The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


Wisconsin standoff: donations plunge over new priest appointments

posted by jmcgee

Some interesting developments in Wisconsin are leading to a conflict between parishioners and their bishop — and it’s having a financial impact:

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Platteville, stung by a plunge in donations following the arrival of three controversial priests, has issued an urgent plea for money to keep its parochial school open.

The 75-year-old St. Mary’s Catholic School is subsidized by the church, which has seen weekly donations fall more than 50 percent in four months, said Myron Tranel, chairman of the church’s finance council.

The school, with 106 K-8 students, has enough money to operate until at least January but needs an additional $200,000 to keep the facility open through the end of the school year, he said.

The financial crisis coincides with Madison Bishop Robert Morlino’s decision in June to bring in three priests from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest to lead the parish. The group is based in Spain and known for traditionalist liturgy and devotion to orthodox Catholic teaching.

Changes the priests have made, including barring girls from being altar servers, led to a petition last month signed by 469 of the church’s approximately 1,200 members asking Morlino to immediately remove the priests. In a response letter to the parish last week, Morlino said the priests have his full support and will stay. He chastised parishioners for conduct he called “gravely sinful.”

“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 — by some within the parish community,” Morlino wrote in the letter, a copy of which the diocese provided the State Journal.

Read more.

UPDATE: A reader has alerted me to this: the letter from the bishop is now online. Take a look.



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jmw79

posted November 5, 2010 at 1:21 pm


Bishop Morlino is right by chastising these parishioners and is right to stand behind these priests who are implementing traditionalism and restoring orthodoxy to the liturgy. If those parishioners are opposed to improved liturgy then let them leave or excommunicate them.



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Cole M.

posted November 5, 2010 at 1:41 pm


One of the interesting details in this story is that the headline in the State Journal explicitly describes the priests as “orthodox.” Shouldn’t all priests, and all Catholics for that matter, be orthodox? I wonder if the headline writer has mistakenly misused the term. Of course, it could also be explained if the headline writer were a parishoner who believed the previous priest(s) at St. Mary’s were not orthodox. Either way, an interesting tidbit.



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James

posted November 5, 2010 at 1:45 pm


Deacon Kandra,
I went to the parish website, and there are no deacons assigned to this parish (not unusual). But at the diocesan website, the first ordination class of deacons was in 2004 .. was there not another class after this? And what is the permanent deacon’s role in a parish that no longer allows female altar servers and no Extrodinary Ministers of Holy Communion? There can be no bridge between the laity and the priests in this situation.
If there was liturgical abuse happening at this parish, it needed to be addressed. But as usually happens, the Church goes from one extreme to another in “teaching” the faithful.
[James...my understanding is that Madison has not ordained a class since '04, for reasons that remain unclear. Dcn. G.]



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Romulus

posted November 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm


three priests from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest
I’m pretty sure the order being referred to here is ICKSP: the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. You’d think a reporter would put a little effort into getting the name right.
I’m sorry for Bishop Morlino and the three fine Institute priests who’re caught in the middle. I’m sorry also for the laity of the parish in question, whose Catholic identity has been so deformed over the years that they’ve become hostile to the fine expression the Institute priests are prepared to give it.



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Romulus

posted November 5, 2010 at 2:58 pm


It looks like I was wrong and the reporter did get the name right after all. Apologies to him/her. I stand by my other comments, however.



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Dana MacKenzie

posted November 5, 2010 at 3:40 pm


Morlino seems to have been very heavy-handed in handling this parish. I’m sure the priests are good and holy men, but to send in a group of traditionalist priests to a parish that may not like traditional worship (I am not talking about puppet-masses, but ordinary NO masses) without considering that the parish might be shocked and feel disrespected was not exactly pastoral.
The priests, if they are good at their jobs, will have to win the parish over by their faithfulness. Unless they’re heavy-handed, too.



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AWashingtonDCCatholic

posted November 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm


Let’s see…according to the article these priests seem to have committed three major transgressions in dealing with these parishioners.
1. Only young men as altar servers. Maybe I am wrong, but I did not think that this was mandatory and an option.
2. Preaching orthodoxy that some might find too straightforward. Mmmm…can’t have that orthodoxy running around these parishes. Nope, don’t want people to follow their faith. No sir-re bob.
3. No extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Again, I thought that this was an option…not a requirement.
If these are the horrible things they have done, I would like to say: PLEASE BRING THEM TO THE ARCHDIOCESE OF WASHINGTON! We could use a couple of good men like this.



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AWashingtonDCCatholic

posted November 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm


One clarification…on my first point, I should have said that I did not think that having young women as altar servers was mandatory. I thought it was an option.



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Dana MacKenzie

posted November 5, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Dante

posted November 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm


Do they celebrate the Novus Ordo or only the Mass of John XXIII? If only the latter then they are in violation of B16’s directives for the extraordinary rite. If the Mass of Paul VI, then perhaps the people have been so used to liturgical abuse that they cannot recognize this Mass celebrated properly. Sad when one does not have a choice of parishes to attend. And more sad when Catholics resort to uncharitable tactics. If that happened here we’d just leave the parish and transfer to another. I am guessing that Platteville doesn’t have too many options. I am also just guessing that Bishop Morlino’s view of the Church might be that it’s the domain of the clergy to which laity are kindly invited to attend…as long as they pray, pay and obey.



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wineinthewater

posted November 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm


I do not know the particulars of these circumstances, but it seems to fit in with things that I have seen elsewhere. It seems that orthodox and traditional priests often have trouble with pastoral care.
It’s one thing to come in and immediately put a stop to abuses. It is quite another to come in and immediately put to end practices that are permitted, even if not necessarily best. Change is difficult for people, and a pastoral approach is to lead the congregation to the better option, not just lay it down like a hammer. Very often we see more orthodox priests come in and do the right thing, but the wrong way.
Even if that is the case here, that does not justify the reaction from the parishioners. Failings do not justify failings.



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Mary

posted November 5, 2010 at 6:23 pm


Seems to me this event says more about the past than the present. The behavior being exhibited is what one expects from social activists rather than adult faithful parishioners. It’s about power for some and not about faith.



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nnmns

posted November 5, 2010 at 10:53 pm


Good for the parishioners! It’s a way to react to oppression when, perhaps, you are constrained by the fear of going to hell taught you by the Church, from leaving the Church.
I expect there are a lot of Catholics getting good ideas from them about how to exert some influence on that institution that has caused them so much trouble and perhaps fear and pain.
On, Wisconsin!



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nnmns

posted November 6, 2010 at 8:07 am


Most of the posters on here so far think the parishioners should take whatever comes from Rome and like it. I’m guessing several of them are paid out of the pockets of parishioners. My sympathy is with the downtrodden and in this case that’s certainly the Catholics, not the Catholic Church.
And three priests from the same nest? Don’t they trust those priests alone?



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RP Burke

posted November 6, 2010 at 8:57 am


Note the one way to get the bishop’s or pastor’s attention when you don’t like something he’s done.



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Del

posted November 6, 2010 at 12:30 pm


There are three priests because 1) They belong to a religious community (the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest) and they insist on living in community. 2) They serve two parishes and the campus ministry at UW Platteville.
The dissidents are apparently activists from Call To Action who are looking to cause more dissention. The leaders are going door-to-door, collecting signatures on petitions, urging people to withhold donations and bad-mouthing the priests and bishop to everyone they can.
This minor issue of accepting new priests and a new style would normally heal itself with due pastoral care. But there are real trouble-makers, grandstanding and pretending to be “victims,” who are forcing this to become a matter of discipline (and not simply pastoral care). The troublemakers do not care about the parish or the school or the children. They just want to make our bishop look like a bully, so they can score some political points in the secular press. (Which is why the Madison paper is reporting on this — see how well it works?)
A few years ago, our just under 40 members of Call To Action purchased space in the Madison paper to complain about Bishop Morlino. In less than a week, 800 faithful Catholics signed a petition in support of our bishop, donated and bought space thanking him for his courage and faithfulness.
this situation in Platteville is similar. If you read the full text of the letter from the Bishop, you will see how trivial the concerns of the troublemakers really are.



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Mike

posted November 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm


A priest I know once said the best advice he ever got from his first pastor was never to make major changes in the first year of a new assignment. These “priests” would have done well to follow that advice, but conservative hubris never admits of either error or humanity. Neither, apparently, does this “bishop.”



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HammerofHeretics

posted November 6, 2010 at 2:51 pm


nnmns,
Your sick, un-fair and sadistic disdain for God’s people is truly disturbing. I will pray for your conversion.
Pax,
Hammer



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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm


My two cents here …
No matter where one stands on the priests and their style of ministry, and the disciplines they have attempted to impose on the parish, the overall concern — and biggest priority — for any priest, bishop or deacon has to be the salvation of souls. Has any thought been given to that?
I have no doubt the sudden changes they’ve brought to the parish have been disruptive and, to some, alienating. I also have no doubt they have been divisive. Has there been any attempt to reach out to the people who disagree with the bishop and catechize them? Has there been any effort to explain why they have discontinued practices that most people, it seems, liked? Has there been any attempt by the bishop in question to act as a builder of bridges here? Has there been any dialogue? I’m not seeing much of that. And that’s what’s most disheartening.
If the events of the last eight years have taught us anything, it is that the people of God demand more of their leaders — and deserve more.
A shepherd should love his flock, and gently lead them where he knows they belong. And — whether he is a pastor or a bishop or a pope — he needs to understand what is most essential.
Which raises something else. All the issues that people are complaining about — and changes that the bishop is intent on defending — are not essential to the faith. Are EMHCs and female altar servers really worth this sort of divisiveness and pain? Is it worth imperiling the school over them?
Again: the greatest priority needs to be the salvation of souls, and bringing the faithful to Christ, through the sacraments and the beautiful gift of his Church.
I wish more of those involved in this controversy — on both sides — considered that and, maybe, sought to find common ground so that the Body of Christ would not suffer this kind of rancor and division.
Dcn. G.



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nnmns

posted November 6, 2010 at 6:02 pm


HoH you misunderstand. I don’t have contempt for Catholics as such and I have, and expressed sympathy for these Catholics (did you miss that?) I do have contempt for the RCC but also for most other religious businesses.
I was going to ask if these seemingly fine points make any difference. Would someone miss out on heaven because there was a female altar server or one of those other things mentioned which I don’t pretend to understand? But Dcn. Greg seems to have just said they wouldn’t. So it sounds like the bishop is putting his foot down to show he can. That might gain him points in Rome but likely not in Wisconsin.
We need more bishops like this bishop, to bring the RCC down faster.



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cathyf

posted November 6, 2010 at 6:05 pm


It’s really amazing what bishops and priest think “authority” is. Mostly how when they tell people “my way or the highway” and then they are so shocked that those people who “hit the highway” take their time, talent and treasure with them.



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Sean

posted November 6, 2010 at 7:26 pm


I’m sorry to say this, but this is one jacked up parish. For people to complain about what amounts to a blessing, good priests, just shows how head-in-the-sand they are. Come on, people! You can’t dance on the altar anymore, and play patty-cake. Sure there is a way to introduction the counter-reformation, but the “spirit of VII” days are dust.



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HMS

posted November 6, 2010 at 7:28 pm


My three cents:
Right on, Deacon Greg. We need more listening and dialogue in situations like this.
However, I think that there is a missing piece in this situation. My intuition tells me that there is more to the story than meets the eye.



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cathyf

posted November 6, 2010 at 9:08 pm


HMS — I think your instincts are probably right on. You have three Spaniards plopped down into American upper-midwest small-town culture. One of the situations that the bishop speaks of in his letter is that one of the priests refused to say mass at a nursing home because their safety regulations prohibited lit candles. The bishop seems to think that just because this misunderstanding was eventually ironed out that everything is fine. But he is completely ignoring the real significance of the incident, which is that this priest thought it totally appropriate to deny the Catholic nursing home residents access to the sacraments as punishment for the American overlawyered fetish for obsessing about trivial safety concerns. The nursing home residents who had no power whatsoever to change the rules about open flames (which probably come from the insurance company, so the administrators had no power over it either.) The New Rules of The Game have been firmly established: the lay ministers who used to bring Communion to shut-ins have been fired, and now shut-ins’ only access to the Eucharist is through priests who already have a history of holding the Eucharist hostage in a temper tantrum over a particularly absurd and trivial issue. The only thing worse than bullies who force you to do something that you don’t want to do are bullies who torment you over something you have no power to do.
A parish in a place like Plattsville is a complex tapestry of generations of history and interpersonal relationships. Priests come and go, but the parishioners have to live with each other and with their histories of conflict and how well or badly they dealt with each other in the past. Anyone in that situation who thinks that an argument about music or altar servers or taking communion to shut-ins or kneeling is actually about music, altar servers, shut-ins or kneeling is clueless and socially inept.



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Lynn

posted November 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm


All government is by the consent of the governed, and these folks don’t consent. The populi are voxing….From this distance we [well, I, anyway] don’t have any more details than are reported in this newspaper article, but it seems as though the parishoners are taking advantage of the most effective way of making clear their discontent at how they’ve been treated. Actually, that’s probably better written “the ONLY effective way…”
It might be useful to recall that THEY are the community these priests are to serve. Evidently, a lot of parishoners don’t feel well served. Malicious gossip is always wrong, of course, but if the parish is no longer a good fit, if people don’t feel at home, they’ll leave. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’, however defined, have very little to do with this.
As for the school, I have a hard time getting too worked up over it, but I have a distinct bias. I had to take my child out of the parish school and send him to the public school to find a better social environment with fewer bullies.



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HMS

posted November 7, 2010 at 7:54 pm


I was not aware of this issue in Wisconsin until I read the recent post on “Deacon’s Bench.”
After having read Bishop Molino’s letter (linked above by Deacon Greg), I revise my previous optimistic reflection that listening and dialogue are possible. When the bishop accuses the parishioners of lying, there seems to be little hope of reconciliation.
I wish that I had access to the complaints of the parishioners although the addendum refers to some of them. At the very least the clerics come off as heavy-handed and lacking in pastoral sensitivity.
Their actions may be explained by the fact that the order’s overt mission is to encourage more young men to enter the seminary. Apparently, they believe that their goal can be accomplished by emphasizing a pre-Vatican II theology.
In a lighter vein, if these priests from Spain want roll back the parish to the pre-Vatican II Church here in the U.S., I suggest that they view the “oldie but goodie” movie, “Going My Way.” They might learn how a priest ministered to people with pastoral sensitivity in that era.



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NY Barrister

posted November 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm


As we Americans are known to say, I have no dog in this fight as an ex-Roman Catholic. Deacon Kandra and cathyf, I applaud your cogent, pastoral views which are imbued with Christian charity. The other comments are the usual curled lip, cheerless, airless world of the Catholic traddie right with their love of a bygone world of their own invention (most too young to have memories of pre-VII, as I have). May they enjoy their pray, pay and obey world.
When in my early childhood I went to parish low masses in Latin, they were not baroque incense infused spectacles conducted with precise choreography imagined by the traddies. The priest often mumbled the Latin in a rush. The preaching was often forgettable. There was nothing particularly numinous on offer. Today, why would any college educated parishioner meekly tug their forelock when a bunch of puffed-up reactionaries in dog collars treat them as children to be disciplined and sent to the corner. Clericalism reigns, as the RCC rushes back to the 19th (or is it 16th) century.



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null

posted November 8, 2010 at 9:28 am


I think those who’ve commented on the lack of patience and pastoral care and tact have a good point. I certainly can understand the perspectives of both “sides” in this conflict. I certainly am very familiar with the anger and pain of those so-called “traditionalists” who prefer the Tridentine Mass who felt disenfranchsed and ignored when there were significant changes in liturgy and practice and their more current sense of vindication and “turnabout is fair play” feelings so many of them seem to be expressing these days. I can also understand those who’ve known nothing else but the changed practices, like me, and who feel ill-used by clerical heavy-handedness, real or perceived. I’m one of those middle-ground people who want to find ways of bringing people together, especially in the Church, where we are supposed to be the Body of Christ, as it were.
Now, I’ve been to traditional masses. They may be beautiful, with a sense of the transcendent and certainly part and parcel of Church heritage and history. Unfortunately, they do absolutely nothing for me and my faith practice. I always feel like an outsider, nose pressed up against the glass, intruding on a private, privileged moment between the anointed (priest) and God. I’m just an observer. I can follow along, appreciate the beauty of the words, music and what have you, but I’m still just an observer. This feeling is only heightened by having everyone’s back to me besides. Since I am hard of hearing I have to read lips. Instead, I get to admire fancy vestments. I get more from watching TV. I’m sorry. I’ve read all the justifications, explanations, catechesis, and all the best of the best reasons traditionalists want a return to and conservation of past practices. It’s just that, for all their good and valid points in favor of their perspective, they can’t turn back the clock and the practice of the past 40 years. It’s funny, I’ve become more open to the more literal translations of the new Missal coming out in 2011. It might be more poetic and closer to the other translations in use elsewhere in the world.
It’s interesting. I have no problem with female altar servers. When I was a girl in the early 70s, I had really wanted to serve, but only my brothers could. I’ve been a reader, a catechist, and even an RCIA director in my parish in the past. Now I’m a special education aide for my autistic son and want nothing whatsoever to do with liturgical ministry because of the great gender divide. I can respect those who feel that kind of thing should be reserved only to males and understand their reasoning too. I’ve just learned that I cannot expect that same understanding and respect for my perspective in return. It’s interesting. As someone who’s been involved in the planning of liturgies and worked hard to respect what the rite actually has to say and how to best implement things respectfully and realistically, it’s been very hard to say the least to realize that just because of my femaleness I can ever only really be an observer. No explanation, no matter how reasonable, or correct it may be, can shake that feeling. My head may “get it” but my heart doesn’t. And more and more, with experiences like those of the Wisconsin parishioners above becoming more commonplace, it becomes far easier to give up and walk away than get spiritually pummelled week after week. Because that’s what it can feel like. Realistically, working with priests has always been like walking a tightrope of massaging their egos, indulging their fussiness and dictatorial style (far, far too often and a failing of both traditionalist and progressive clerics alike), and constantly dancing around their sense of self-importance a la “I know better than you what’s good for you. Now, sit down, shut up, and like it.” Add to that volatile mix the issues and perceptions that dog the hierarchy and ordained because of the scandal and the loss of credibility it has engendered and it’s no wonder that situations like this occur, with lack of respect and understanding on all sides.
The disconnect between what the Church says and how what it actually does translates to everyperson’s day to day life, where one’s salvation is actually worked out in fear and trembling, is jarring. What’s sad is how easy it is to just blame the lay parishioners here for their lack of piety, perceived and actual sinfulness, and lack of obedience to authority (I’ve gotten that message loud and clear from most of the posts on this discussion and from Father Z’s discussion on the same topic as well as Bishop Morlino’s letter), all the while rationalizing and justifying the behavior and attitudes of the bishop and the priests involved. Because I’m not too sure they’re entirely blameless here. Remember it took better than 40 years to get to where we are now liturgically today. It will take time to bring some of those traditional ways back too. Just remember, the horse is long out of the barn now. There will be some things that will just not make sense anymore. Having looked at all the formal liturgical garments and their cost as purchased by and worn by Cardinal-elect Burke, I just don’t get their point, except in the sense of “I earned the right to wear these things by virtue of paying my dues and getting my promotions, so I am entitled to them and will exercise that right.” That may be true, but other than as a personal point of right, status, privilege, and power (kind of like having an executive washroom or town car and driver), but the message seems contradictory to the faith the good Cardinal-elect intends to teach. Do as I say not as I do doesn’t work for Churchmen any better than it does for parents.
The loss of charity and lack of understanding that characterizes the Church today is so very sad and just serves to continue to erode the Church’s message. I realize that I too have been critical of certain things here as well and that raises hackles and hurts others too. But somehow we need to listen to each other and find a way to make the Church the beacon of light and hope I once thought it was. The reality is far more difficult and painful. What’s more, I know that I am not alone. We need to make being Catholic more about “here comes everybody” again.



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nnmns

posted November 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm


It seems to me the loud and clear moral from all this is, do not let your children be taught they must belong to the Catholic Church (or any church) to avoid going to Hell. The RCC is using that fear they pounded into people’s heads as children as a lever to try to get them to accept these strange, foreign worship services they don’t want and no doubt lots of other things, some worse.
People need to be able to change their religions without fear. A religion that teaches it’s required is wrong and should be avoided. And you owe it to your children to let them grow up without having that poured into their heads. If they, as adults, choose to believe it, fine.



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Mareczku

posted November 8, 2010 at 9:07 pm


It sounds like these priests overstepped their bounds. They should have been sensitive to the culture of this parish community. I think their biggest mistake was barring girls from being altar servers. To me that was very heavy handed. This would have the effect of alienating the parents of these girls. If your daughter was treated like this, you might go shopping for another parish. I wonder how many of those families left. It looks like the bishop will support the priests no matter what. That is pretty much the way it goes in the Church.



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