The action by Bishop Robert Morlino, which two Catholic scholars called highly unusual, appears to include the possibility of offenders being prohibited from taking part in church sacraments such as communion, confession and burial.
DOUG ERICKSON | Wisconsin State Journal
Madison Catholic Bishop
Robert Morlino has moved to quell a backlash against a group of
conservative priests in Platteville by warning parishioners they risk
formal church censure unless they stop spreading "rumors and gossip."
The action by
Morlino, which two Catholic scholars called highly unusual, appears to
include the possibility of offenders being prohibited from taking part
in church sacraments such as communion, confession and burial.
came in a five-page letter Wednesday from Morlino to St. Mary’s Catholic
Church in Platteville. The congregation has been roiled by opposition
to the traditionalist priests, who began serving the parish in June
church donations fell by more than half, and about 40 percent of the
church’s 1,200 members signed a petition seeking the priests’ ouster.
The church’s 77-year-old school is set to close June 1, a loss many
parishioners tie directly to the collapse of donations.
The letter, in
which Morlino raises the prospect of invoking the church’s Code of Canon
Law against dissenters, has stunned many parishioners.
shock and awe," said Myron Tranel, a member of the church’s finance
council. "But mostly, there’s a lot of disappointment that the bishop
has decided to deal with it this way."
Others applaud the bishop’s move, saying decisive action was needed because criticism had gotten out of hand.
"This is a
warning shot across the bow — you either want to be a Catholic or you
don’t," said Gregory Merrick, a member of the church’s pastoral council.
Diocesan spokesman Brent
King said Morlino’s main message is that this should be a time of
"prayer, serious introspection and forgiveness." The specific texts from
the church’s code of law were included precisely so that they may never
be needed, King said.
"The bishop’s caution that ‘this cannot continue’ should not be made into anything more than that — a caution," King said.
Standing by the priests
The priests are
from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, a group known for
traditionalist liturgy and devotion to strict Catholic teaching. They do
not allow girls to be altar servers or allow parishioners to assist in
distributing communion. Critics say they emphasize doctrine over
pastoral care and institute changes in a heavy-handed way.
stood by them and did so again in the letter to parishioners, the
primary purpose of which was to announce his decision to accept the
parish’s recommendation to close the school. The priests have admitted
"that they undertook some changes in a way that was abrupt for many
people," Morlino wrote, yet he said no one has provided concrete
examples of the priests straying from church doctrine.
In the end,
"the Catholic faith is being taught according to the proper
understanding of the Second Vatican Council, and what remains are
personal likes and dislikes, along with inflated rumors and gossip, some
of which may even rise to the level of calumnious inciting of hatred of
your priests, the faith and myself," Morlino wrote.
Where there are
those who work to "incite hatred," there "may need to be more formal
warning and action," Morlino wrote. An addendum cites many church laws,
including one in which anyone who publicly incites animosities or hatred
toward church authorities "is to be punished by an interdict or other
just penalties..." (continued)