Thursday, May 3, 2012

Platteville, again

The National Catholic Reporter has picked up the story regarding that church in Platteville I mentioned earlier this week. Here's the NCR on the matter:
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. [...]

"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.

That's...almost breathtakingly arrogant.

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:

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.

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.

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.

14 comments:

Tony said...

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).

Possibly dissident parents of third graders. Or more likely, Ex Ecclesia Nulla Salus is being taught at a level that third graders can understand (without the required nuance).

does this not put him at odds with his bishop if the bishop permits the use of EMHCs in the diocese?

There is a difference between permits and required. In our diocese, the bishop permits altar girls. In one parish, the pastor does not. Our bishop permits communion under both forms, but in a number of parishes, the pastor does not.

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.

That's right. If you think that something is doctrinally wrong, you should have some backup as to the exact wording of the teaching in question. Catholicism is very nuanced. The longer I study it, the more I learn this.

In my opinion, EMHCs are in almost every case, over used. I went to public policy day at my state capitol, and went to Mass at the Cathedral. There were 4 bishops distributing communion to 1000 Catholics. We got out of there in about 10 minutes.

Are we so anxious to get out of Mass and leave our Eucharistic Lord that we can't spend 10 minutes extra with him? I wonder about the prohibition of taking communion to the home bound (unless the priests are taking that role correctly upon themselves and executing their duty properly).

I have a situation where I have to squeal on a sister who is teaching formation candidates. She is teaching... I can't mince words... heresy.

But I didn't have a recorder, so I am going to relate what she taught to the Director of Formation as best I can and he will do with it what he can. If someone needs to wear a wire to gather the appropriate evidence, I imagine it'll have to be set up.

Elizabeth D said...

I live in downtown Madison and we do not have girl altar servers nor do we have EMHCs at Mass at the parishes I attend (Cathedral Parish, and St Paul's on the UW campus). I'm grateful, we are "spoiled" with great priests here and I am unaware of anyone being up in arms about it.

The Wisconsin State Journal really does have a long record of articles that twist the story in a way unfavorable to the Church and that damage the pastoral efforts of our very good bishop. Having seen and heard Bishop Morlino in person and having a reasonably good idea how he thinks, he obviously was trying to heal the situation with his letter, yet the State Journal grossly unhelpfully made it seem like some kind of smackdown of the parishioners. 40% of the parishioners at St Mary's Platteville signed a petition against their priests, apparently for reasons such as their attachment to altar girls and EMHCs, but the remainder of the parishioners mostly really love those priests, who are also very respected by Catholics I know in Madison, I know more than a few people who like to drive out there for Mass or confession because those are good priests! In Church law whether to allow girl severs is utterly up to the pastor's judgement (except in the older form of the Mass where it continues to be strictly disallowed), and EMHCs are only ever meant to be used in case of real necessity, technically it is not allowed to use them unnecessarily.

Regarding the salvation of non Catholics, I have absolutely no doubt from what I have heard that the SJCP priests teach totally in accordance with Catholic teaching for instance as described in the great document "Dominus Iesus" by Cdl Ratzinger when he was prefect of the CDF. The Church is the Body of Christ and united to Him the only savior of the world, and all who will be saved will be saved through the Catholic Church, somehow. The Church is the universal sacrament of salvation, as Vatican II says, it also says that those who know that but refuse to enter or remain within it cannot be saved.

M.Z. said...

The State Journal has had at least one fawning article - I believe two - over the Tridentine mass community in Madison. They have had other articles covering disturbances brought forth when SJCP priests were brought into some rural Madison parishes. Given the numbers involved in Platteville and the rural parishes versus the Tridentine community in Madison, one could almost say the State Journal is positively biased.

In evaluating the WSJ, I think you have to answer a number of questions:
1) Were the stories newsworthy? Given the numbers involved, yes.
2) Was a reasonable interpretation of events offered? I don't think there was an poisoning of the well going on. I agree with you that the characterization of the bishop offering a 'threat' is accurate.

Where I will disagree is that I don't think we have a 'heresy' issue, even of the conservative variety. I think we have a leadership issue. Depending on your reading around, you'll find conservative folks who have been left with a bad taste in their mouths after this order took over their parish. At least as manifested in Wisconsin, this order has tended to be rather insular. They do not seem concerned with the feelings of others, even people who'd consider themselves their allies. And I guess that is fine from a strict "orthodoxy" standpoint, but I think there is room in the discussion for other values. Nice, decent people are fired every day for ineffectualness. In no less than two years, these priests have managed to destroy a school they were putatively brought in to enrich. I think there are other paths for 'orthodoxy' to win than the one the bishop has chosen.

Red Cardigan said...

Siarlys, I saw your recent comment behind the scenes, but it does not meet my standards of civility and will not be published. Feel free to try again.

Alice said...

It doesn't sound like these pastors are being very pastoral. I know, I know, conservative Catholics think that's a bad word, but it shouldn't be. A pastoral priest decides to disband the Bingo committee and then thanks the people who have staffed it for the past 25 years. An unpastoral priest, says "Bingo is over as of next Tuesday night. I'm the pastor." A pastoral priest hears that the Youth Group Director has planned a pilgrimage to here a Medjugorje visionary speak and quietly speaks to the director and lets him know that this will not fly in his parish (even if it would have when the previous pastor was there). An unpastoral priest fires the Youth Group Director leaving the whole parish, Youth Group Director included, wondering what the heck happened. I could give you a dozen more real life examples from my territorial parish or other local parishes, but basically a pastoral priest realizes that he must keep his flock from fragmenting and a priest who probably should never have been ordained for parish work scatters the sheep and then blames the sheep.

Oh, and since we're talking about shepherds, that legend about shepherds breaking the legs of errant sheep is just that, an urban legend.

Rebecca in ID said...

I agree with M.Z. and Alice; I think it is most likely more a problem with approach than with doctrine. It really isn't okay to treat people like garbage. That appears to be the main issue. However, the story about high-fiving the third-grader is definitely disturbing, too, on a doctrinal level. Tony it is almost unbelievable to me that you would find this an acceptable simplification of the Church's teaching for children! Granted that children cannot understand the nuances, the simplification should be that God loves everyone and wants everyone to love Him back, and all have the opportunity to say yes to Him, through the grace of Christ and the Church. It is better to say nothing at all than to say that non-Catholics will go to Hell, in order to avoid too much nuance. A fifth or sixth grader can be introduced to the idea that the Church and sacraments are the *ordinary* means of salvation and that we should pray for souls to be brought to the fullness of Faith because of the abundance of grace offered in the Sacraments. In any case the matter should *always* be approached with sensitivity and charity, at whatever age. Great damage can be done with triumphalism and a superior attitude.

Charlotte said...

Remember that we're basically talking about an area close to Madison. For non-Wisconsinites, Madison is often called "30 square miles surrounded by reality." In addition, consider the recent Scott Walked debacle, which largely hinged on - teachers and schools. All of this has made Wisconsin a political war zone in the last year (with no end in sight, the recall election is next month and if people don't think this is a referendum on unions and teachers, thing again). So in my opinion, the fact that this parish and school, while conservative, are located near Madison translates into the ability for everyone to be bold and action-oriented and politicized in a way almost unheard of before in Wisconsin. Everything here now is about petitions and "you can't take my rights away." I despise living in Wisconsin right now.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Well said, Rebecca.

M.Z. said...

Platteville is not near Madison. The two have nothing to do with each other.

Elizabeth D said...

There was one State Journal article on the 7am Extraordinary Form Mass at the Cathedral Parish, a commenter seemed to think it was "too" favorable to the Mass ?!?!, that Mass is attended by people who love that form, and it is exceptionally reverent and has beautiful Gregorian chant. It is also full of young families with lots of appropriately dressed and generally well behaved little children, just last week a parent told me he and his family started going to that Mass because it is reverent and that is what they want their kids exposed to because they want them to grow up strong in their faith. And there were two First Communions at that Mass last week. I remember that article had one quote from someone who probably was arriving for the 9am Novus Ordo Mass Mass and her opinion was against the EF Mass, that was actually the odd moment in the story. People are free to go to the Mass they like. At the same church there are Spanish language Masses with Mariachi music, not my preference, but it would be absurd to let myself be quoted complaining about it in the newspaper.

Those clearly aren't the only two articles the State Journal has run on local Catholicism. There's been a regular pattern of twisting stories unfairly against the Church. In this case that twisting sadly served to enflame the parish situation where 40% of the parishioners have torn up the parish, and the remainder are functioning fine and generally love those priests and the changes they have made.

As for the alleged instance of a priest hi-fiving a child for saying non Catholics will go to hell, this is second or third hand based on a child's description and it's not clear to me what happened exactly. Apart from the Church, no one will be saved; all will be saved through the Church somehow. The complete nuance of Catholic teaching about that is beyond the level of a little child but they can understand that apart from Jesus and the Church people would go to hell.

Charlotte said...

Wow M.Z, I didn't know that. I've only lived here my whole life!

My point is that it's nearby (yes, it is, people DRIVE these days, people discussing this have openly commented that they have driven from Madison on purpose to go to this parish), and that given the political climate in Wisconsin right now, people think they can change anything and everything they want just by causing a fuss. Especially when it comes to schools.

Tony said...

@Rebecca:

Well said. This is usually the problem. Some of it can be attributed to the anger brought about by the unmitigated silliness, abuse and sometimes Canon law violation that a new priest has to deal with.

Kindness and a pastoral (how I hate that word) attitude goes a long way toward smoothing in changes, but when a priest gets too much push-back, sometimes he has to say: "I'm the pastor and what I say goes!".

Some people who have been in positions of "leadership" in a parish do not like to relinquish that non-existent authority.

M.Z. said...

Charlotte,

I grew up in Platteville. Platteville's identity is not tied to Madison. People from Platteville do not consider themselves a part of Madison. People from Platteville do not commute to Madison for work.

Mark said...

No one from Platteville works in Madison? Those people in the other cars that are traveling along side me every day must be from Cuba... Dickyville, or Hazel Green Then. I live outside of the Platteville City limits, that must be why You don't count my commute 5 days a week to my job in the a fore mentioned Madison. The Wife works in Dubuque... maybe those cars are from there.