Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison died late Saturday night following an apparent heart attack earlier in the week. As this entire region of Wisconsin knows, all too well, Morlino was known not for compassion or regard for the feelings of others, but instead for taking outlandish positions, especially when it came in opposition to civil rights for gay men and women.
For 15 years Morlino worked to divide his parishioners and strove mightily to shame men and women from living their lives authentically. How far from the calling of Christ he fell when taking a political role for himself instead of being a good shepherd to his flock.
The Catholic Bishop talked so piously about ‘life issues’ over the years, but that could not remove the fact he sat on the advisory board of the bloody institution once known as the School Of The Americas.
He blithely acted against those who had ideas which differed from his own. Many recall the shock felt by members of a Catholic parish in Beloit when they learned that Morlino had fired their pastoral associate. The woman, Ruth Kolpack, said she was fired after refusing to renounce the views she expressed in a college thesis in 2003, arguing for more gender-inclusive language in Masses and questioning the church doctrine that limits ordination to men only. At the time she spoke to the press about a meeting with the Bishop where he asked that she profess her faith, take a loyalty oath and renounce the thesis. She only was willing to do the first two things.
Morlino was never one to miss a chance to cling to antiquated thinking. Kolpack had worked in the church for 35 years, but then was not even allowed to sing in the choir.
His desire to always head back in time was proven with a desire to see priests in the diocese use only bread during regular communion services, reserving the use of both bread and wine for more solemn or special occasions. The Second Vatican Council in 1963 restored the use of both bread and wine at a bishop’s discretion. Morlino, never a fan of the council, sough to undermine it at every chance–no matter how small minded it might appear to others.
Morlino was never above making a fool of himself. Many recall, with sadness, his pronouncement regarding a preference for excluding the hymn “All Are Welcome” from the liturgy. Members of the faith saw this as still more evidence he had lost sight of the essential message of the Gospels.
He even threatened to bring back the use of an interdict as a way to control free thought and growing dissension among his fellow Catholics in Platteville. He warned parishioners they risked formal church censure unless they stopped spreading “rumors and gossip.” The action was so bizarre that Catholic scholars called it highly unusual, and appearing to include the possibility of offenders being prohibited from taking part in church sacraments such as communion, confession and burial. Many in this area wondered if dispensation was just around the corner in Morlino’s mind.
But what made the rotund Bishop the most shaken from reality was his repeated attempts to thwart social progress for gay people.
My ire with remarks from Morlino about homosexuals has everything to do with my concept of how humanity interacts in Madison. A city it might be noted Morlino stated had “a high comfort level with virtually no public morality.” This from a man who represented a church that has an overabundance of pedophile priests. Irony has no limits.
Tolerance and acceptance from many people in all strata of our society work together to help build bridges of commonality, as opposed to the mindless and utterly stupefying remarks made over the years by Morlino. It is by using words, such as Morlino made, that allows bigots and thugs to undermine and bash gay people. The lowest common denominators are always seeking out justification for their actions, and Morlino with his language, gave them cover. That is what I find morally unacceptable.
Morlino’s true aim over time was to wrestle modernity from the Church while at the same time trying from the pulpit to steer voters to cast ballots to reflect his own bigotry. Morlino’s actions–time and again–were unjustified, and a throw-back to a time when the church was throwing scientists in prison. Bishop Morlino missed his true calling in the church by being born about 500 years too late.