UPDATE on the tumult in Platteville. Bp. Morlino sends a letter to the community.

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.

And then:

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. THREEHEARTS says:

    Let me give some observations of the state of the conversion into the Laity of the Church. One year I was blessed, fortunate enough, to be Godfather to eight souls and I went to the RCIA with them. First I could not understand why most of them wanted to become a papal catholic. Second when or as I grew up it was normal for two things to be explained…..Firstly forget all you have learnt about christian dogma in your former life, you are about to become Catholic…secondly now you have started and if you die before your baptism you will be welcomed in heaven through the baptism of desire.
    I heard one woman trot out the stupidity of the next Pope must be a woman, black and with some kind of “hurting” In any case I would be a better pope that the one we have now. Another woman said soon there will be very few priests and we women have to be prepared to take over that ministry!!!!! A priest asked about confession and communion would not answer and told me he resented my questioning him. Many priests today and obviously even bishops have little or no knowledge of the Council of Trent on the Eucharist, Eucharista Chapters three and seven jumps into my mind and also the Code of Canon Law can 916.
    The many errors in our church today come from converts who come to us with the democarcy of their evangelistic, Protestan Past and can see no reason to change.

  2. Pingback: Food Fight in the Church « An Ex-Con's View

  3. plemmen says:

    Well stated and explained Father! So much so that I used a portion of this post as the main topic of a post on my own blog (appropriate linkage made see http://wp.me/p27DAO-j4) in relation to ALL the current Catholic issues in the media spotlight (or under attack by the Obama administration). My belief is that these are all symptoms of Satan’s never-ending campaign against God and his efforts at subverting and seducing believers into eternal damnation (speaking as one who was once lost but now is found).

  4. Supertradmum says:

    I have a special place in my heart for Bishop Morlino, as many years ago, he told my son to be a priest. I also know a bit about Wisconsin, having lived outside Madison, lived in Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa growing up. Bishop Morlino is a fantastic leaders and pastor. I read the entire letter and it is great, calm, measured, pastoral. I also know something about Wisconsin Catholics. For some reason, the Catholic community is one of extremes. The people of Madison, even Catholics, are locally called “the people waiting to be insulted.” There are many chips on many shoulders, and sadly, such cases as the one being addressed I have seen before, but not to this stage. Wisconsin has a great pro-life organization and many excellent Catholics. However, the fishwrap variety, and even some neo-cons who think they can bully the clergy are present. That the Bishop had to intervene shows me the arrogance of those people in the parish who wanted to fire the priest. Duh. Laity gone wild. God bless this good bishop.

  5. jflare says:

    Father, I, for one, appreciate your attention to this matter. If Wisconsin doesn’t precisely hit the average person’s radar screen routinely any more than does Nebraska, the fact remains that people in need of the Word of God still live in both places.

    As His Excellency comments and you also emphasize, the problems they’re having there lay out the same problems that I’ve come across all the way from the smallest village in the smallest state to the largest parish in the largest city.

    I pray we’ll ALL learn from Bishop Morlino and his flock and get our collective act together.

  6. Father K says:

    ‘he told my son to be a priest.’ Am not really comfortable with that – even God doesn’t do that – he invites, he calls, he encourages, but does not ‘tell’

  7. digdigby says:

    Father K-
    I’m sure it was just a choice of wording. It was probably more like ‘have you considered…’

  8. Gus Barbarigo says:

    Amen!!! Years ago, our nuns once gave an assignment, to ask our parents who made them, and why. My mother beautifully responsed, “God made me…to know, love, and serve Him.” Later, in a separate room, my father gave the same answer! Back in class the next day, we kids were amazed that our parents, many of diverse ages and places in the U.S., all gave the same answer. Our nuns wanted to show the power of the Baltimore Catechism. We kids then asked why we weren’t being taught it. The answer: Vatican II.

    I hope our bishops could agree on uniform catechetical instruction that would be offered in all Catholic schools, and to be taught by all parents to their children.

    And yes, cafeteria catholics (small-c) should remember, that food fights are but one price to pay for the “non-judgmental” convenience of the cafeteria.

    With all the rigamarole surrounding Gov. Walker, and with the nation’s first voucher program to benefit Catholic schools (Milwaukee’s), I wonder if the place of the appearance of Our Lady of Good Help, i.e., Wisconsin, is an indicator, either as an augur or omen, of things to come.

  9. Gus Barbarigo says:

    Above, “responsed” should have been “responded.” The nuns were not often fans of my spelling!

  10. Bryan Boyle says:

    Ooooh…that had to sting a little.

    Fr. K: and why wouldn’t a man in love with his vocation, in a friendly way, point out to a young man that they should be a priest? My confessor/spiritual director told that to me many times…sometimes, the soft-sell approach doesn’t work (and didn’t with me, obviously…but did make me stop and think about it). You see someone with potential…why mince words?

  11. Springkeeper says:

    Mutiny and sedition in The Church makes me terribly sad. I thought I left that behind when I left the Baptists. The members of that parish must be unfamiliar with the concepts of “in persona Christi” and holy orders or they would immediately get down on their knees for a good repentance and confession. I feel like finding the closest priest and kissing his hand (except I think he would be beyond shocked).

  12. Random Friar says:


    The graphic alone seems worth it. This is dealing mostly from an Episcopalian ecclesiology, but often the dynamics are similar.

  13. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    A bishoping bishop. I hope other bishops will study his letter. It was charitable in every sense and the only thing absent was false charity.

  14. oldcanon2257 says:

    Thanks be to God that Bp. Morlino acts like a true shepherd and stands by his spiritual sons – the priests of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest – whom he, as ordinary, invited to apostolates in his territory.

    I pray that the His Excellency and his sons the Society priests will stand firm and never compromise on doctrinal and liturgical matters, especially in the midst of wolves in Wisconsin. The moments we start doing just that (go along to get along), we will be heading down a dangerous slippery slope. We made that mistake of compromising once in October 1962, and as a result we ended up wandering in the spiritual desert for 40+ years. Our bishops and priests are supposed to be teachers and defenders of the Catholic Faith. Still, they are meant to be in the world but not of the world thus should never cave to pressure from the followers of the prince of this world to “compromise”, to “negotiate” or to subscribe to the false sense of being pastoral.

    As His Eminence Francis Cardinal George said, “The Bishops speak for the Catholic and apostolic faith, and those who hold that faith gather around them. Others disperse.” The clergy are here to please God, not to appease men.

    As for those liberals who were financially sabotaging the parish and the school, they probably fancied themselves as “priests” running the parish since they probably believed the Church was a democracy. It would be interesting to know how they will attempt to explain it all away when facing Our Lord for judgment someday. Perhaps they would plead ignorance and claimed not to understand the essential difference in Lumen gentium between the priesthood the laity received via baptism vs the priesthood conferred by Holy Orders. Imagine what Our Lord would say when those liberals attempted to excuse their actions, “My Lord and my God, Lumen gentium was so confusing because it’s written in Latin, thus we couldn’t understand it.” :D

  15. Cricket says:

    I don’t dispute the authority of this bishop, or the holiness of the priests (I know and respect all of them). However, when one has been wounded by priests who abused their vocation, it makes it more difficult to hear God’s truth as spoken by good and honorable priests. Another screwdriver in the Evil One’s toolkit…

  16. Traductora says:

    Now that’s a bishop! He’s firm but very charitable and sticks to his guns.

    I liked his point about the fact that it was not about “good feelings.” Sadly, that’s what many people think the mass is all about. It’s their little warm and fuzzy moment.

  17. jacobi says:


    You talk about the devastation and rebellion in the Church in the post Vatican II period.

    This has all happened before, most recently some 500 years ago during the Protestant Reformation. I suspect we are going through a similar convulsion today in the form of a liberal/Modernist/ Relativist Reformation – call it what you will.

    We all of us have to choose whether to continue to recognise the teaching authority of the Magisterium of Christ’s Mystical body on Earth as did Thomas More and even Erasmus who for all his faults, refused to break with Rome, or ultimately separate, as did the Protestants.

    This may seem a little stark, but perhaps until we all come round the realising what is going on, the confusion, particularly amongst those loyal to the Church, will grow.

  18. rodin says:

    Bishop Morlino is a man that we can all admire because he is willing to be the courageous leader he should be regardless of how difficult it may be.

    I am willing to bet there are plenty of Catholics in Madison who simply have not spoken up. It can be done, and has been done admittedly on a smaller scale. The wind can be taken out of the sails of the dissidents by their peers.

    We have urged the bishops to be brave in the face of satanic attacks. Now it is time for those silent Catholics in his diocese to screw up the courage to speak out. If we are to be worthy of good bishops we need to stand with them rather than stand silent. It won’t be easy and it might help to be at least a little bit angry.

  19. JKnott says:

    So good to see the Bishop’s focus on the seriousness of the soul’s eternal salvation.
    But how can legitimate prayer be inculcated?
    Because in prayer , in different ways, we hear God’s words to St. Catherine of Siena: “I am He who Is, thou art she who is nothing.”
    Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, well advanced in the spiritual life, called herself, a “criminal nothing.”
    This is the posture, that comes with prayer and fidelity. It is a humility that would never think of “rights”, calumny towards faithful priests, and withdrawing financial support (the reverse of giving alms) for the education of children.
    Forty years of coloring book Jesus, self-centered ad- libed Masses, the lunchbox idea of the Eucharist, feminism (women in the sanctuary) and false ecumenism etc.. May God bless and reward Bishop Morlino with a return of his wandering flock into the real Church.
    And those who return, will see that they are truly, “criminal nothing” and will love it.

  20. AnnAsher says:

    Whiz-bang Bishop Morlino ! I could almost move to Wisconsin for this kind of leadership. Us laity have gotten rather out of control. There is a similar situation with a Maronite parish in Ca where the people are, equally wrongly, lobbying to keep their priest from being reassigned. I commented that the Church is not a democracy but CalCatholic Daily editors apparently didn’t like my comment.

  21. CarpeNoctem says:

    “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?”

    For every Bishop Morlino standing behind a pastor by demanding the restoration of mutual charity, cooperation, and trust against the ‘whispers’ of gossip, innuendo, and politics, there are 100 priests out there who are suffering terribly in silence while awaiting deliverance. So many people unbelievably cruel, selfish, stupid, needy, and brutish nowadays. I guess priests are that way, too.

    The shepherd has spoken; he needs prayerful and practical support. Pray for the priests involved, but especially pray and offer sacrifices for those who suffer in the shadows of abandonment, frustration, and fatigue while laying down their lives to make the Paschal Mystery visible in a dark world.

  22. mschu528 says:

    oldcanon2257 said:
    “Perhaps they would plead ignorance and claimed not to understand the essential difference in Lumen gentium between the priesthood the laity received via baptism vs the priesthood conferred by Holy Orders.”

    Had they listened to His Excellency’s homily at the Chrism Mass, they would have heard a wonderful, clear explanation of the differences between the priesthood of the baptized and the priesthood of Holy Orders. (It can be read on the diocesan newspaper site here: http://www.madisoncatholicherald.org/bishopscolumns/3125-letting-the-splendor-of-holiness-shine-forth.html) We are truly blessed to have such a great, orthodox bishop here in one of the most liberal cities in the nation. And Deo gratias for the SJCP priests as well — they are wonderful confessors (and in the confessional before every Mass)!

  23. Clinton R. says:

    Clergy gone wild, nuns gone wild and laity gone wild. And by wild of course, we mean gone schismatic and apostate. Those who argue for “changes” in the Church go right to the “spirit of Vatican II” card and they decide for themselves the sort of “reform” that needs to take place in the Church. These folks don’t care for holiness and the traditions of the Catholic Church, the bride of Christ. No, they want an anything goes and if it feels good, then do it church. They minimize the traditional teachings of the Church as archaic and any attempt to insert tradition is ridiculed as a return to the Dark Ages. One must ask himself, which is the Church Jesus founded upon St. Peter?: the one where sinfulness is celebrated, novelties abound, tradition buried and obedience mocked. Or is the true Church, the one where tradition is held sacred, sin is seen as ugly and offensive to God, the Mass is one of all time, and for love of God, all we care is to serve and please Him.

  24. oldcanon2257 says:


    Thank you for posting the link to His Excellency’s Chrism Mass homily. The more I read that and his letter regarding St. Mary’s School, the more I grow to like this prelate. He really lives up to his expectation of being a successor of the Apostles. Like many others, I wish I could move to his diocese (his orthodox teachings alone is reason enough.)

    On an unrelated note, for some reasons, Bp. Morlino reminds me of Bp. Martino (formerly of Scranton, PA), except that they’re of different styles.

  25. TomW says:

    Thank you for the update. Because you posted on this situation months ago, Bishop Morlino has been in my prayers daily and will continue to be.

  26. The Egyptian says:

    1st good for the Bishop, from the story the priests are doing the right thing. Wish we could have some sent here

    But now for a different example, in the mid 70’s we were blessed with a priest with shall we say difficulties, severe drinking problems, repeatedly told off the parish council over money, spent it like water then demanded more, bought many things from farther away that would have been donated locally if he only would have asked plus the parish council president several times had to go to a major city an hour away and rescue Fr from bars, falling down drunk. The council repeatedly ask the bishop for help and a replacement, the reply, “be glad you got a priest”. Finally the congregation cut off the collection, Fr spent the checkbook dry in a month, built up a large overdraft charge and couldn’t meet the monthly assessment. Suddenly the Diocese took notice and he was replaced. I truly believe the folks in the Cheese State are wrong, those priests sound orthodox to me, but in some circumstance what is a congregation to do to get things changed, money does speak

    PS said priest from what I have gathered has been dry for many years and has made his mission counseling other priests with drinking problems so some good has come from the whole messy affair

  27. Mom2301 says:

    Bishops Morlino and Jenkey have long been at the top of my prayer list. Lately they are in even more need of prayers. Where I live it’s the priests who are in open rebellion (the priest coming to our parish in July is a member of Call to Action)and it is very frustrating as a lay person to watch the church inflict such pain on herself.

  28. Liz says:

    I appreciate the update, Father Z. I actually came looking for one yesterday as I was curious what had happened. Praying for them and especially Bishop Morlino.

  29. Elizabeth D says:

    This evening Bp Morlino led prayers at a big Pro-Life Wisconsin “Evening with David Bereit”, the founder of 40 Days for Life (a superb speaker), very positive event where he was amongst many of the most faithful, as an encouraging presence. This must strengthen him too. I think he does a good job of both charitably correcting what should be corrected, and encouraging what should be encouraged and rejoicing in what is good. To me it has seemed like since he got back from his ad limina visit, Bp Morlino has had a new kindness and gentleness, while still being very firm and clear.

  30. Julia says:

    We have the opposite problem in the Belleville Diocese. A priest, past retirement age, has refused to stop ad libbing the Mass. He offered his resignation, the Bishop accepted it, and the parish didn’t want him to go, so he took back his resignation. The Bishop spoke with him again and he remains adamate that he will continue to make the Mass more meaningful for his parishioners by ad libbing – so the Bishop says he has to go. The parishioners are furious and picket the chancery. Bishop says if the priest does not voluntarily leave by a date originally given, that he will be removed. The newspapers are loving it.

    Here’s about the parishioners rallying at the chancery office for the priest.

    The recalcitrant priest is now turning to a dissident group of priests to explore his options.

  31. Ray says:

    Strong Bishops, Priests and Laity must be willing to take a stand for TRUTH. Thanks to Bishop Morlino and I’ll pray for him at my next Holy Hour. We had Archbishop Burke in St. Louis and he had to make a stand against a rogue parish. He did, the parish priest was excommunicated along with the parish council.

  32. Vivus In Christo says:

    Thank you for this update. I lived in Platteville for about 4 yrs. I was “Catholic” at the time, but very lost. While I did not attend Mass at these parishes, I find that my heart is still there with them… and with Bishop Morlino. It sounds like the priests who care for these parishes are wonderful, but I’m not sure I would have been able to see that clearly myself had I not gone through the radical re-conversion God had planned for me. (Thank you, Lord, for Your grace and mercy!) Please, PLEASE pray… not only for our bishops and priests (which is SO important), but also for the souls who are still wandering – lost in their woundedness and the darkness of their own will! Please pray that they will allow Jesus Christ to find them and bring them HOME. God bless you, Father, and all of your readers!

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  34. ARKloster says:

    I sent them a small check this morning. I hope other do the same!

  35. Syte says:

    The Wisconsin State Journal is misrepresenting this story and inflaming the issue, with words like “medieval” and “nuclear option.”
    In actual fact, Bishop Morlino is 110% right, and very pastoral and gentle about it — just like the Good Shepherd.
    My reply to the Wisconson State Journal at: http://sytereitz.com/2012/04/wisconsin-state-journal-inflames-parish-conflict-with-imbalanced-reporting/

  36. Pingback: Roundup of St Mary’s Platteville commentary links you could want | Uncategorized |

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