Morlino, 64, has served as bishop of Madison, Wisconsin since 2003. He was born
and reared in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, near Scranton. He was an only child; his father was a civil
engineer but died young due to a heart ailment.
everyone in Dunmore was Catholic, and Morlino knew many faithful priests and
nuns while growing up. Hence, in his early years, he was immersed in what he
describes as “a strong and wonderful Catholic culture.” He attended a Jesuit
high school and was particularly impressed with the example of one priest, so
he decided to enter the Jesuit community.
He was ordained
a priest for the Society of Jesus in 1974, but left the community in 1981 and
was incardinated as a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan. He
was ordained a bishop in 1999. He served as bishop of Helena, Montana before arriving
has been outspoken in his defense of Church teaching on a variety of
issues. He recently spoke with CWR.
Why were you attracted to the priesthood?
Bishop Morlino: The town in which I was born was about 99
percent Catholic. All of us boys thought about becoming priests. When we were
little, most of us “played Mass.”
In those days,
we also had the example of wonderful priests and sisters. The priesthood was
very appealing. From a young age, I thought it would be a real possibility for
When many boys
got to high school they backed away from that desire [for the priesthood] when
they discovered girls. You begin to think about the possibility of marriage. But
I never stopped thinking about being a priest. And I had the great blessing to
go to a tremendous Jesuit high school in Scranton. There I was able to solidify
the idea that the Lord was calling me.
When I finished
high school, I entered the Jesuits for the Maryland province. Once I entered, I
never thought seriously about leaving. My family was very supportive of my
vocation. When I was ordained a priest, my mother and grandmother were there. It
was the day in their lives.
Tell me about the Diocese of Madison.
Bishop Morlino: It is home to many wonderful, faithful
Christians. They are good folk, who love their neighbor and want to do what’s
We have two
distinct communities. There is a rural
area, which has many people of German descent who are solid believers. And there
is Dane County, which includes the Wisconsin state capital and the University
of Wisconsin-Madison; they work together to create a liberal, secularist
culture. There is not a natural attraction between the ethos of Dane County and
the Catholic Church.
How is the Dane County ethos at odds with
Bishop Morlino: If you read the local newspapers, it is
unusual for the Church to be covered in a way that is unqualifiedly positive. True,
there are some things about the Church that are not unqualifiedly positive. But
when the papers tell the story about something that should simply be good news
about the Church, they always attach some kind of cloud over it.
people in Dane County can be wonderful to me and our priests, the culture itself
is not friendly to our Catholic moral convictions, especially the ones that
concern the Natural Law.
We had a
difficult battle here, for example, to protect the traditional definition of
marriage. Thank God, we won. The last legislature passed a law requiring us to
provide contraceptive services as part of our health insurance. At this moment,
we’re trying to get an exemption from that. I hope we’ll be successful.
What were your thoughts about the protests
by public sector unions against Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans
earlier this year?
Bishop Morlino: The Catholic Church has always stood up
for the legitimate rights of workers. But the issue of public sector unions versus
private sector unions poses some genuine difficulties, which Pope John Paul
addressed specifically in his encyclical Centesimus
We, the bishops
of Wisconsin, wanted to remain neutral about the whole situation. We are
concerned about workers’ rights, but the governor made some legitimate points.
Catholics need to look at the whole teaching of the Catholic Church, and do
their best to apply them to this complex situation. Workers’ rights have to be
balanced with the common good.
Were there efforts to pull you into this
Bishop Morlino: Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee
wrote a letter on the issue which stressed the Church’s support of workers’
rights. I wrote a letter in which I stressed the principles of fairness and the
common good. I said that in this particular conflict between the unionists and
the governor there was no simple solution. The media cast Archbishop Listecki
as pro-unionist. I was cast as anti-unionist, which I certainly am not.
How is Madison doing on vocations to the
priesthood and religious life?
Bishop Morlino: During the last calendar year, I ordained
six priests. This summer, 10 entered the seminary, so we have a total of 26
seminarians still in formation. They are wonderful young men.
We have about 15
women in formation to become consecrated sisters. That’s also a great joy to
me. The Lord has blessed us tremendously.
How have you been successful?
Bishop Morlino: The key is prayer and God’s grace. We’ve
also made it clear what the identity of the priest is, and in what direction
the Church is headed. We also offer them joy in the community of seminarians
and the ready availability of getting to know the bishop.
Why did you invite eight priests from the
Society of Jesus Christ the Priest to your diocese to minister?
Bishop Morlino: A bishop’s first obligation in regards to
the administration of his diocese is to provide sufficient priests for the
people. We have a great shortage of priests and I’m always looking for good
priests to help us out.
I was approached
by priest of the Society of Jesus Christ the PriestI had never heard of themabout
the possibility of coming to minister in Madison. I was enthused. They’re a new
community founded in Spain by a wonderful, saintly man, Father Alfonzo Galvez. I’ve
met with him several times.
understands the continuity that is supposed to exist in the life of the Church.
They’ll do whatever Vatican II asks them to do legitimatelywe all know there
are many misinterpretations of Vatican II afootbut they also have an
appreciation for our tradition, including the traditional Latin Mass. They do
not seek the past, but appreciate it as we move dynamically forward. Some think
they are a community that is tightly linked to the traditional Latin Mass. But
it was unknown in their community until the indult allowing greater use of the
Latin Mass came into effect.
They have been warmly
received by many. There are certain people with strong agendas, such as those
in Call to Action, who have made it difficult for them.
Speaking of Call to Action, in 2008 they
placed a full-page open letter in the Wisconsin
State Journal criticizing your leadership.
Bishop Morlino: I pray for people in Call to Action. I
feel badly that they’re committed to what they’re doing as a good. It causes
tremendous division within the Church. And to try to organize the people
against the bishop who is doing nothing but what the Church is teaching is a
harmful thing. It grieves me.
When you arrived in Madison, you wrote in
a column in the Catholic Herald in
which you described the community as having a “high level of comfort and
virtually no public morality.” Can you expand upon this comment?
Bishop Morlino: It was an unfortunate choice of words on
my part. I’ve had a lot of background in philosophy and theology, and it was a
mistake for me to use the technical term “public morality” in the particular
context in which I was speaking.
public morality means an agreed-upon set of moral principles in a local area
and culture that serves as a starting point for the discussion of moral issues.
The United States, for example, has no public morality. We don’t have a set of
agreed-upon moral principles from which we, as a people, can draw conclusions.
Moral reasoning is lost at sea. Different groups come up with different
Madison or the United States does not have a public morality does not mean that
we’re Sodom and Gomorrah (though, in many ways, our culture does appear to be
headed in that direction). It’s simply saying that relativism and secularism
are so deeply embedded in our culture that there is no common moral ground from
which we can begin to move toward a common conclusion.
arguments, but we are unable to dialogue with one another, because the
arguments originate from different frameworks, from different presuppositions. When
I say there is no public morality, I’m saying that there is a dictatorship of
relativism. I’m not saying that people are bad morally. We are divided about
what is right and what is wrong.
What issues in the public square most concern
Bishop Morlino: I’m concerned about life issues. The
current presidential administration has fallen far short of what we would hope
for in terms of the protection of life from conception to natural death. They’ve
also fallen far short in terms of conscience protection, which is essential to
our religious liberty.
The recent rule that
has come out of the Department of Health and Human Services, which states that
provision must be made for contraception as a preventive health service in our
insurance policies, is truly outrageous. As we say so often, pregnancy is not
an illness. To speak about contraception as another health care issue, like
having a chest x-ray, is quite outrageous. We have to stand up strongly against
about immigration. It’s an issue that has become overly emotionalized. We are
capable of finding a way to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35) while
respecting the laws of the United States. It’s not up to bishops or priests to
come up with a formulation of what that law would be; we need great Catholic
legislators to do so.
Who are some Catholics you admire?
Bishop Morlino: There are many. I’ve been blessed with
the opportunity to have met two great saints: Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul.
They show the greatness of what can be accomplished with one’s life. During one
of my meetings with Pope John Paul, he said to me, “If the Pope is afraid, then
the Church is afraid. And the Church must never be afraid.” That’s always very
alive in my mind.
I’m grateful we
have Pope Benedict, who is also unafraid. If you look at the life of Pope
Benedict, and his youthfulness despite his advanced years, it is a tremendous
source of inspiration and strength. When I get tired, I remind myself of all
that Pope Benedict is doing, and he is 20 years older than me. So I say, “Why
am I so tired? Let’s get going.”
I also admire
many married couples I’ve met here in Madison. They have many children, and
stand strongly in support of the Catholic faith. They joyfully make the
tremendous sacrifices that responsible fatherhood and motherhood require.
I admire our
seminarians, who are filled with zeal, joy, and hope. They’re chasing after
holiness in a way that was not what I observed, frankly, when I was in the
seminary in the 70s.
I am daily
inspired and energized with hope as I see the living saints who are right under
my nose here in Madison. It encourages me and makes me feel like doing all that
the Lord has called me to do, whether or not it is pleasant. It has to be done,
in the name of the Lord, in the name of the Kingdom. We’re part of a Church
that doesn’t have the luxury of being a cruise ship. We’re more like a battleship,
fighting against the forces of evil.
What devotions do you recommend to
Catholics to improve their spirituality?
Bishop Morlino: I strongly recommend adoration of the
Blessed Sacrament. It brings us tremendous graces. In our diocese, we have had
one parish that has had perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for 15
years. The difference it makes to the spiritual life of the parish is incalculable.
recommend the daily Rosary. People need to know the way in which our Blessed
Mother leads them to her son. That’s the way to get to know her son as she
knows him. She is all those beautiful titles we use for her in the Litany of
the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as the Ark of the Covenant and the Gate of
Heaven. She is a privileged gateway to knowing Jesus as she knows him. Getting
close to her always means getting closer to Jesus.
priests especially need to be conscious of the Marian dimension of the Church,
and to have Mary as a powerful intercessor and intimate friend. That can come
about with the daily recitation of the Rosary with attention and devotion. I’ve
seen it over and over again, and I’ve seen it in my own life.
intercession of Blessed John Paul is a particular gift to our own generation. It
is wonderful to be able to pray to a saint that we knew in one way or another, even
from a distance. His intercession for us before the Lord will be great in terms
of just looking at the many blessings that he brought upon the whole world with
God’s help during his life.
How has the Church changed during your
Bishop Morlino: I notice that more Catholics are becoming
unafraid to show forth their true identity. Many Catholics have grown much
stronger in giving the kind of witness that the New Evangelization requires of
us. There has been slow, but steady movement in that awareness and conviction
about our true Catholic identity, in which we accept everything that is taught
in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
But, most importantly, we accept it because we
know Jesus in a personal, life-changing way. He brings us to the attitude of
mind and heart where we accept all that the Church teaches us. During my lifetime,
the number of Catholics who take that approach has grown. They give witness to
the world and are faithful missionaries in the New Evangelization.