Diocese of Madison At Odds With Facts About COVID, Bishop Donald Hying Needs To Anchor With Science

When it comes to battling COVID we all need to be on the same page. We all need to respect science, medical professionalism, and the growing piles of data on the best ways to stem the progress of the deadly virus. But when we are alerted to those in our county who wish to steer a separate course that runs counter to our health needs, then we need to speak out.

One does not need to be a Catholic, or even religious to pay heed to what is happening at St. Maria Goretti school in Madison. Channel 3 offered a long and detailed story to viewers Monday evening that, in part, raises concerns about the lack of regard for safety standards at the school for children and staff concerning COVID. The story is also rooted in the concerns of parents and staff over the school’s working conditions, the hiring process for the principal, and the community’s perspective of the new direction of the St. Maria Goretti parish and school.

While those latter topics are challenging for the ones personally involved, it is the cavalier attitude of some in the local leadership of the Catholic Church regarding COVID that registers on this blog, a place continuously pushing for science and data to drive our behavior during the pandemic.

According to the letter, the investigation request comes after the entire kitchen staff and a long-time administrative assistant left the school in the past week, with staff saying they felt unable to report toxic working conditions to the principal. Since the letter, organizers say two more teachers have put in their resignation notices. In total, letter organizers and current parents said Monday that 40%, or 12 out of 29 teachers and administrative and food staff, had quit this year–most of them in the last two months.

By the end of August, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that enrollment at the parish school had dropped by about 75 students (out of a high of more than 400) amid rising concerns over the new principal’s connections to Father Richard Heilman, a Cross Plains priest who has spread misinformation about the pandemic and the January 6 insurrection. Since 2017, the St. Maria Goretti parish membership had declined by more than 200 people, the WSJ reported.

Early on in the school year, petition organizers say Mr. Schell disbanded COVID safety protocols that the school had put in place for the last school year, and the school made headlines in the WSJ for at first making masks optional.

“The principal came in and tore up our protocol and threw it away, and said everyone should just come in with no masks, or parents choose what they want to do,” Conlon said. The majority of parents who work in health care and had students in the school have signed the petition and withdrawn their children, petition organizers said.

Mr. Schell served as church pastoral council for a time at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church with Father Heilman, a connection that concerned some school families and parishioners when Schell was hired at the school earlier in 2021. Heilman has made frequent appearances on a right wing talk show that has promoted misinformation about the pandemic, according to reporting from the Wisconsin Examiner.

It is still hoped, that the (recently) installed Bishop Donald Hying will be a stark departure from the ruinous relationship former Bishop Marlino had with many Catholics and the larger community. I come from the foundation where leaders of faith can play constructive and vital roles in the larger goals we all share for the betterment of society.

The entire region of the state would be well served if Hying were to give full-throated support for the use of CDC guidelines for students and staff at private schools, and when churchgoers attend Sunday services. It was noted in the WISC news story that Hying had words of reproach toward some families about attending mass, but I did not read a stiff rebuke towards Heilman for spreading lies about the virus that caused the pandemic.

My Bible speaks in the ninth commandment not to lie.

Attending mass is not mentioned.

And so it goes.

Let us see how Rome operates during the pandemic.