How a bishop changes his mind: obedience

I tip my biretta to WDTPESer GS of MN   o{]:¬)   who alerted me about an 2 November interview in the Wisconsin State Journal which comes from Madison, WI, with His Excellency Most Reverend Roberrt Morlino, Bishop of Madison.  In the interview there is a very interesting comment about Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Before I post the relevant section, I will recall to your mind what Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said in a recent interview with Petrus.  Archbishop Ranjith responded to a question:

Q: Your Excellency, what kind of reception has Benedict XVI´s Motu Proprio which liberalized the Holy Mass according to the Tridentine Rite had?  Some, in the very bosom of the Church, have got their noses bent out of shape…

Archbp. Ranjith: "There have been positive reactions and, it’s pointless to deny it, criticisms and opposing positions, also on the part of theologians, liturgists, priests, Bishops, and even Cardinals. Frankly, I don’t understand this distancing from, and, let’s just say it, rebellion against the Pope. I invite all, above all shepherds, to obey the Pope, who is the Successor of Peter. Bishops, in particular, swore loyalty to the Pontiff: they must be consistent and faithful to their commitment."

Now that is pretty strong. 

Let’s move to Bishop Morlino’s comments made on 2 November to the Wisconsin State Journal.  He is talking about a stand he took concerning marriage and requiring priests to play a taped message in their parishes, but he mentions Summorum Pontificum (my emphases):

Pope Benedict just wrote to us bishops a letter not too long ago about the permission for the traditional Latin mass. He said, ‘I know some of you bishops have agonized year after year about whether or not to permit this,’ and I’ve been one of those. I was the only bishop in Wisconsin who did not permit the traditional Latin mass for what I thought were good reasons. And the Pope wrote and said, ‘I want to relieve you of the responsibility of all of that prudential pondering, so I’m making the decision.’ He saw that as a service, and I accepted it as a service. I was the only bishop in Wisconsin not to permit the traditional Latin mass, and now, in obedience, I will be the first bishop in Wisconsin to celebrate the traditional Latin mass. I really looked upon this as relieving certain priests of the responsibility to defend marriage if they felt that somehow there was going to be a certain discomfort about this at some level or another.

Frankly, I find this statement from Bishop Morlino to be edifying. 

He is of course using this occasion in a somewhat self-interested way to shore up his own authority to make decisions about other matters by citing his own spirit of obedience to Pope Benedict in the matter of the TLM.  There is nothing wrong with that.  As a matter of fact, he did that taped messages thing in defense of the Church’s teaching on marriage, so that priests could fudge it on their own.

Nevertheless, what he writes both lays his views directly on the line, publicly, and states a determination to conform to the document, publicly. 

I admire that. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Ave Maria says:

    I hope many other bishops follow this example; may bishops in other states
    also scramble to be the first to offer the extraorindary form of the Mass
    and may they also seek to be the first bishop in their state to obtain the
    possibility of training for their priest sons who desire it.

    Colorado? We are waiting!

    Ave Maria!

  2. TJM says:

    Father Z, what a wonderful story. A bishop showing the Faithful what true humility and hold obedience are all about. Per multos annos, Bishop Morlino.

  3. CarpeNoctem says:

    Bishop Morlino is an excellent bishop, and I can respect that there may be good, prudential reasons to decline requests for the TLM. Maybe we could respectfully disagree over the validity of these reasons in any given particular case, but he is the single person in his diocese entrusted with the duty to make this call, and that decision must be respected.

    To invoke ‘obedience’ is really quite refreshing. Obedience seems, perhaps, the primary virtue through which Christ is going to save and nourish his Church in the 21st century. No doubt, the need to ‘reform the reform’ arises from a certain undisciplined willfulness against the norms of liturgical law and the larger understanding of Tradition. The scandal traces its roots to disobedience both against the law of God AND by way of a sickly misunderstanding of obedience within the clerical hierarchy (which would rather cover up and scapegoat rather than discipline and heal). ‘Obedience’ in terms of a ‘charitable listening attitude’ and the acceptance of the challenge of the Gospel is the way that the tough messages of Humanae Vitae and the other teachings against the Culture of Death will find greater acceptance. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life will only increase if we encourage our young people to deeper obedience to the will of God after the model of our Crucified Lord and that of Mary. [/preach]

    For a bishop to invoke fraternal (and not servile) obedience as the reason for providing TLM, is a very, very good sign. Again, I have a lot of respect for Bishop Morlino, which is only increased by the words and example he offers in this article.

  4. Wow! A bishop practicing true collegiality! I have to admire someone who is willing to put away their own opinion in light of the truth. Very admirable! May God bless him not only for his obedience, but also for his fostering unity (with the pope) and his openness to the truth.

    The conversion of a thousand bishops starts with the first bishop’s acceptance of the truth (to really reword a old wise saying).

  5. BK says:

    Here, for a little contrast, is an excerpt from the “Bishop’s Clergy Bulletin” that was received today by all the priests of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, PA, from their Bishop:

    Bishop’s Clergy Bulletin, September-October 2007


    I presume that the Tridentine Mass is not being celebrated within our Diocesan Church. I make that presumption, knowing that no priest has made a request to our Liturgy Office. You will recall that such is required in order to obtain an acknowledgment of his having the appropriate skills for celebrating according to those particular rubrics. This would include private celebrations. (I refer you to the guidelines that I issued earlier.)

    All changes of a liturgical nature in any of our churches needs to have my approval. This includes any adaptations for the Tridentine Mass that might be considered desirable, including special altars.

    Since this extra-ordinary (sic) celebration of Mass does not have any more privileges than does the ordinary celebration, the same rules apply. Each has its own rubrics relative to words, language, postures, and gestures. All rubrics must be observed. In both cases, the directives of the Diocesan Bishop are to be followed.

    The guidelines referenced were previously posted here:

  6. momof7 says:

    Interesting BK…

    If a priest DID celebrate the TLM without permission from the Bishop, I wonder what the Bishop would do..

    Could he suspend the priest for disobeying him?? After all,he is being obedient to the Pope! Wouldnt that supercede what the Bishop implements or is there a very fine line there??

    I would imagine that a Bishop would cause serious problems for a particular priest if that occured, but I would have to think that Rome would rule in the priests favor, no?

  7. BK says:

    Comment by momof7: “If a priest DID celebrate the TLM without permission from the Bishop, I wonder what the Bishop would do..

    Good question…

  8. Diane says:

    I find the words of Bishop Morlino to be quite humble. First, he acknowledges basically a position against. Then, to show his support for the Pope’s decision, actually goes the extra step by “taking the lead” figuratively (while others may have already celebrated it in his diocese since they did not need his permission). That is the part that I find very positive. Perhaps some bishops will follow his lead and leave behind those who are looking for every way possible to discourage the TLM, subtle and not-so-subtle.

  9. Fr. Stephen says:

    Bishop Morlino’s first name is Robert, not Charles.
    Good man!

  10. Diane says:

    I might add that humility is the taproot of virtues. It is from there that others sprout. Obedience is not possible without humility (not my will Lord, but yours).

    This is where Abp Ranjith is right about calling opposition to be rooted in the sin of pride. Pride is the taproot of sin (not your will Lord, but mine).

  11. Sid Cundiff says:

    I have been telling folks, we shall know that the world has really changed

    1. When Lenin is buried next to his mother in St. Petersburg, Russia:
    2. When the press stops talking about JFK every November; and
    3. When the MEF is readily available in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Dioceses of Steubenville (non-campus), St. Petersburg FL, Altoona-Johnstown, Orange County California, Tucson, San Francisco, Fresno – (add to my list)

    Now the good news from Madison and Burlington. The world is really changing!

  12. RBrown says:

    The old military maxim is operative: Better to have a lion leading lambs than a lamb leading lions.

  13. Fr. Stephen: I made that correction. Thanks!

  14. Elise says:

    Then-Bishop Raymond L. Burke of the Diocese of LaCrosse celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass previously, at the consecration of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Oratory in Wausau on May 31, 2003. Always at the forefront, where a shepherd should be!

  15. momof7 says:

    Now it makes absolute sense.. Evidently thats WHY he published the note to Tooo funny.. Perhaps he thought he would scare the priest.. ha..

  16. peretti says:

    Ave Maria, I wait with you. Chaput, are you a fan of this blog? Are you obedient to the Holy Father?

  17. Jeremy says:

    Thank you, Bishop Morlino!

    Also, Bishop Morlino is a friend of the bishop of Lincoln, NE.

  18. Steve says:

    Sid: Tucson does have the MEF – almost daily. Here is the link:

Comments are closed.