First off, I want to extend my support to those who backed the ad/letter, and hope that this movement meets with some success in helping to open a productive dialogue within the Church.
The WSJ also included an article about the letter and responses to it:
In a statement, the diocese said Morlino is sorry that "certain groups, who claim to be Catholic, would assume postures which clearly are not in accord with the teachings of the church."This is what really gets up my guff: Morlino certainly has every right to disagree with the letter and its claims, but where he gets off shutting the whole thing down by immediately calling into question the letter writer's very Catholicism I don't even know. I would be pretty pissed, too, if the head of my church (or any organization to which I belonged) dismissed by valid concerns so easily. But that's just how Morlino rolls, it seems, as he bats off any and all criticisms with personal attacks.
No wonder some of the priests feel threatened enough to have formed their own support group, as detailed in the article:
Asked for evidence of poor morale among priests, several of the letter signers mentioned the Association of Madison Priests. The group was formed by priests to support each other and to provide a unified voice on issues in which they differ with Morlino, according to people familiar with the group.Apparently, this sort of independent priest group is fairly rare, yet another sign that the situation with Morlino and his leadership style might just be a bit extreme.
"They feel the need to protect each other," said Joan Weiss of Prairie du Sac, a CTA leader. "They're concerned about retaliation if they speak out in opposition in any way."
I can't say I've been particularly surprised by Morlino's various outrages ever since learning that he is the chairman of the Board of Visitors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of Americas. Why is this fact so heinous? Well, WHISC/SOA is responsible for training some of South America's most notorious military criminals, some of whom were responsible for the murder of Jesuit priests. But Morlino defended his position with the institute and ignored the opposition of clergy in Madison.
I'm not Catholic, so I have been and will no doubt continue to be criticized for sticking my nose in where some don't think it belongs. I have several close friends who are Catholic, however, and I attended a Catholic college - so you'll excuse me if I have some interest in and empathy for those struggling with their own beliefs and those so vigorously being imposed on them from on high.
What's interesting, too, is that so many people who agree with Morlino and the positions he pushes, when confronted with fellow Catholics who disagree, often call into question those people's reasons for remaining Catholics. It's the "love it or leave it" frame of mind. A good example of this can be found at the blog of a one "Fr. Z", where he addresses the current hubbub over the letter. He refers to the independent priest's group as "cowards," and outright dismisses the dissenters as being 100% "wrong."
Heck, maybe it is time for the more modern, forward-thinking Catholics to start their own branch of the Church. It'd be a shame, because I'd much rather see the whole Church work together to move, in their own way, into the 21st century. But if the modernizers did form their own group, I suspect it would take a rather large chunk out of regular Catholic membership--maybe that would teach people like Morlino and the Pope a valuable lesson, ie: if you actually listen to the concerns of your parishioners instead of being so damn rigidly hierarchical and dismissing them outright, maybe you wouldn't be facing things like the current priest shortage or declining mass attendance.
The cynical side of me says let them eat cake and suffer the consequences of their stubbornly backward-looking policies - but like I said, I have many close friends who are Catholics, and they find a lot to love in the Church, things like its commitment to social justice, and even the more traditional services. So the idealistic side of me wishes for better and more open dialogue about the future of the church, allowing real input from everyone from lay people to priests to bishops, leading to some progressive changes in how things are done. Why not allow women into the clergy? Why not a greater focus on addressing poverty, hunger, and social justice, instead of such single-minded railing against things like homosexuality and abortion? Why not, in a world where the population is ever-exploding, relax the restrictions on contraception?
Whether that means outright removal of Morlino as bishop or just convincing the guy to be a little more open to input, I don't know. That's up to the Catholics. But this public criticism, and the group supporting it, are certainly a step in the right direction and I wish them luck.