These days as we move closer to Christmas, Robert Morlino, former Jesuit and Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, is acting more and more like a theological Ebenezer Scrooge.

Two Madison women religious who lead an interfaith spirituality center, Wisdom’s Well,  have been banned by Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino. They and two other women connected with Wisdom’s Well are forbidden to hold workshops or provide spiritual direction at any Catholic church in the 11-county diocese.

According to a memo sent to Madison priests, on behalf of Morlino, Sisters Maureen McDonnell and Lynn Lisbeth, both Sinsinawa Dominicans, have diverged too far from Catholic teaching.

The memo says Bishop Morlino has “grave concerns” about the women’s teachings, specifically that they “espouse certain views” flowing from such movements as “New Ageism” and “indifferentism.” More specifically the memo states that Sisters McDonnell and Lisbeth as well as is Beth O’Brien, a married mother of two and Wisdom’s Well staff member and Paula Hirschboeck, a philosophy professor at Edgewood College in Madison, who helped found Wisdom’s Well: “are not to be invited or allowed to preach, catechize, lead spiritual or prayer instructions or exercises, or to provide spiritual direction or guidance at churches, oratories or chapels within the Diocese of Madison.” No publicity materials from Wisdom’s Well are to be allowed inside parishes.

Wisdom’s Well, founded in Madison in 2006, offers workshops and retreats on topics such as nonviolence, contemplative living and Christian meditation. The center’s website says it “serves to support those who desire to grow spiritually, seek inner wisdom, and yearn for a transformative spirituality.” Its mission statement says the center is “grounded in the Christian tradition, while embracing the wisdom found in other religious traditions.”

The Madison Diocese memo does not give specific examples of things the women may have said that violate church teaching. Rather, the memo references problematic statements on the center’s website, including that the sisters embrace “the wisdom found in other religious traditions.” So much for transparency and justice in the church.

When it comes to diverging from Catholic teaching, I have “grave concerns” about Bishop Morlino. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Visitors of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA). For decades SOA has trained military officers from Latin America. Former SOA trained officers have been found guilty of thousands of political killings, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador.


                                                           O come, Thou Key of David, come,
                                                         And open wide our heavenly home.
                                                        Make safe the way that leads on high,
                                                               And close the path to misery.


6 thoughts on “Bishop Robert Morlino Bullies Madison Women

  1. John, on target. I wrote a bit on my blog: “One of the Pope’s bishops in Madison has forbidden his diocese’s parishes and schools to use materials from an area interfaith spirituality center and banned the center’s staff members, including two Catholic sisters, from speaking at any diocesan events because, among other things, they teach a form of prayer called Centering Prayer, a type of contemplative prayer. The formal letter says “contemplative prayer is a charism usually only given to those advanced in the spiritual life, and in the absence of sound spiritual direction accompanied by orthodox doctrine, attempting contemplative prayer can be counterproductive and even seriously harmful”. It seems like the Holy Spirit, if She wants to be in a prayerful relationship with anyone in the diocese of Madison, also has to get the local bishop’s permission. The bishop probably has some sort of a test to determine who is advanced in the spiritual life. Or maybe the bishop objects to the Holy Spirit doing anything with women. There is a lot of that going around in the Roman Church these days.
    It might be that people in “leadership” in the church see themselves as gatekeepers to a relationship with Jesus. Only they can determine who gets to have such a relationship. The word chutzpah comes to mind here.”
    Is there any hope, or just anger and frustration?

  2. Morlino, like altogether too many US bishops have left Christianity behind, infavor of growing their power. So many of them have become bullies. Close to home, we witnessed this in the Maryland area bishops’ absurd opposition to marriage equality. Their tactics included disinformation and threats to supporters of fairness for GLBT people. Fortunately, most Catholics ignored them and voted with traditional Catholic social teaching.
    To learn that Morlino is tight with SOA is simply disgusting.
    My wife recently said the true church is on the verge of going underground. The newspaper piece on the Madison situation said that one of the women was leading a session of Just Church (I think) in a parish, that would have to be relocated. The sponsors declined to identify the new location of the continuing program. My wife was right – the church is going underground. During this wonderful Advent season, it seems more likely that we’ll encounter Jesus there than in our museum-piece church buildings

  3. Isn’t this the same +Morlino who tried to excomunicate the parish & financial councils of 2 parishes when they sought to prevent their new pastor from closing the local Catholic school??
    How is he really accomplishing bringing Christ to his flock with actions like these??
    But he SURE is actively trying to bring about the Papal directive of a “leaner, meaner” Church…

  4. Thank you for thinking of the next generations. As grandmother of nine I often find myself speaking about my lived faith experiences and my reliance on the Holy Spirit as counterpoint to the “religious formulas” they are taught as exclusive ways of faith and paths of discernment.

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