Bp. Morlino on the mission of lay people in the public HHS mandate battle. Wherein Fr Z rants.

Some music to accompany my preliminary rant.   Read while listening.


I have seen sharp criticisms launched by lay people against bishops whom they accuse of being weak in the public debate about Pres. Obama’s attacks on the religious liberty of the Catholic Church and indeed on the 1st Amendment rights of all Americans.

I respond saying that bishops were issued big-boy underwear when they were consecrated.  Criticisms and the inability to please everyone come with the hat and the stick.  It has ever been so.

I have in my mind’s eye episodes in the ancient Church when people rioted in the streets when they were unhappy with bishops.  For example, by 406 around Hippo things were pretty bad.  Donatist thugs called circumcellions had staked out the diocese and were ambushing clergy on the road, beating them with clubs and blinding them with lye.  In 428 when people found out that some of Augustine’s monks owned property they nearly rioted in the streets until Augustine conducted an investigation.  And, a bit earlier, there was the lethal interlude of Diocletian.

Thus, I am inclined to think that bishops have it easy today.  They aren’t being set upon with clubs… yet.  Even the kerfuffle between Card. Wuerl and the irate Mr. Neumayr is t-ball compared to the hardball innings bishops played in the 3rd and 4th centuries.  It’s big-boy underwear time for both of them too, by the way.  But I digress.

Let’s keep something clear.  My role as a priest, and the bishops’ role as bishops, is to form and support the laity for their proper role in the public square.  It is the role of lay people to shape the world around them according to their vocations.   I (or, even more, the bishops) will teach, give you the sacraments, and support you.  The work of the public square is really your work, lay people, not mine.  Remember that when you think bishops aren’t being strong enough in the public square.  We clerics know that you lay people often face in your daily lives challenges that would make many of us roll up in a ball and hide under the covers.  On the other hand, the Enemy of your soul hates priests and bishops with surpassing malice. We live every day knowing that we go to our judgment with Holy Orders upon our souls and to those to whom God has given much, more will be expected.  As Augustine said, “I am a bishop for you, but I am a Christian with you.” Neither portion of God’s poor little servants should fall into the trap of thinking that the other has anything easy in life.

If you are p.o.’d that a bishop isn’t jumping around with his hair on fire in front of the White House, waving his arms, and telling you whom to vote for, then maybe you should be doing that according to what Holy Church has taught you and in keeping with your vocation.  And if the priests and bishops in your life have not been stellar in their roles of teaching (read = they are human, they are sinners, they are … x, y, z….), then put on your own big-boy underwear and get to work anyway.  Things will improve.  Priests and bishops will find their way to the spines they need, or in some cases abandoned.  And they will do it faster if you are with them rather than against them.  Believe me: carping at priests doesn’t generally make them do things either faster or better.  I know this by experiential knowledge and not merely by theoretical.  Help them out by prayers and encouragement and example.

There is only so much the bishops can accomplish in the public square on their own: the rest is your job.  Don’t shirk your role even if you think bishops and priests are being lazy or craven.  Stand up and get to work right now, even if you are disappointed that bishops aren’t beaming lasers out of their eyes or issuing decrees of excommunication while they levitate to the strains of Verdi’s Dies Irae.

Thus endeth my rant.

To my point…

In the newspaper of the Diocese of Madison, His Excellency Most Rev. Robert Morlino, whom we have seen here before, made some comments about religious liberty and conscience.

He starts out by mentioning the rally for religious liberty at the capitol of Wisconsin (in Madison).  He goes on to remind the reader the political sphere, the public square, concerns the mission of the laity.  Note his distinction about liturgical roles!  Kudos for that.

Bp. Morlino makes some other very good points in his piece, but I will focus on his discussion of the mission of lay people.

Religious freedom, freedom of conscience
Bishop’s Column
Thursday, Mar. 29, 201


That is the true role that the Church was trying to enliven in the laity through Vatican II — faithful people witnessing actively to today’s world, bringing the Church into the world of today (as opposed to the idea that the main way one can be an “active” Catholic is by performing different liturgical roles). [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

The women, men, and children gathered in Madison last week were undertaking the lay mission of the Church, which is to witness to the sanctifying presence of God in the world and I’d encourage all of us to remember our call to that mission in our everyday lives, and as we look to the future of our nation.


Each of you has a mission — it is the lay mission of your Catholic faith — to think and speak clearly, remembering that faith and reason work together, and that faith and reason are on our side. But we have to be able to explain how faith and reason are on our side. This is something about which we need to read more, we need to think about more, and most importantly we need to pray about more.


So, let’s do what we need to do in terms of making clear that this regulation that takes away our freedom of conscience cannot and will not stand. Let’s do it in a way which is very charitable, which is very reasonable, and which carries with it a smile, because where there is no charity, we cannot expect the Resurrection power of Jesus Christ to be unleashed.

Let’s make sure we are charitable, but let’s make sure we are clear and we are heard. Sometimes we can be tempted wrongly to think that charity and reasonableness are excuses for acting like wimps.

We have to speak out clearly, charitably, reasonably, unmistakably, unambiguously, about freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Let’s do all of that actively today, so that we can enjoy the glory of Easter tomorrow!

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Praised be Jesus Christ!

We are in this together, friends.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Dogs and Fleas, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, Religious Liberty, The Drill, The future and our choices, The Last Acceptable Prejudice, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. acardnal says:

    I think you have your “big-boy underwear” on Father Z. Got to have thick skin to be a blogger! Keep up the great work! I will say another prayer to Saint Joseph for you tonight and one to St. Michael the Archangel, too.

  2. onearmsteve says:

    My bro called me from seminary & asked me this (I agree with him & we both are a member of this & have written them for this) “where are the Knights?!” I told my chapter & asked them don’t take this to them that it is issued for the HQ of KofC saying “I am tired of pancake breakfasts I did not sign up for pancakes especially in a time we are under attack. Drop the apron & pick up some swords & shields! If the Eucharist is our main thing we should be having the priests force us out (b/c he needs to lock up if there is not Adoration chapel) of Church while we are praying in front of Our Blessed Lord”. I gave them a clip of John Connor saying “if you are listening to this you are the resistance” & Patrick Henry speech at St John’s Church saying “if we are to be free. We must fight! I repeat we …must…fight!”

    Maybe we are over zealous haha (bro in seminary at FSSP. Said many there are saying same thing. That the bishops are fighting but where’s the army behind them?”)

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    Amen to that Fr. Z!

  4. heway says:

    I am sending 3 ‘Amens”, Father….’each of you has a mission, the lay mission of the church’
    Yea, yea!

  5. Andy Lucy says:

    There is nothing lonelier than being an officer leading a charge and looking back to see no one following you. Miscommunication? Cowardice? Doesn’t matter at that moment… you are all by your lonesome in a world full of hurt.

    Conversely, it is bad for unit morale to have no officer leading the charge. There NEEDS to be someone standing up, out front, saying, “Follow me!” Lacking an officer, someone usually stands up, and fills in. Usually.

    Sometimes, you have the officer out front… you have the troops follow… and it still doesn’t work out. The Lost Battalion in World War I comes to mind. Did everything they were supposed to and still ended up surrounded, cut off from resupply and reinforcement. However… they persevered, and accomplished their mission despite the most energetic attempts of the enemy. And so it is with us. We must persevere, even if we lack leadership from our bishops. Even in the face of insurmountable opposition. We… must… not… fail … in OUR… duty. Even if our leaders falter.

    Pray for our bishops. Pray for those who oppose a culture of life. Ceaseless prayer is our best weapon in this fight.

  6. boko fittleworth says:

    We are not mad that the bishops aren’t being strong and vocal enough now. We are grateful for (and pleasantly surprised by) their leadership. We are mad that they put us in this situation in the first place by supporting Obamacare. And that the lay snarks in the USCCB bureaucracy sneer at and undermine us while we try to undo the damage. Paid for with our money. That the bishops accepted from us and gave to them.

  7. pm125 says:

    Seems to be dire need for a direct call (ltr.) from Dioceses to both Priests and lay people with information that helps to form thinking (acting) further, a definitive position, that laity feel comfortable that they aren’t going to upset applecarts or get into parish bones of contention. The first letters opened eyes and, I’m sure, people are waiting for more direction.
    Bulletin inserts would be a great asset to Bishops and Priests in helping to guide laity into the public square with clarity. They need clarity for approaching the whole debate, because they are ‘outnumbered’ and shut down in the public, very secular square. More communication from Gospel specialists to those hungering to understand how to handle this situation in unity.

  8. filioque says:

    Boko Fittleworth has it exactly right, except that the betrayal began more than 40 years ago when the bishops ran from Humanae vitae. Start preaching the whole of the Catholic Faith, discipline with pastoral charity those who publicly dissent, and trim the USCCB staff to a few Catholics who will work on maybe five things that really matter, instead of the 130 issues the USCCB currently lobbies on. The laity can get the job done if the bishops will stop presenting such a confused and pusillanimous front. They have started well on the HHS mandate, but they are going to have to do a lot more work with the troops if we are going to win the sustained battle. And the ultimate goal has to be to stop taking government money.

  9. Sue in soCal says:

    Having ranted a few times myself via internet, I appreciate many of your points, Fr. Z. Here is my point that I keep driving home. Lay people are in the public square (or should be). Bishops have, as a general rule, been remiss in their duties as teachers. They have given all kinds of support to poor legislation like the healthcare bill some even calling into question the motives of Catholic laity who were screaming warnings about consequences should it pass. The chickens have come home to roost with the healthcare bill and now the bishops want us to be vocal in our opposition to the HHS mandate but they have still not backed off from supporting the bill that caused the mandate’s genesis and, if it stays the law, will generate more such mandates. We are still suspect if we oppose ILLEGAL immigration (my own bishop has all but called us racists) and sit isolated in their chanceries unwilling to listen. Some, like Bishop Blaire’s endorsement of specific EPA policies, feel the need to give various government policies and bills a Church stamp of approval. The mixed messages we here in the trenches are getting is confusing and maddening. What’s a poor layman to make of this mess?

  10. Lori Pieper says:

    boko fittleworth says:
    29 March 2012 at 8:51 pm

    We are mad that they put us in this situation in the first place by supporting Obamacare.

    Please tell, where and when, chapter and verse, did the bishops support Obamacare? I listened to the entire debate for months, and paid special attention to what was coming out from the USCCB. What I heard was a) general statements that the country does indeed need health care reform, b) analyses of Obamacare that pointed out its flaws, especially the potential coercion of taxpayers into paying for abortion an c) refusal to endorse the bill when this was not removed.

    If you equate a) with supporting Obamacare, then you were not paying attention to anything. If you mean that some individual bishops somewhere offered their support, then you ought not to be throwing around wild generalizations like the above. If neither, then just what DO you mean?

  11. Jenice says:

    Thank you so much for this post about the role of the laity. It is my understanding that it is the job of the laity to order the world to Christ, but most lay Catholics I know assume that the bishops should be doing this. The priests and bishops should concentrate on rightly forming the laity through the sacrements, RIGHT WORSHIP, catechesis, prayer. Then we will be better equipped to fight the political battles that we must fight.

  12. I am soooo tempted tonight to shut down the combox on every post on the entire blog.

  13. discerningguy says:

    Father, why?

  14. catholicmidwest says:

    If you want your bishop to support you, people, then you have to be willing to support them. We are, as Fr. Z says, in this together.

    You can read. You have a Catechism. You have a Bible. If you’re a layperson, it’s YOUR job to take the Church to the world, NOT your bishop’s job. Got that??? It’s YOUR job. You are the person who goes to work at a business and walks among the unchurched. It’s you that walks through the stores and the streets and the schools and the hospitals. It’s YOU, YOU who can bring Christ to these people and these places in a way that no priest or bishop can. And it’s YOUR job to do so.

    It’s also YOUR job to organize and promote political candidates and cultural and social initiatives. It’s not your bishop’s job. It’s YOUR job.

    Your bishop’s job is to support you just as he is, running the Church so that you have a place to worship and you have sacramental care when you need it. YOU have to be the bridge between that & the world. Get busy and STOP WHINING.

  15. filioque says:

    Yes, why?

  16. Bea says:

    I don’t know WHY
    but I suspect it’s because we’re not listening.
    Priests/Bishops are the leaven in our hearts.
    We? We’re supposed to “rise” to the occasion and do our duty in the world.
    We shouldn’t expect the clergy to go out to fight the world.
    The battle they fight for us is in the spiritual realm in the depths of our hearts and souls.
    They bring us the “pearl of great price”
    Our duty is to use this “pearl” wisely for our salvation and the salvation of those around us.
    Perhaps we, the laity are becoming like Barrabas and Judas, the zealots that expected Christ to change the world, rather than our hearts.
    In changing our hearts we can change the world, one soul at a time.

  17. NoraLee9 says:

    Father Z:

    Thank you for this wonderful blog. It has provided me with the best Lent of my life. I am praying for the Bishops, the SSPX and for you. Bless not only HE Morlino, but my own bishop, HE T. Dolan, who has never been short on teaching. This whole health care thing is going to crash around Mr. Obama’s head eventually. One benefit: It has caused the left to tip their hand as to how much they really hate the Catholic Church! All the world sees this now. It won’t stop, but it won’t be able to be quite so insidious or covert.

  18. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Really good post Father. The laity needs encouragement.
    But it is so much more fun to focus on the mote in our brother’s eye rather than the board in our own. Yup we can complain about each other but the only actions we can control are our own.
    The laity rioted in the streets of Paris also at the time of the Reformation.
    The causes of the inaction of clergy and laity are many – and the end result is apathy or fear. Who is certain of their Faith? Who is certain about who to trust?

    Pray, sacrifice, do what we can, and hang on to Our Lady – she stayed through the whole Passion even though bishops fell asleep, fled, denied, until one stayed at the foot of the cross.

  19. Kent says:

    That is all fine but there are still some places where well-intentioned letters to the bishop concerning Latin in the Mass (or the lack of), the possibilities for EF Masses in the diocese (non now available), sacred music (in a pitiful state) receive a reply stating that he (the bishop) is too busy promoting “full and conscious and active participation” (in bold type) to have time for such things.

  20. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. A lot of the bishops that people have grievances with — are retired or dead. Quit beating the dead horse, folks!

    2. When the wolves are at the door, it’s time to stand together, not to open the door and try to push our brothers and sisters into the wolves’ slobbering jaws.

  21. DFWShook says:

    You are exaclty right Father. I know when the President came out with the so-called compromise, my initial concern was whether the Bishops would pull the rug out from under the laity and cave. Thanks to God, they didn’t. Yes, me might have issues with the Bishops about how things are handled, from the abuse scandals to Liturgical Dancers – but this issue should be the one issue that unites us all. I think many of us in the pews have to remember that the word “catholic” means universal. Regardless of how we may disagree about how our faith is practiced and prayed, we are one holy catholic and apostolic Church. The Church is being attacked. Now is the time to demostrate to the world the we fully understand the meaning of Catholic.

  22. Midwest Girl says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for this post.

    However, I think this could also apply to the situation in California with the “clown conference” posted.

    Many people were frustrated with Archbishop Gomez, a good and holy man, for what they perceived as a lack of action on his behalf. My husband knows him personally from his time in Denver (and actually knocked the wind out of him during a basketball game, but that’s a story for another time). We HAVE to TRUST our bishops. Archbishop Gomez is doing what he believes in right with the information he has. Sometimes, slow and steady is the way to go.

    Instead of spending so much time criticizing our priests and bishops (unfortunately, a sin I commit way too often) perhaps we should be spending that time and energy in fasting and prayer.

  23. aquinasadmirer says:

    When I read this statement from HE Morlino, and the subsequent comments, I’m reminded of this:
    USCCB ? “The Bishops”

    People make the mistake of equating the two. They are related, but different. I notice this especially when people are actually critical of the USCCB, but they say “The Bishops” instead.

    The USCCB is not our shepherd. The Lord is our shepherd; our bishops are the shepherds we have as successors of the apostles.

    I stand with our bishops. Must I stand with every policy statement issued by the USCCB?

  24. aquinasadmirer says:

    It didn’t render right. That should be:
    USCCB != “The Bishops” e.g (does not equal)

  25. William says:

    Wait a minute! Docility in the face of clerical tyranny has been a losing strategy, lo these fifty years. Having countenanced all the abuse and heterodoxy, we the “People of God” need accept our part of the blame. And now, dear fellow Catholics, arm yourselves with knowledge and charity and set things aright — be it in the Church or in the world.

  26. KAS says:

    My only complaint about Bishops is that the work of the Laity requires a laity that is well formed in the CATHOLIC faith and thanks to their lack of spine they have danced around and failed to teach the faith and so I get to go out and try to shape the world while my fellow Catholics are out there pushing for LOTS of stuff and cancelling my vote out with their many votes for LOTS of stuff which is contrary to Church teaching, like abortion and same sex marriage. Top it off, try to talk about these things with fellow Catholics and many times you get your head bit off as they claim moral superiority and the silence of the Bishops as proof that they are correct to vote for pro-abortion politicians and insist that the BEST way to do Christian charity is to force everyone to give money through taxation rather than teach them to give generously and voluntarily.

    I try hard but it would sure help if the Bishops were teaching clearly and unambiguously. Catechism, encyclicals, documents of the Church, Scripture– you know, the BASICS.

    I pray daily for all our Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

  27. irishgirl says:

    Amen to what you said, KAS!
    In this whole debate, I often wonder what I can do, as a single person living in the world.
    I’m not the ‘organizer’ type-rather, I’m ‘all thumbs’. How can a lowly laywoman like myself make a difference?
    I’m not terribly political, though I do try and read up on what the issues are. And I do vote, though I get angry and frustrated when there are no good and decent candidates (such as when those who brag about being pro-life during their campaigns end up selling the pro-life cause ‘up the river’ and betray those who trusted them). Where are the young people coming out of our [true] Catholic colleges? They’re supposedly so fired-up about the pro-life, pro-chastity, pro-family causes-why aren’t they getting into politics? They’re supposed to be ‘the future’, right? Those of us who came of age in the 1960s really screwed things up, big time!
    Maybe I’m feeling very world-weary now in my old age. I have no enthusiasm; I’m ‘dried-up’, I’m like ‘a broken dish’.
    God is the only one Who can straighten out this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
    As one of my more articulate friends always says: ‘Come, Lord….please, come’.

  28. catholicmidwest says:


    No they didn’t cave. Now it’s our turn. We can’t cave in either. We have responsibilities too.

    It’s so easy for people just to whine and blame someone else. We must stop that. It’s our turn. We’re up to bat now. Make it count.

  29. Bea says:

    Irishgirl said:

    Those of us who came of age in the 1960s really screwed things up, big time!
    Maybe I’m feeling very world-weary now in my old age. I have no enthusiasm; I’m ‘dried-up’, I’m like ‘a broken dish’.
    God is the only one Who can straighten out this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
    As one of my more articulate friends always says: ‘Come, Lord….please, come’.

    I know how you feel. I feel like my hands are tied. Maybe I’ve turned “chicken” in my old age. Maybe for us with our tiring bodies what is left is PRAYER and an OFFERING UP of aches and pains as a column of support for the younger generation. So, we are not “broken dishes” Yes, God is the only one who can straighten out this mess. He really ALWAYS was. Maybe we forgot that and thought that the “experts” could straighten things out. Maybe at this point in time is exactly what God is trying to teach us. Stiff-necked people that we are. So, we are not “lowly laywomen” Nobody is lowly in God’s eyes. I am so often tempted to feel that way, myself but God uses the “lowly” too, to do His Will.

    As to:
    Where are the young people coming out of our [true] Catholic colleges? They’re supposedly so fired-up about the pro-life, pro-chastity, pro-family causes-why aren’t they getting into politics?

    Perhaps they are busy raising up the future generation for a stronger battle that we may not live to see. OR teaching a younger generation to step in because of the ground work we and our children may have quietly laid but could not see.
    Just as a priest could get discouraged because he does not see the laity responding to his advise, but the word that was given may come to fruition at a later date that the priest does not witness, so we too, may not see the good we have done through prayer, advise and example to the future generation. It is easy to be tempted to hopelessness but we have Easter coming up that shows us that just when we think all is lost. The Glory of God shines forth

  30. Bea says:

    Fr Z
    Thank you so much for this blog. It’s the only one I feel a real Catholic community exists.

  31. StJude says:

    Thank you Father Z.

    I am guilty of being angry our Bishops arent more vocal. I just got out my mirror.

  32. wanda says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z. Great post.

  33. ContraMundum says:

    I just hope the bishops hold fast and keep doing as they have done for the past month or so.

    I don’t expect the bishops to spearhead a political movement in response to this attack on religious freedom, or even in response to the many other moral failings of our government and our society. That, as you rightly point out, a job for the laity. However, I *do* wish they would consistently treat those failings as serious. When they steadfastly refuse to take action — Church action, not political action — against Catholics who obstinately and publicly promote abortion and other evils, it’s hard for even their supporters to say that they’re *really* serious in condemning these evils. They could start with denying Communion to the likes of Nancy Pelosi, and with refusing to attend the funeral of someone like Ted Kennedy.

  34. letchitsa1 says:

    The only thing I would add is remember that the boys of today are the bishops and priests of tomorrow. Raising them up to be what they are called to be if they have a vocation to the priesthood is probably one of the surest ways of long-term support we can provide.

    And in the meantime – support when the priest does what he ought goes a long ways too.

  35. Laura98 says:

    Fr. Z … I know this was a rant… but the way you worded it, it brought a smile to my face. I was picturing my Bishop, jumping around the State Capitol with what little hair he has, on fire! I’m not sure lasers shooting out of his eyes would go down real well though!

    And Thank You for all your work on this blog! I know it takes a lot of work and a VERY thick skin! We all appreciate it and many of us do feel like it is a community, even if it is spread around the world. Reading the comments of everyone here, has always been one of the highlights – even if I don’t always agree or sometimes understand. I know I can always come here and be uplifted with your messages and posts Fr. Z., even if the news is bad or depressing. Thank you for that and may Our Lord Jesus continue to Bless You and your ministry here.

  36. irishgirl says:

    Thanks, Bea, for what you said in response to my comment.
    I was pretty low when I posted it. You see, I have a friend who is dying of cancer right now. She’s been suffering much since mid-February. I went to see her yesterday at the Catholic nursing home here in Upstate NY; it’s a temporary stop until there is room at the local hospice care.
    And thank you, Father Z, for your blog. We are very grateful for all that you do for us, your ‘online flock’. And you certainly need to have a thick skin (like an alligator’s hide!) to write what you write!

  37. pm125 says:

    Apropos news in today’s paper for some above commenters:
    Invited to speak at and receive an honorary degree at commencement at Massachusetts’ Anna Maria College, Victoria Kennedy received a statement from its board of trustees about a decision made with deep regret to withdraw the Senator’s widow’s invitation due to her publicly backing abortion rights and gay marriage, both of which are opposed to the Catholic conscience. The decision was due to concerns raised by Bishop Robert McManus of the Worcester Diocese.

    She was quoted in the Washinton Post, 2004, to Church leaders, “The pro-choice position recognizes that the United States is a diverse, pluralistic society where a woman has the constitutional right to make a decision based upon her own conscience, religious beliefs and medical need,” and at a dinner, 2010, honoring a gay-rights activist “Not second-class equality, but the right to live free, and to marry, and to raise a family,”. In reaction, “Yet by objecting to my appearance at Anna Maria College he has made a judgement about my wothiness as a Catholic,” “This is a sad day for me and an even sadder one for the church I love.”

    I think – this example of leadership and clarity in such a difficult atmoshere serve the Lord, the Church and the laity well.

  38. Hidden One says:

    I think that it would be better if us lay people in general said less to each other about our bishops and instead said more to God for our bishops.

    Those of us who complain about bishops not doing ‘enough’ of what they’re ‘supposed’ to do run the risk of being told by God that we ourselves did even less.

    [Bless you.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

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