congregation of the Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura. One canon lawyer maintains.

    Both the Congregation for Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura now make a clear distinction between the legitimate reasons to merge parishes and legitimate reasons to close a church. No longer considered legitimate reasons for closing a church are:
    1. The shortage of priests
    2. The church is in close proximity to another church.
    3. The church is no longer considered necessary for worship when a parish is suppressed or merged.
    4. The maintenance for a building no longer needed as a church for Divine worship is a financial burden to the parish.

    Although they seem to care more about buildings than communities, there may be historical reasons for this.

    For centuries, pastoral care was founded on benefices, and a priest was ordained to a benefice, i.e. a source of support, often tied to a physical structure. The idea of a parish as “a certain community of Christ’s faithful stably established with a particular Church whose pastor care is entrusted to a priest as its proper pastor (Canon 515) is a more recent idea. One undergoing evolution. However in the Cleveland case the Congregation struck down the suppressions as well as the closures.

    In the case of this parish Canon 214 “ Christ’s faithful have the right to their own form of spiritual life, provided it is in accord with Church teaching.” (My commentary interprets this as that a parish priest cannot impose his spirituality on the people). and Canon 221 the right to be judged according to the law may apply.

    These people need a canon lawyer, Cleveland demonstrated how poorly bishops follow Canon Law.

  17. Excellent summaries, Jack.

    Thought you would enjoy this from Eugene Kennedy:


    Money quotes:

    – “He started in Kalamazoo, Mich., where priests who knew him tell me that he had long ago stamped himself for ecclesiastical greatness. He was always devising or imagining some unorthodox scenario that he could report to Rome. One such incident centered on a pastor who told extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist where, in case of emergency, he kept the key to the tabernacle.

    This was just the kind of situation that the ambitious Morlino relished. He took pictures of the tabernacle and the place in which the pastor hid the key and sent them off to Rome with a critique of this allegedly unorthodox behavior.”

  18. I am a person in the pews. I barely know what canonical law is. But I certainly know what many people have experienced since the Bishop’s placement of the Spanish priests in Platteville. I live 20 miles away. I have had the opportunity to speak to several people at conferences on liturgy and shopping at Target. They speak of the horrible things that have happened to their parish community since these guys arrived. They feel violated, angry, disgusted, fed up. A year ago I was on a Christian Experience Weekend. There was a 70 year old man from another small town in Wisconsin in the Madison Diocese. He shared with us his parish’s experience with the Spanish priests assigned to his small parish. It was disaster. He said he had to find a new church. What these priests had done ruined what the parish had. He could not worship with these priests and their rigid, exclusive(read NOT INCLUSIVE)manner of operating. I saw him a few months ago. He left that parish and has found a new one. In this new parish he has found a place and peace. He just shakes his head when he thinks about what happened to him.
    Many days I ask myself and my kids ask me, why should we stay in a church that seems to have such disregard for the people who make up the church? Increasingly I find myself saying I don’t know why. There no longer seems a good reason to stay. The bishop of Madison certainly makes it more difficult to stay. The people of Platteville have little recourse it seems. What’s left is to vote with their feet and their money. The church only seems to miss their money. Little Platteville is not a wild liberal town. The tragedy seems to be that the bishop’s ego and desire for power have destroyed a parish and many fine people. May the people continue their fight. May they stand up to the injustice. May they not let their voices be silenced. May they continue to be a community of faith who will not be beaten down.

  19. The silver lining is that this pronouncement might contribute to unity. If the liberals already left, they will be joined by embittered school parents now. Nothing like a united front against the clergy and the bishop on all fronts. Smaller, purer, here we come.

  20. The biggest problem I see here is between “congregationalism” and “clericalism.” Previous priests following what is canonically allowed and encouraged in most places implemented extraordinary ministers of holy communion, altar girls and I presume pastoral councils with committees (which are not universally mandated, but can be mandated by diocesan policy) as well as canonically mandated finance councils. However, as Fr. Anthony writes above a priest can choose not to have any of these things (except a finance council). That is very odd and is what is creating the problem. In a sense we can say clericalism established all these things and then the laity grow into them, appreciate them and base their parish identity on all this lay involvement, which is good. Then other priests come in with their own ideas and dismantle what other priests implemented (maybe even one previous pastor) and all hell breaks lose as is to be expected. I don’t know any of the circumstances of that diocese or what other priests and parishes are doing. But for the protection of both priests and congregations, explicit norms, canons, and diocesan regulations should be followed by all–either change the norms diocesan-wide so that it isn’t a matter of the priests’ preference or the congregation’s preferences but rather what the law is where you can’t have it both ways legally. Technically an assisting priest could demand that for his Mass there wouldn’t be altar girls and EMHC and he might even choose to celebrate ad orientem the OF Mass–now that is a disaster waiting to happen to a poor pastor–or the opposite could happen I suspect in a parish that doesn’t have these ways of doing things and one priest decides for himself what to do just for his Masses.

    1. The bigger problem is one of human weakness and sin.

      People do dumb, imprudent, crass, thoughtless, and impolite things. The church has never legislated against jerks. Some matters are left for people to resolve through dialogue and other human interactions.

      What some might consider a sign of weakness, Jesus’ example was to show humility and service.

      The Platteville clergy and Wisconsin bishop are certainly within their rights. But the Gospels plainly suggest that this is the way of Gentiles. In other words, we witness pagan behavior from Bishop Morlino and his rent-a-priests. The scandal would be no less grave if these men had converted to a non-Christian religion. And yet, it would seem they have broken no precept of canon law. How can this be?

      While we’re at the borders of Christianity, consider the act of conversion. How many have come to faith because of the letter of the law? And how many because of the witness of faith outside of the letter of the law: kindly service, good moral example, music, art, friendship, a helping hand in time of need. None of these are legislated, but they seem to be amazingly effective.

      Bishop Morlino’s faith seems to be akin to that of a well-read pre-adolescent. Growing up is called for.

      1. I don’t disagree with your insights, although some of your judgments about people might be off-base, but keep in mind that we all encounter good people, good music, good art and good friendship in times of need and these encounters are not necessarily Catholic encounters but can be encountered in the profane activities of life and sometimes with strangers of all kinds of religious persuasion or none at all. Only in the Church can we encounter in the most sacramental way (through the sacraments) Jesus Christ who saves the sin sick soul and call us to conversion and to a life of faith, hope and love (charity) by knowing, loving and serving Him in this life (and normally apart from churchified activities I might add) in order to be happy with Him forever in heaven. The other examples you use are nothing particularly exclusive to being Catholic, salvation in Christ and through the sacraments of the Church (the Church being a “Sacrament” in herself) are exclusively Catholic I believe.

  21. You almost sound like you’re preaching to convince yourself on this.

    As a well-catechized Catholic, I don’t need the reminder about the value and grace to be found in the sacramental life.

    However, I was pointing out the boundary of conversion, not continuing faith formation. People who are seekers have yet to benefit directly from the graces of the sacraments. These people make the biggest leap of all: from ignorance to insight, from doubt to faith, or from another god to Jesus Christ. And they do this by human actions and signs more closely associated with the “profane,” as you put it.

    As a priest, I certainly understand you must distance yourself publicly from the notion that your brother clergy and even a bishop may be ineffective, immature, or even antigospel in spite of dotting their canonical i’s and crossing their ecclesiastical t’s.

    Perhaps some of us are holding Bishop Morlino and his rent-a-priests to a higher standard, that of Jesus Christ. Would you suggest we go easy on them?

    1. What’s happening there is a disaster, but I don’t have the big picture to hold anyone to any standard there; I don’t know anyone there. Other then what has been reported through the lens of the reporters telling us, I’m not prepared to make any convincing judgments and we know how prejudicial reporters can be depending on their particular ideological persuasion. We exploit people and circumstances that we really don’t know personally to justify our own ideologies, which goes back to the lack of charity that is so persistent today and truly the major subversion of Vatican II.

      1. I’m glad we agree this is a disaster, and that we’ve dodged the distractions of my catechesis and your reading comprehension, or presumed lack of either.

        I think we’re talking less about a reporter’s take or post-conciliar exploitation, and more what everyone concedes is a lamentable result: a parish loses 40% of its parishioners/worshipers, and a school closes its doors.

        Whatever the good or bad fruits of Vatican II may have been, what we see here are the fruits of the post-conciliar hermeneutic of obstruction–the opposition of reform and renewal wherever possible, backed up by canon law when convenient.

        At some point, constructive dialogue will have to start, getting beyond you schooling me on sacramental theology, and me schooling you on evangelization, and St Mary’s parishioners schooling their clergy and bishop on prudence. Any practical suggestions here?

      2. Todd said “Whatever the good or bad fruits of Vatican II may have been, what we see here are the fruits of the post-conciliar hermeneutic of obstruction–the opposition of reform and renewal wherever possible, backed up by canon law when convenient.”

        I disagree – the “hermeneutic of obstruction” you talk about is, to an extent, itself a fruit of Vatican II. It’s the only logical result of not allowing those for whom traditional liturgy is more spiritually relevant (be it OF or EF) to maintain a healthy place in the Church for several decades. Extremism begets extemism.

        IMO, the problems progressives complain about today are pretty much their own fault because they merrily created the envirionment which bred them. It’s why I dislike progressive Catholics and would never self-identify as one no matter how much I may be sympathetic to some of their causes.

      3. We indeed disagree, Jack.

        The hermeneutic of obstruction has been a phenomenon of every major council. It’s not a failing of either Right of Left. It’s human nature. People are resistant to change. They want to talk about continuity, even when God calls them to break from their past life, to make a rupture, if you will.

        This discussion is not about denying traditionalists their spirituality. Conciliar reform is more about assessing what is essential to the faith, what is at the heart of it. Spirituality is formed by the liturgy and the Bible. If more words, in another language were needed, they have always been available.

        I do feel badly for Catholics scarred by bad experiences. The Gospel informs us that we should reject the tract of screwing others as we ourselves we screwed.

        As a matter of fact, my home parish, where I was baptized, found Vatican II to be a refreshing time. The organ choir and the folk group combined forces to make a vinyl LP to a music-loving pastor on his 25th anniversary. The history of post-conciliar Catholicism surely has other success stories–I’ve heard them. We are far from having a landscape littered with clowns dancing on the smoking remnants of organ pipes and St Gregory hymnals.

        “It’s why I dislike progressive Catholics and would never self-identify as one no matter how much I may be sympathetic to some of their causes.”

        Yes, we disagree here too, because I dearly like traditional and conservative Catholics, especially the ones I know personally. I think the Church needs their sensibility. I think we are richer for it. What we don’t need are more Karl Rove political copycats masquerading as “orthodox” Catholics. I care little for their divisive rhetoric and their gossipy outlook, but God love them, they’re my brothers and sisters, too.

      4. Perhaps I don’t know exactly what you mean when you say “hermeneutic of obstruction.” I find those opposed to any and all positive renewal and development frustrating as well.

        You are probably right in what you say. Also, “dislike” was perhaps too strong a word – more like frustrated with progressives. I’m actually more of a theological moderate-liberal, but liturgically conservative/traditionalist in a live-and-let-live sort of way. I don’t care if people worship in a contemporary manner – it just isn’t particularly relevant to me. There really doesn’t seem to be any place for folks like me in the Church today, even though I’ll bet there are more of us than most people think.

        Getting back to the original topic – I wouldn’t like to belong to the parish in question. You can’t come into a parish and change everything without consulting anyone. It is a recipe for distaster – and that would be true regardless of whatever way the priest leans. I would bet there are other parishes where these priests would be better appriciated, but nobody seems to really think about matching a priest’s style or charism to that of a parish. It’s like they randomly dole-out priests and randomly rotate them 6-12 years later. For example, I think at my current parish there are some folks from the Novus Ordo masses who are frustrated with the “reform of the reform” direction the new priests want to go in, while accross town there is a parish where the parishioners are frustrated with the priest who has been working to undo all the “reform of the reform” liturgy they’ve been developing for nearly thirty years.

      5. Todd – your last question – Any practical suggestions here?

        – altho any bishop technically answers to no one, there is a process (little used) in which every diocese is “under” the nearby “archdiocese/cardinal”. Believe that puts Madison under George in Chicago. Just a few years ago, George was asked by the Belleville priests to intervene with their bishop, Braxton. A consultant/leadership group was brought in to do an evaluation and provide resources to bishop/priests to mediate the issues. Results, of course, were confidential but we do know that Braxton had to adjust his financial decisions; explain and cover some personal costs around vestments and renovations. Not sure that the overall results did much?
        – so, one step is to ask George to privately intervene – review why this “society” was brought in, evaluate, and come up with an action plan (would Morlino be open to this? what if George recommended that the “society” be moved?)
        – grade school – same process but wonder if it is already too late?
        – as Fr. Ruff pointed out – 1983 Canon Law revision unfortunately was done by a group that did not reflect VII documents or directions into revisions. In fact, experts have shown that the revisers had an agenda to miniminize, if not, undo VII directions. They also have shown that before VII was even over, curial officials worked to minimize or overturn VII directions. Examples – as Fr. Allan stated, technically no pastor needs to have anything beyond a financial committee that can only advise. Same with a diocese.

        Below – from Brigid. You highlight one failure – bishops that do not try to match parish community and “new” pastor. This requires effort, time, and process. Unfortunately, most assignments only involve the bishop deciding the next pastor – period. How often have you seen a “potential” pastor assigned to a parish for a period of observation and then confirmation, if it works out? Priest shortage creates issues.

      6. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #57:
        If you would ever like to know someone from those parishes, Please let me know. I moved from the East Coast to come and help St. Augustine and it’s Catholic Newman Community since the lack of donations has hurt the parish.
        I believe people miss the bigger picture. It is about getting to heaven, not about having control. If the only control you feel you have is to take away your donations, then that is your decision. But realize, in doing so, you also take away the ability to have a Campus Minister on the payroll – someone to help on a PUBLIC University campus. Someone to assist in preparing these young adults for life outside the college walls, instilling them with a deep faith and preparing them as Apostles for Christ.

  22. You raise and make some good points but, let’s be realistic. Morlino’s actions are on the public record – dating back to his removal of a parish education minister; followed by many other documented actions. Couple that with the fact that Madison is his third diocese as bishop – one can draw your own conclusions.

    Policies – we are talking about diocesan policies. As we saw with the parish minister event, Morlino can change, interpret, or apply current or “new” policies at will. Thus, a parish minister who had faithfully and successfully worked for more than 15 years is suddenly and arbitrarily removed – e.g. demanded a sworn oath and repudiation of her MA thesis from a catholic university. She agree to the former but not the latter – cost her a job and years of dedicated work.

    Again, even the best policies are applied by the “whim” of a bishop. Would agree with Jack – get a canon lawyer such as Peter Borre and exercise the rights of the people of God (as laid out in canon law).

    From a colleague of Ratzinger’s at Vatican II:

    “Paul Knitter heard him say this at a press conference in Rome in1963, during the Vatican Council. Knitter, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary, said that Ratzinger “told us that throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church it has happened that the bishops so lost touch with the message of Jesus that it became incumbent upon the laity to exercise their prophetic role given in Baptism and to stand up and refuse to obey.”


    1. Why do I get the feeling that Canon Law is whatever suits the Powers that Be at any given moment?

    2. You refer to Morlino being on his third diocese as bishop. Is he being moved around because he is causing problems, or because he is cleaning up dioceses that are too liberal? Is someone protecting Morlino as he moves from place to place?

      Whatever happened to the notion of a bishop being married to his diocese, to moving only under unique circumstances?

      Morlino disrupts entire dioceses, but I think many here are all too familiar with the priest who comes in, tears a thriving parish apart, then moves on after a five year term to spread the damage elsewhere. Where is the Canon law that protects the people of God from blind ignorance and arrogance?

    3. Bill,

      This is Bishop Morlino’s second, not third, diocese as ordinary. He was a priest of Kalamazoo, consecrated bishop and appointed bishop of Helena, now bishop of Madison.

      Being that Helena is a much smaller diocese (about 60k Catholics vs 270k for Madison), it would seem that both were cases of more responsibility given in return for the good work he had done.

      At 65, I would not be surprised if he ends up getting moved to another, larger see (Denver is open) – unless of course there is more work in Madison that needs to be done.

      1. Agreed – but my sentiments go along with John Quinn’s recommendations years ago. Bishops should be married to the first diocese and rarely moved again.

        We don’t know why he was moved and, agreed with you, he will be moved again. Is it more responsibility or is it the “Peter Principle” – move them up as they fail?

        Romanita’s pattern is the latter; not the former.

      2. Brigid’s commentary on whatever seems to suit the powers that be is apt here, too. When people were calling for Cardinal Law to resign, he was quick to cling to the notion that a bishop is “married” to his diocese. I’m sure that made his “starter wife” in Missouri feel much better.

        Careerism is yet another symptom of an institution that has shifted off its apostolic foundations. Discernment has taken a back seat to nepotism and patronage.

      3. Bill,

        I don’t disagree with John Quinn’s recommendation either – that gives a diocese long-term vision and stability. I would add that it seems to be working well to tap a priest from within the presbyterate of the diocese to become the new bishop — that has been something that +Benedict seems to be doing more often lately.

        So far as the “Peter Principle” up… I don’t see it. That was the word on several of the moderate/progressive blogs when Cardinal Burke was moved to the Signatura — and yet he has been getting serious responsibilities given to him, and seems to be doing them well. There have been others that the same has been said… I don’t remember them offhand, but had they performed poorly as the “Peter Principle” suggests, they would likely be easier to remember.

      4. Sorry, Burke is a very good example of another Morlino – bumped upstairs to get him out of pastoral duties. My sources tell me that B16 has tried to “marginalize” Burke; does not trust him; and he has little input or impact on decisions both curial and having to do with the USCCB.

        Burke is a good example of someone who created disaster after disaster in the STL archdiocese – from Stanislas to ordaining guys who he befriended because they adopted his focus on TLM, magna cappas, lace, etc. Friends (pastors, seminary profs) have related the disasters that happened when these newly ordained were assigned to parishes and then tried to enforce their “backwards” notions of liturgy, sacraments, dealing with women, etc. Instead of helping pastors, they became another polarizing issue to deal with and contend with. Sad.

        Vis a vis – appointing priests to be bishops of their home dioceses. Yes, there have been a few examples but you have to drill down on this. E.G. Tyler, TX bishop is moved to Puerto Rico (his home diocese, yes, but he has not lived or been in Puerto Rico since the age of 18; in drilling down, too often, you continue to find a “litmus” test even if it is their home diocese e.g. preference given to Rome education, preference given to loyalty to the Holy See, still too many with canon law backgrounds only, etc.

      5. Bill, thank you! You made my day.

        “My sources tell me that B16 has tried to “marginalize” Burke; does not trust him; and he has little input or impact on decisions…”

  23. IMO, the problems progressives complain about today are pretty much their own fault because they merrily created the envirionment which bred them.

    Please show me one parish where the lay people swept in one night, removed all the statues, the altar rail, moved the tabernacle and turned the altar around! IMHO, too many priests and bishops enforced the surface aspects of Vatican II without absorbing the spirit of collegiality and respect for every member of the community! Ironically, many who imposed the external changes of Vatican II are the same now storming ahead with the reform of the reform! These men know how to put a finger in the air and do whatever it takes to keep the Chancery happy.

  24. Bill, to respond …

    I think for starters, I can easily concede the virtue of law to provide a framework for orthopraxis. But the higher good is clearly evangelization, and the spiritual needs of the people.

    In Platteville, Bishop Morlino would need to reveal his reasons for assigning his rent-a-priests. I don’t see that happening. Here at PrayTell, the most we have is speculation. As with the MR3, and any number of Roman decisions, we all pretty much concede a bishop can do as he wishes.

    The same is true of abortion, to pick a popular, if vexing, example. An American Catholic woman can get an abortion pretty much anywhere, anytime. It is entirely legal. It is often free. Is it a good idea?

    Clearly the law has limitations, morally speaking.

    As a parent of a teen, I have certain legal powers and controls over my daughter. I’m within my “rights” to lower the boom, ground her, take away her cell phone, banish her to her room till her grades improve. None of these tactics are immoral. But the question is: which methods will be the most effective?

    As my daughter and I each grow older, I find that I have less control over particulars and that I have to be more careful/thoughtful/creative to persuade the effort or emphases I would like to see.

    I think we all have to recognize that while we are “free” to do things, many of us also have “responsibility” for those in our care. I don’t think Bishop Morlino has learned the distinction here. He is a typical post-modern American in many ways, just careful at using preconciliar tools to achieve his desired goals.

  25. It occurred to me this morning that we have two topics that may be linked. How many Catholics wander off when a new priest comes into their parish and remodels it to his liking? (Many times this is is literal event, as the priest rearranges the building(s) and adornments to his personal taste!)
    Do we have “Typhoid Mary” priests who blithely go from parish to parish driving people away?

  26. We also have to face the abundant “clericalism” present in the laity, many of whom have an excessive need to have “Father’s blessing” for everything they do.

    A local parish had a very vibrant RENEW program consisting of about 20 groups of about 200 people total. The pastoral staff initiated the Generations of Faith (GOF) program during the last year of the RENEW program. Several of the key volunteer leaders in the RENEW program jumped ship to the GOF program (probably because they were recruited) and several other key leaders of RENEW were miffed because they had not been recruited for GOF.

    When RENEW ended almost all the group leaders and the group members wanted to continue. The pastor encouraged them to continue on their own without pastoral staff support. But the program ceased.

    One really doesn’t know which is more discouraging. The pastoral staff self centeredness in being unable to support with the time, talent and treasure a program which clearly a great number of people in the parish wanted, or the people’s lack of maturity in being about to continue on their own.

    Of course if it had been a new pastor rather than the existing pastor who had initiated GOF there would have been a great uproar about destroying existing programs to fit his personal whims.

    The reality is our parishes are businesses run by priests as “independent entrepreneurs” with the help of often excessively dependent volunteers. Our parishes are not mature communities of people of various gifts and talents serving one another.

    We do not recognize how close we are psychologically to Jonestown and Waco. About five years ago a priest in this diocese was arrested for growing marijuana (he also had a massage practice). After he was suspended from ministry, his devoted groupies were handing out literature defending him.

    Priest and bishops find it very easy to live in a fake world populated by groupies, and ignore the sea of hostiliy and skepticism beyond.

    1. Jack – we have a bit of a chicken or the egg problem here. It applies on the parish level and on the level of the universal Church. As long as clerics run the show, it is very hard to get anything off the ground that doesn’t have clerical support. People have tried to get organized (Voice of the Faithful, American Catholic Council), but it seems to me that they get so far and end up spinning their wheels. The one group of lay people that has organized itself, the LCWR, is under severe scrutiny by the clerics, to say the least! The groups that aren’t spinning their wheels have left/been tossed out by the clerics – Womenpriests, Spiritus Christi Church (Rochester, NY), St. Peter’s, Cleveland.
      I think our Catholic identity is tied in a large part to the Mass. As long as the Mass is controlled by a small group, the Church is controlled by that same small group, for better or worse!

    2. I think our Catholic identity is tied in a large part to the Mass.

      Which is why I frequently suggest that people increase their Catholic identity, and decrease their clerical dependency, by praying the Divine Office.

      Which is why I frequently suggest that there are an abundance of Catholic spiritualities which have sprung up from religious life, ranging from the desert solitaries who were uninvolved in sacramental life for long periods, to the Benedictines who centered their life on the Divine Office, to the Jesuits who practiced contemplation in action, finding God in all things. All these get us beyond the addiction of that one hour a Weekend.

      Historically, the engine of renewal in Catholicism has been the founding of new forms of religious virtuosity on the periphery of the Church, or by reforming existing religious life.

      “Reforms” of existing religious life have frequently created new forms, not actually gone back to old forms. This is precisely the heart of the issue with regard to LCWR, as Sandra Schneiders so eloquently put it.


      In my work on the renewal of Religious Life over the last eight years I have come to the conclusion that Congregations like ours [the kind represented by LCWR in this country] have, in fact, birthed a new form of Religious Life.

      We are really no longer “Congregations dedicated to works of the apostolate” – that is, monastic communities whose members “go out” to do institutionalized works basically assigned by the hierarchy as an extension of their agendas, e.g., in Catholic schools and hospitals, etc.

      We are ministerial Religious. Ministry is integral to our identity and vocation. It arises from our baptism specified by profession, discerned with our Congregational leadership and effected according to the charism of our Congregation, not by delegation from the hierarchy.

      We just need to be more Catholic but less parochial. More willing to center our lives as laity in our families, work, and our own associations.

      1. I have participated in various Protestant services over the years. Whether as part of a Mass or a simple service, I myself find the sharing of Eucharist to be a vital element. I love everything about the UCC services, for example, but I’ve always left feeling unsatisfied because Communion is reserved for special occasions.
        Our sacraments were not handed down from on high at Pentecost. They have evolved and so has our understanding of them. If a lack of priests is depriving people of the Eucharist, it’s time to re-think our understanding of Holy Orders!
        Our diocesan paper had an article suggesting that members of smaller parishes are more dedicated to their parish, both with time and money, while large parishes are are more financially stable and support more ministries, especially with hired staff. I think it’s past time for us to become flexible to accommodate many models, not to put all our chips on a single one. In the future, we may see a small parish with a fully engaged laity served by a part-time priest who has a day job to support herself!

      2. In the future, we may see a small parish with a fully engaged laity served by a part-time priest who has a day job to support herself!

        Yes, but I think God will not give us the small parishes served by a part-time priest who has a day job to support herself until we have a fully engaged laity, not only in the parish but also in the world.

        Vatican II was about God’s empowerment of the baptized. We have a long, long, long way to go until that is fulfilled. It cannot be fulfilled by the clergy empowering us, because what they give they can take away. When we are fully empowered no one will be able to take it away.

        I think the exodus of priests and religious and the decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life (mainly in first world countries) was the work of the Holy Spirit, as I also think is the Popes opposition to a married priesthood and women priests. All of that was and is necessary in order to give us laity the opportunity to grow to the maturity of our baptismal powers by making us less dependent upon the clergy. I even see the exposure of sexual abuse as part of the process of learning that we cannot trust the clergy and the bishops, and the development of a large group of NONES as a part of learning to distrust institutional churches.

        When the real Future Church of truly empowered baptized Christians arrives it is not going to look like what either liberals or traditionals typically think it should, and its not going to be a compromise in between

        In my personal life, God has always given me a general sense of where things are going, but when I get there, I always say “Wow, I never would have thought of doing it that way!”.

    3. So sad and true, Jack. You can find examples of this type of behavior in every diocese. Look at how many diocese require that priests do continuing education? how many dioceses do any type of feedback surveys/mechanisms so that diocesan staff can have data to measure and provide direction/feedback to improve pastoral ministry (both clerical and lay staff)? how often do you hear about how dioceses have layers of diocesan staff but anything having to do with priests has to be run by “clerics” – they are separate from the overall diocesan structures? how often does any priest get feedback on both his homily and liturgy skills (and not just from his paid or handpicked volunteer staff)?

      Most bishops would not implement the above and keep these things at arms length. Excuse – don’t have the time, energy, or staff/expertise to do this. As you often cite, the VPL study indicates that these are the very areas that cause folks to either walk away or stop coming in apathy.

  27. Jonathan @ #17: this church and this bishop DO NOT save souls. Faith in Jesus Christ and following Him does.

    To equate that faith with membership in this church is pure and simple heresy.

  28. #76 and #77. There are many parishes which non-resident priests which are run by the laity, particularly women. People are used to it and there would be a very small leap from this situation to acceptance of a female priest. They effectively in these parishes already.

  29. The bishop clearly lacks pastoral sensitivity. Choosing
    uber-orthodox priests from a society based in Spain to run US
    parishes is not the wisest decision. The priests’ decisions
    to make abrupt changes–they admit to having made
    mistakes–and the traditionalist bent of their ministry are
    equally insensitive. Is there any wonder the Church is in crisis.
    As someone’s mother said recently: They’re trying to turn us
    all into Lutherans.” Meaning that the hierarchs are driving
    Catholics out of the Church by their theological and pastoral
    rigidity, a focus on sexual morality above all other issues, the
    recent attack on US nuns for being concerned for the poor
    and not about same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception…
    The situation in the diocese of Madison is a scandal. The bishop’s
    behavior inexcusable.

  30. The laughable debacle is the best argument in a while for having bishops elected by a combination of local laity and clergy.

    Sad to think that Morlino was ordained a Jesuit before transferring to a diocese.

  31. It is so good to see that something like this can and does happen in a part of the country that is more friendly to Catholics than the deep south where I live.
    To us, the face of Catholicism is the sisters who run the hospitals and take care of us, run the school, and the clinics where they work as nurse-practicioners. It is not the bishops or the priests, none of who will ever listen to lay people. And the only time we hear from them is when they need more money.
    We have a parish that is one of the oldest in the part of Mississippi I live in. It has started several other parishes. Now it is in danger of dying, not because there are no people around us but because of a priest who should never have been one. And a bishop who continues to support him no matter what the locals feel. And they are voting with their feet.
    Those of us who grew up with the churches of the Reformation know that we can go elsewhere. And the Episcopelians are only two blocks away.

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