The Grand Inquisitor of Wisconsin
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Mar 28, 2009 at 01:45:27 PM EST
Bishop Robert Morlino of Wisconsin is one of a small group of Catholic Right leaders who is gradually igniting a firestorm that threatens to engulf all of American Catholicism.  By assuming the role of Grand Inquisitor he recklessly suppresses free expression in the name of quelling what he deems to be heresies.  In his distrust of humanity, Bishop Morlino eerily echoes the infamous Dostoyevsky character: this modern-day Inquisitor does not believe that the most of us can handle the choices that Jesus offers in Christian thought let alone those afforded all citizens in a liberal pluralistic democracy such as ours.
As the National Catholic Reporter observed:

Morlino, 62, is the fourth bishop of the Madison diocese. Previously he served as the bishop of the Helena, Mont., diocese, was a priest in the Kalamazoo, Mich., diocese and was once a member of the Jesuit order. He assumed leadership in Madison in August 2003 and within months was creating waves.

After six months he made a controversial statement that he had found in Madison "a high comfort level with virtually no public morality." Some were not pleased with that assessment. After being confronted with what many saw as an unfair generalization he backed off, saying he had misspoken, explaining that he had been speaking in a philosophical sense.

NCR further reported that the Church in Wisconsin is upset by more than mere insults:

Morino has also stirred controversy with statements he has made concerning political issues and for his assessments of politicians, especially those with whom he disagrees.

Just before the November 2006 elections he required every parish in his diocese to hear a personally recorded message condemning capital punishment, gay marriage and embryonic stem-cell research. Dozens of parishioners walked out of Mass or stood with their backs to the altar when the message played. Others welcomed his muscular teaching of Catholic doctrine.

In a letter to priests -- leaked to the press at the time -- he said any signal of disagreement on their part "could have serious consequences."

Before the November election last year Morino singled out House Speak Nancy Pelosi and then vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden for not upholding church teachings on abortion.

 The Capital Times of Madison reported that in June 2008 a local fundraising organization was suing the Madison diocese for a breach of contract for services provided. The diocese apparently reneged on payment after it "refused to tell Bishop Robert Morlino which priests complained about him in a survey on the prospects of a planned $70 million capital campaign to build a new cathedral."

And recently Bishop Morlino escalated his efforts to stifle dissent. This past March 12th, he fired Ruth Kolpack from her position as the full-time pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Beloit, Wisconsin.

She had refused the bishop's demand that she renounce a six-year-old master's degree thesis (a Divinity Degree, no less, from the Catholic St. Francis Seminary) in which she argued for more gender-inclusive language at Masses and called for the ordination of women.

Here is a sample of the language that Bishop Merlino found so offensive that it must be renounced:

So, is mother a suitable image for God?  For Second Isaiah, it certainly seems to be.    John Schmitt in, "The Motherhood of God and Zion as Mother," concludes his article by saying:  "Zion as mother appears so frequently in Isa 40-66 that this image should be taken as the inspiration for the depiction of God as mother."

As well as:

The language used for God affects males and females differently because of the dominance of male images used for God, especially for public prayer.  The implied masculinity of God contributes to the patriarchal notion of the superiority of the male.  It also contributes to an attitude of diminished self-worth for women. ... Whether intentional or not, the consistent use of masculine language for God in public prayer strips women of their full human value.  Masculine God language sends the message to women that men deserve greater respect.

It is such inquisitorial behavior that makes any sensible person worry about what would happen if Bishop Merlino and those like him were able to enforce their dogmatic beliefs with state power.  A man so willing to persecute members of his own religious community would certainly not hesitate to exact swift retribution from those who do not share his religious convictions. The censure of fresh ideas would be threatened not because they might be better, but simple because of their difference. Bishop Morlino, much like Dostoyevsky's Inquisitor, sees shielding the common man from non-orthodoxy as the path to tranquility.

Bishop Morlino unwittingly leads by example in showing us why separation of church and state is a vital principle of religious freedom in America. But it is an example that most of us certainly do not need. We have plenty of examples from the history of our Church and from the struggle for religious equality in America. And of course, many of us have already read Dostoyevsky.

In another recent article the Bishop Morlino remarked, "When people start to see religion as the enemy of freedom rather than the friend of freedom, then, we're headed for secularism." He went on to say, "Secularism is the absence of God in daily life."

Beyond his eminence's fractured and inaccurate view of "secularism" in a pluralistic democratic society, Bishop Morlino's own unbending and strident worldview blinds him to the obvious:  The forward-thinking religious inclusiveness of Ruth Kolpack is a far more effective example of a healthy faith than his own exclusive, reactionary dogmatism.

The threat to the Church is not secularism. It is the small-mindedness of Bishop Morlino and his ilk that has caused growing numbers of Americans to see religion, particularly Catholicism as the enemy rather than the friend of freedom.  By stifling dissent and discussion they marginalize rather than fortify the faithful; drive people away from rather than lead people towards God; and sew distrust of the Catholic Church by both members and non-members.   Their behavior both inside and outside the Church is strong evidence that they don't understand that they risk destruction of American Catholicism.

But in the name of unquestioning orthodoxy, it is a risk they are all too willing to take.

If you want to speak out against this reactionary bullying, here is you chance,

Take a moment and sign the petition being circulated in defense of Ruth Kolpack and in protest of Bishop Morlino's indefensible action.

Here is the link to petition being passed around by Call to Action and the Women's Ordination Conference.

Be sure to leave a comment.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Mar 28, 2009 at 01:47:25 PM EST

I've signed. I think the bishops are continuing to lose credibility among the laity, and the inquisitorial spirit is alive and well

by khughes1963 on Sat Mar 28, 2009 at 06:50:10 PM EST

Bishop Morlino like Davd Barton, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee, Rod Parsley, and too many others of their ilk obviously never read the Constitution of the United States. They no doubt have read the Bible, but I doubt they really understand what the Lord Jesus was saying. I quoted Abraham Lincoln before and I'll keep at it until these Prophets of Doom get it into their heads or are driven out of the country by the American people. In his letter of 11 Feb 1864 to Edwin Stanton, his Secretary of War, Lincoln wrote: "Any individual, either in the church, or out of it, who is a threat to the public welfare, MUST be CHECKED." And you will be checked. That's a promise, not a threat. Bonatti - An Old Soldier

by Bonatti on Sat Mar 28, 2009 at 02:35:31 PM EST
They are a threat to the world and to the "Body of Christ".  I guess you could use the term "public welfare" to describe that, although I'm not sure that is what Lincoln meant.

It is sad to see so many people driven from Christ because of the actions of people like them- something I see on a regular (even frequent) basis.   Their focus on authority and "position" is the antithesis of Christ.

I think that this focus will eventually be the downfall of those churches.

We do need to check them.  If they're allowed to continue, they will bring misery to many.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Mar 29, 2009 at 12:38:23 PM EST

In hiding my previous comments, who has really "escalated his efforts to stifle dissent"?

Looks like "the censure of fresh ideas ... is threatened not because they might be better, but simple [sic] because of their difference."

Such incredible hypocrisy.  If you can "stifle dissent" on your little web page, how can you criticize Bishop Morlino maintaining Catholicism in his Catholic Church?

In the words of Jesus Christ: "You hypocrites"

by Belloc on Sun Mar 29, 2009 at 11:29:43 AM EST

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