Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino halted a public speech Wednesday night at UW-Platteville and switched the venue to a Catholic student center after a reporter in the audience refused to leave.
The bishop’s action followed the appearance at the event of nine protesters opposed to his leadership. They demonstrated with signs outside Doudna Hall, the site of the lecture, and some filed into the hall to hear Morlino speak.
During the opening minutes of the talk — titled “Why Does Evil Exist?” — Morlino asked that no unauthorized photos be taken or recordings made after hearing the clicks of a camera, said Brent King, a spokesman for the Madison Catholic Diocese, which includes Platteville.
This is not a request Morlino typically makes, King said, but he felt it was necessary because he was aware of people in the audience with an apparent desire to stir up controversy. Also, the reporter in attendance, later identified as Steve Prestegard, editor of the Platteville Journal, was taking photos, which the bishop found distracting, King said.
Morlino asked Prestegard to stop taking photos and to delete the ones he’d already taken, according to audience members. When Prestegard declined, Morlino asked him to leave.
Prestegard declined that request, too, at which point Morlino told the crowd of 80 or so people that he would be ending the talk.“He very nicely asked the reporter, human to human, if he would leave, and the reporter tried to make a big deal out of it,” said UW-Platteville junior John Skinkis, 25, who was in the audience. “So the bishop said, ‘Well, if you won’t leave, then I’ll have to.'”
The talk was then moved to St. Augustine University Parish, the Catholic student center on campus, which is private property owned by the diocese.
Prestegard, in an interview Thursday, said his exchange with the bishop was polite, but that neither side was inclined to budge.
“He didn’t raise his voice or anything like that, but he clearly wanted me out of there,” Prestegard said. “I told him it was a public place, built by taxpayer money, and that I was there because he’s a public figure and I was interested in what he had to say. I was pretty sure he had no authority to make me leave.”