Morlino and Platteville
Against perhaps my better judgment, I am going to write about the situation in Platteville.
The situation began like all these situations do with the transfers of priests. For whatever reason, we don’t place priests in parishes and let them die in those parishes. It varies, but the norm I’m familiar with is that priests serve a parish for 4-year terms and typically serve up to two terms. This is contrary to the Canonical ideal, but such may be modified per local custom, which it has in the US. As a result of this and abuses that occurred in the past, there is significant concern about misappropriating parish funds to the diocese or someone’s pet project whenever a change occurs.
So when I was told the concerns about what was going to happen in Platteville, I blew it off. Yes, there was an order that was being assigned parish responsibilities, which was different but not unusual. There was talk that they weren’t in communion with the Vatican which I told the person at the time was just nonsense. I hadn’t heard of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, but then again my ignorance is unbounded; there are many religious orders for which I’m unaware. I was told they were more traditionalist minded. I didn’t think it would be a big issue. No matter what people’s initial prejudices are, they generally try to get along once they are together. Again, I kind of blew the whole thing off.
Then I saw Father Z. The catholics, oops I meant catholycs®, in Platteville are on Father Z’s naughty list. The comment boxes were filled with their usual bile. I guess neither of these are particularly exceptional. Do not fear, I did appreciate the irony of those that have distinguished themselves at being insufferable in most any social circumstance commenting upon the accommodation skills of others. These are the folks after all who assured the world that they knew the heart of the typical catholyc who was just waiting and ready to flock to the Latin mass once it was unleashed. It turns out that like many victims, the feeling of victimization didn’t turn them into empathetic creatures but rather petty tyrants waiting to get their revenge. But as entertaining as the dissonance is, this isn’t really about them.
We should however get a few things corrected in the narrative. Platteville is in the Diocese of Madison. Now that the highway is completed, it is an hour and twenty minutes from Madison. The closest city to Platteville of any size is Dubuque, at 40 minutes with 60,000 people. To put this in perspective for outsiders, people don’t get the ideological lay of the land before choosing a parish. Platteville is a city of 10,000 in a county of 50,000. When I was growing up, Platteville had the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd stop lights erected in the county. St. Augustine’s is a very small church that serves the university of about 5000 students. St. Mary’s is a very large church that serves Platteville. Despite growing up in Platteville, I have no memory of ever going into St. Augustine’s. While there is certainly some intermingling, the university and the city are generally separate. Those attempting to claim St. Mary’s is some bastion of progressivism are just parading their ignorance. While it is possible to have an ideological parish where people don’t self-segregate, it is very difficult to have a large ideological parish where people don’t self-segregate. In plain English, you typically only see ideological parishes in metropolitan areas or very small parishes.
So what went wrong here? Well, typically orders get one of two types of parishes: 1) rural parishes and “specialized” populations where constraints with diocesan personnel may cause a population to go under-served and 2) urban parishes whose populations have changed but whose expenses haven’t. In other words, they typically get places where their ability to draw revenues and support from other areas is needed. St. Mary’s wasn’t in that situation. One would expect the wailing and gnashing of teeth would be coming from St. Augustine’s if this was an ideological issue considering that St. Augustine’s is the one that serves the university population. St. Mary’s isn’t a place that is grateful to just to get a pastor. When I was growing up, St. Augustine’s and St Mary’s were organizationally separate and had separate priests. At one time, I think St. Mary’s might have had two priests. This isn’t Podunk, no offense intended for the residents of that fine city.
Everyone wants to talk about the bishop’s rights. No one has questioned his rights. What’s been questioned is his prudence. And quite frankly it has all the markings of a ham handed decision. The putative justification was that Platteville is an education town with its own parish school and a university. Well, the university has a relatively local and definitely regional draw. One of the bigger programs is engineering. Those looking for a Catholic experience (or is it catholyc?) go to Clarke or Loras in Dubuque or Edgewood in Madison. That’s nothing against the UW-Platteville students. It just isn’t a large population of liberal arts majors (they don’t even have a conservative arts program) far from home. Perhaps St. Augustine’s will become a nexus of vocations, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing by any means if it did. But that doesn’t have anything to do with St. Mary’s except in the case where Madison has chosen to treat them as one and the same.
Even this could have been overcome if there had been a reservoir of good will. Would it shock anyone if I told them that predating Morlino, southwest WI was considered a backwater of the diocese, only to be consulted when money was wanted or Madison felt like doing something important? I can’t comment too much about Morlino’s reign, but I can say that adding how to vote to the list didn’t inspire love in the parishes in that part of the state. I could be wrong on the matter, but I think we saw a bishop in the area once in a five-year period. Perhaps with the completed highway that has changed a little bit. I didn’t see a bishop at my confirmation. The first time I saw a bishop was when I was an adult. I did see a story that Bishop Morlino had the graces to appear to deal with the uproar after his decision. I’m not being sarcastic. He could have very easily left it to some lesser official to deal with.
After the new pastor installed his own person as principal of the school rather than a person who had already received an informal job offer – and let’s be clear, no one from the diocese has in any way disparaged the candidate originally offered the position – I think it was apparent to everyone involved that consultation meant imposition. And while people want to talk about the people making public statements and treat them as representative of the whole, there is the not so insignificant matter that 3 months after the fact, weekly parish giving is down from $10,000 to $5,000. If we treat typically giving per parish unit as $20/week – a disputable but reasonable figure – we are talking about 250 parish units not giving. Three months is pretty sustained. Most protests don’t last longer than a month. Most protests don’t enjoy the breadth of half the sustaining dollars. At some point, the adults are going to have to start dealing with reality. At some point, someone is going to have to politely break the cocoon of Bishop Morlino that the problem isn’t just some rascally liberals – although there should be no doubt that some of them are part of the problem.
With a $200,000 deficit, it seems like a given at this point the parish school is going to close. They’ll probably find a way to keep it open the rest of the year, but it is hardly a given. It appears from reading around the Internet that Bishop Morlino is playing the martyr card in this case. Some of you will probably just dismiss this as the author not getting what he wants. The problem with that is that I’m not concerned with what happens in Platteville. I left the diocese of Madison a decade ago. If these priests were to come into my parish, I would probably welcome them. I enjoy the TLM even though I don’t frequent it. It isn’t about what I want though. It is about serving the needs of the parishioners in Platteville. This isn’t doing it. A lot of the damage is probably permanent at this point. It certainly isn’t a situation worth celebrating.