St. Mary was a tranquil parish with a thriving elementary school until June 2010, when Morlino assigned three traditionalist priests from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest to the parish. They replaced a beloved pastor, Msgr. Charles Schluter, who had served the 1,200-member parish for more than a decade. [...]That's...almost breathtakingly arrogant.
"They had a reputation of upsetting another parish with their very conservative ways," Anderson said of the order. "Right away, they said no girl altar servers, only priests could give Communion and they disbanded the group that took Communion to the homebound. They said the basis for what they were doing was that Vatican II had been misinterpreted."
About four months after the priests arrived, parishioners petitioned the bishop to remove the priests. Morlino called the conduct of some in the parish community "gravely sinful" and ordered them to stop.
"It grieves me to acknowledge that the reputation of three happy, holy and hardworking priests has been seriously tarnished by rumor, gossip and calumny (lying with the intent to damage another's good name)," Morlino said in a letter dated Oct. 28, 2010.
In that letter, Morlino addressed almost a dozen concerns raised by members of the parish. None of the complaints involved false teaching or liturgical error, but some of the claims involved "correctable errors" that had led to hurt feelings, Morlino said. He stood by the priests and told the parishioners to talk to them instead of him. "I am confident you will be treated with dignity and respect," Morlino added.
Chief among the complaints appears to be a diminished role of the laity and insensitivity toward people of other faiths, including spouses of parishioners. One often-repeated story among parishioners -- several did not want their names used -- is that one of the priests teaching third-graders asked what becomes of non-Catholics when they die. "They go to hell," responded one child. The priest reportedly high-fived the child and said "I like the way you think."
Neither Morlino nor anyone from the diocese would respond to a request for an interview. A spokesman from the diocese wrote in an email, "We have no hope that assisting NCR with a story will result in a just reporting of the facts regarding the sad situation in Platteville." Ruiz also did not return a reporter's call.
I've been reading some online commentary about this story, and the report of the third-graders being encouraged to believe that non-Catholics go to Hell has come up more than once, from different people (presumably parents of third graders at St. Mary's school). Frankly, if the priests at this parish are, indeed, teaching or encouraging the belief that non-Catholics are all damned, that is a doctrinal matter, and a potentially serious one. That it is being dismissed as mere "gossip" is worrying.
And though I fully accept that (in my understanding, anyway--perhaps a priest-reader could correct me if I'm wrong) any pastor can choose not to use EMHCs, not even to bring Holy Communion to the sick or homebound, if that pastor then says or implies that their use is some sort of illicit thing that grows out of a misunderstanding of Vatican II, does this not put him at odds with his bishop if the bishop permits the use of EMHCs in the diocese? In other words, I have not heard that Bishop Morlino has forbidden the use of EMHCs as a diocese-wide prohibition, so if the priests at St. Mary's are teaching that it's actually wrong to allow them, how are they not undermining the bishop's authority by that teaching?
In light of these possibly serious matters, the fact that the diocese has chosen to go into "attack mode" in regard to the media is discouraging. Not only did the diocesan spokesman refuse to speak to the NCR, but the diocese's own Catholic paper, the Madison Catholic Herald, has issued a statement asking if the Wisconsin State Journal is "anti-Catholic" for reporting on the story:
Um...when one's bishop tells one that rumors and gossip "...cannot continue..." and that he's issuing this caution "...in sincere hopes of avoiding the issuance of Canonical warnings [or penalties]" how is that not a warning to the effect that continuing to talk about the situation in Platteville will lead to the imposition of those penalties referred to? If the Wisconsin State Journal is anti-Catholic, something on which I have no opinion as I don't regularly read that paper, this incident, the reporting of some of the bishop's exact words along with local reactions to the letter, does not illustrate such a thing. In fact, the question as to whether the paper is anti-Catholic based on this story seems extreme.
This past weekend, the Wisconsin State Journal chose to run a story on the sad events surrounding the closing of St. Mary’s School in Platteville.
Instead of reporting the facts as they are, the State Journal opted to turn one of the expressed reasons of Bishop Robert C. Morlino’s letter (that of “In charity and in justice, I must caution you most strongly that this cannot continue. I do this now in sincere hopes of avoiding the issuance of Canonical warnings [or penalties]”) into the exact opposite and the basis for their entire story.
The corresponding headline falsely reads “Bishop Morlino warns dissenters to stop — or else,” when no warning was given. Rather, his was an appeal to reasonable Christian charity, in a sincere attempt to avoid that very thing.
I'm sure the situation in Platteville is complicated, and I don't have any special insight as to whether the diocese or the parishioners are more in the right. One thing I do know is that it's disheartening to be dealing with a situation like this one only to have the lines of communication cut and those with possibly serious concerns painted as heretics, dissenters, liberals, and the like. But that seems to be the default mode in too many of these types of stories.
That's why my advice here may seem a bit much, but I've given it before: if the priests at St. Mary's really are saying and doing things which are not merely "stylistically" different from the previous pastor, but are instead along the lines of saying that EMHCs are illicit misunderstandings of Vatican II and that non-Catholics are definitely or even probably going to go to Hell, the thing to do is to get these statements in writing or on a recording device (I'm sure there are plenty of smartphones in Platteville). Without positive evidence of serious problems, the situation will likely remain unchanged, except that as trust is broken down even further the parish will continue to hemorrhage members and donations. And that would be a tragedy.