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.
The warning 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 2010.
Within months, 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.
“There’s almost 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.
And you can read the bishop’s letter to the parish here.
And for more, you can visit the parish website. Note: under “Vocations,” there is page for “Deconate” [sic]. It’s blank.