Monday, October 13, 2008

Kudos to area Catholics for standing up to Morlino

This weekend I picked up a copy of the Wisconsin State Journal and read, with an increasingly large smile on my face, an ad placed by the local chapter of Call to Action containing an open letter to Bishop Robert Morlino. In the letter, which they also delivered to Morlino himself, the group expresses their concerns over several things: Morlino's insistence on building a brand new cathedral, his leadership style's effect on the morale of priests, his single-minded focus on issues like abortion and homosexuality, the exclusion of women from the clergy, and the firing of an openly gay music director.

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.

"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."
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.

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.


Dad29 said...

As usual, Emily, a polite post.

But your take is erroneous (surprise!)

First off "...claim to be Catholic" has a specific meaning. No one may use the term "Catholic" as part of a title unless authorized to do so by the local Bishop. A corresponding example from Milwaukee, where (then-) Abp Weakland forced a privately-organized school to stop using the term "Catholic" in their literature. They didn't have his permission.

That's the legal take, without getting into the equally important second half of Morlino's comment "...not in accord..." Obviously, one can not pick and choose one's preferred "Catholic" beliefs. You is, or you is ain't; can't be both, or 'some of'...

Next, the 'priests' association' is perhaps rare, but one just like it can be found in Milwaukee. Ironically, the Mke ass'n was founded during the reign of Rembert Weakland, OSB. Same general complaints, by the way.

The music director would NOT have been fired if he had had the common sense to keep his love-life private. In other words, he forced Bp. Morlino's hand. (It would have been helpful if he had been much more discreet, too.)

maybe it is time for the more modern, forward-thinking Catholics to start their own branch of the Church

Well, that's been done. There was Luther, Zwingli, Henry VIII, Calvin, and hundreds of others. Except, of course, when founding "their own branch" they would make perfectly clear that they are no longer "Catholic," but semi- or demi-heretics. I agree with you, by the way, that they should go off on their own. But they don't have the courage to do it.

As to 'social justice,' you HAVE read that Catholic Charities dropped around $1 million into ACORN's coffers last year, no?

I don't think that was the right thing to do--but if you look at CathChar's list of 2007 grant recipients, you'll find a LOT of social justice organizations listed.

Emily said...

Hey dad, thanks for dropping by--I had a feeling you might, being the resident Catholic blogger and all. ;)

I was not aware that people/organizations were not allowed to call themselves "Catholic" without the expressed approval of their Bishop. If them's the rules, then so be it (even if I think that rule is pretty ridiculous).

The "you can't pick and choose" part irks me more, because I'm willing to be that not one single Catholic can claim perfect adherence to and belief in everything that's been written into Catholic doctrine. Not even the Popes, who have had differing opinions about various matters throughout the ages. I think saying that you can't be a Catholic, or any other denomination for that matter, if you "pick and choose" is extremely short-sighted and limiting. But again, that's just my two cents.

As for the music director needing to be more discreet, I call bullshit. I understand that that's official policy right now, so I'm not trying to deny that. I think the policy itself is bullshit. We don't ask that heterosexual couples be "discreet" and keep it to themselves. There is no reason we should be asking homosexual couples to do so. You'll disagree, I know. I still think it's bullshit.

I am very aware of the many good works and charities and social justice movements that various Catholic priests, nuns, and laypeople have and continue to be involved with, and I'm a big fan of much of it. What I'm saying is that Bishops and other higher-ups like Morlino would do well to focus more on that type of work, rather than forcing their priests to air highly political rants about abortion, etc., at mass.

Dad29 said...

Well, I can't call myself "Walgreen's" just because I'll sell you a NyQuil if you ask nicely...

Again, the larger point has to do with adhering to the belief-system, which is obviously in question.

As to "100% adherence," you really raise a lot more issues than can be addressed here, so I'll try to be brief.

The Church has some teachings which are dogmatic. You cannot disagree without (de facto) leaving the Church. The Church also has a system of moral theology about which there can be either "no" or "limited" disagreement.

Homosexual marriage is one teaching about which there can be NO disagreement, as the marriage position of the Church is based on natural law and reason.

Church members MAY disagree about whether capital punishment is appropriate, or whether the Iraq war is a just war. As a matter of interest, there is no doubt in my mind that a Pope will declare nuclear weapons to be immoral in se someday--which will cause a bit of trouble within the church (see the continuing argument that bombing Nagasaki was gravely immoral.)

Now as to "adherence": failing to adhere to Catholic moral teaching is very common. It's called sin, and everyone on earth (with 2 exceptions) sin(ned.) Disagreement with dogmatic teaching is also quite common. It's called "heresy" (and that's not properly nuanced, but you get the general idea.)

In some cases it is not "heresy" per se; it is possible to question non-dogmatic teachings (e.g., the destination of the souls of infants who are un-baptized.)

Finally, I read the letters which Bp. Morlino required to be read at Masses. They were not "political," they were moral teachings which happened to be politically germane at the time. The Church will not 'endorse' gay marriage, nor abortion, nor artificial contraception, nor "Plan B" given its abortifacient characteristics; and the Bishop is obliged to preach the Church's moral position(s) on those topics.

As to the music guy: Emily, I know a large number of homosexuals who are in church-music. ALL of them are extremely discreet, which is why they have those jobs. The church simply cannot have a very-well-known employee flagrantly breaking a moral law, any more than the City of Madison can retain a Building Inspector (e.g.) who has 15 years' worth of past-due property-tax liens against him.

I agree that heteros who are flagrantly and openly living in sin should also be dumped, by the way.

George H. said...

I was sort of enjoying the smooth cadence and predictability of this dose of dogma until I got to this: "They were not 'political,' they were moral teachings which happened to be politically germane at the time."

How convenient.

That wasn't car theft. It was appropriation of transportation at a point of journey renewal.

Emily said...

George - Thanks for hitting the nail on the head there.

dad29 - Several points, of course:

Homosexual marriage is one teaching about which there can be NO disagreement, as the marriage position of the Church is based on natural law and reason.

No, it really isn't.

If the position of the Church was really based on "natural law and reason," as you (and others) claim, then they would have long ago seen that homosexuality is a naturally occurring trait - it manifests in hundreds of other animal species, as well as our own, and has since time immemorium. Reason would have led you to see that homosexuals can and do live healthy and happy lives, and indeed it is the artificial social stigma placed on them by repressive societies that so often leads to depression, or destructive behavior, etc.

It's called sin, and everyone on earth (with 2 exceptions) sin(ned.)

I'm not going to argue with you over this, but I love how Jesus got to be "fully human" and yet still "without sin." Seems like an oxymoron to me.

I agree that heteros who are flagrantly and openly living in sin should also be dumped, by the way.

I never said I believed such a thing, only that I thought that, in a Church that is so big on monogamy, I thought it odd that a guy who was in a committed long-term relationship would be dumped simply because it happened to be with another guy. Personally, I don't think there's a single thing inherently wrong with two people co-habitating outside of marriage.

Dad29 said...

I'll choose "no response" for $100.00, Alex.

The Lost Albatross