A little while I posted an update about a group of liberals in Platteville, WI (D. Madison) who, rebelling against their priests, worked to undermine the finances of the parish and school. The fruit of their labors has now come to light. It is necessary to close the parish school.
This sad situation has something important to say to people in other places where there may be tensions between priests, bishops, laity.
The Diocese of Madison has a posted on their website a letter from His Excellency Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino. PDF HERE. You will find a 3 page letter with Bp. Morlino’s explanation of the situation, his decisions, and his pastoral reflection, and then 2 pages of citations from documents of the Church, including Lumen gentium of Vatican II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Code of Canon Law.
A point that comes through in Bp. Morlino’s letter (we are seeing his response and not the correspondence -and gossip, apparently – that he has received) is that those who are fighting against their priests are making a hell of a tumult.
In Bp. Morlino’s letter there is the suggestion that if the tumult continues there could be “issuance of Canonical warnings“. He repeats the possibility later in the phrase “… formal warning and action“.
When, in this ever-so-pastoral day and age, you see that sort of language coming from a bishop in a public letter, you know that someone is in spiritual danger.
Aside from that, in this day when both the substitution of feelings for reason and the solipsistic exaltation of poorly understood “rights” cause pastors of souls no small difficulties, Bp. Morlino gets to the nub of a problem:
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.
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.
I cannot (and don’t want to) look into the minds of liberals to figure out what they are really after, but if there is in those minds any shred of Catholic identity left, properly understood, any sense that Christ gave to Holy Church bishops and priests in Holy ORDERS, to order the Church for the sake of the salvation of souls, to sanctify, to teach, and also to govern, I suggest to the folks who have carried on this tumult against authority – regardless of how it was sparked off – to consider the implications of “formal warning and action”.
And you can bet they will read this.
In this day when a theology of the role of laity in Holy Church has been vastly expanded and our practical understanding expanded with it, something pretty dire must be going on when we read about a bishop who sees a possible need for canonical warnings. That means there is spiritual peril on the horizon.
I pray that the lay people involved will give due consideration to all the elements of the bishop’s letter, which demonstrates a sincere effort to find a way through and beyond the conflict.
“But Father! But Father!” some of you are saying by now, “Why are you, with this big visible blog giving attention to something in a remote corner of the global Church? Don’t you have bigger fish to fry?”
Yes, and no.
This sad situation in this small town underscores some important problems and we will be seeing a lot more of this in the future.
The decades following Vatican II devastated our Catholic identity. Leaving aside for now the reasons for this, putting aside blame, we see more and more a sharp and outright rebellion against the Church’s teaching authority in faith and morals and also against her duly appointed, God-anointed pastors. The poor catechesis and spirit of dissent, fostered for so long, is rumbling to the surface in an exaltation of improperly understood “rights”. People who have no idea what they are talking about when they speak of their “rights” because they are “baptized” (or whatever – cf. the serpent’s lie to Adam and Eve), are claiming authority to themselves to do, essentially, as they please without reference to their vocations in the Church or the Church’s Magisterium. There are ecclesiological strains building within many sectors of the Church’s life, like pressures that build on fault lines in the Earth’s crust.
Let’s put this another way and with a less seismological metaphor.
A properly understood and embraced Catholic identity does not mean that no one can say anything to authority. But it does mean that roles in the Church must be recognized for what they are. In the ancient Church there could be literal rioting in the streets when bishops and flocks were in conflict. That’s what comes with the miter and staff. That’s what comes from belonging to a Church made up of sinners… not made up primarily of sinners, but (in our Church Militant) entirely of sinners. Bishops, priests, religious, laity – every single one a sinner. But in the end, when there are conflicts, it is the role of bishops to make the decisions. We might not like the decisions. It may be hard to accept them. We may think they are impractical, wrong, unjust. But Catholics accept hard decisions in view of the long term, in view of a larger Church, in view of our vocations in the here and now. We must learn through pain and tears to see that, yes, even in the hard decisions, God’s will shall come to pass, and that God’s will is always the best thing for us.
The Church has always had its share of cafeterias. In these cafeterias we will always see ugly food fights.
Frankly, I think ugly food fights must happen from time to time.
But when the food has been thrown, and everyone is a little messy, it is time to clean up.
Let the people who start throwing food (the liberals who attacked the priests) remember that, at the end of the fight, there is less for people to eat. Because of their choice to fight, some are going to go hungry.