Bishop Morlino of the Madison, WI diocese, passed away Saturday evening last, after a sudden “cardiac event,” shocking traditionally-minded faithful who had flocked to his diocese in recent years.
If, as Archbishop Lefebvre so staunchly maintained, the lifeblood of the Catholic Church is its priests, then Bishop Morlino was a shepherd of the Church who can be admired by all Catholics. When he donned the mitre as Madison’s bishop, enrollment at the local seminary stood at 6 seminarians. Not 6 seminarians in the first-year class – 6 seminarians in the entire seminary. Today, two dozen are receiving priestly formation, with 40 having been ordained during His Excellency’s fifteen years overseeing it – all during the worst abuse scandal to have shaken Holy Mother Church in its history and while vocations are plummeting in Diocesan seminaries.
As the common prayer goes, we do not ask the Lord to grant us priests, or many priests. We beg for “many holy priests”. It goes without saying that quality is preferable in every measure over quantity for those anointed. The bishop molded men into some of the most traditional priests emerging from any diocesan seminary throughout the world. While the seminarians were taught the Novus Ordo Mass – albeit with strong recommendations to celebrate ad orientem – they were also trained in the Traditional Latin Mass with his full support, more than a rarity in today’s Church-wide seminary curricula.
Bishop Morlino himself celebrated the Mass in the “extraordinary rite” and publicly manifested his preference by regularly celebrating a pontifical High Mass, surrounded and served by his local priests and seminarians.
While it is true that he did not mandate the celebration of the Latin Mass in his diocese, he encouraged it, possibly hoping that its fruits would bear in time – an approach far less strong than many traditional Catholics beg for.
Yes, his plan was certainly passive. But he was not passive in defending truth – including the Society of St. Pius X.
In 2002, His Excellency appeared on EWTN Television, after a letter, purportedly from his desk, attacked the SSPX. He courageously “gathered the feathers in the wind,” offering a public apology for the letter, taking ownership of its message, while explaining the words were not his, and in fact, he had struck them from the first draft.
The SSPX does not often publish these sorts of obituaries, but an exception has been made in this case. The hierarchical Church needs more bishops like Bishop Morlino, ready to draw a line against the storm of confusion and innovation still plaguing the Church, ready to humbly apologize and take responsibility for statements released in his name, and acting as much as a leader as one can hope for in the Church. It is through these sorts of men that incremental progress within the Church can be achieved, and the restoration of the Catholic Church can be realized.
May God rest his soul in peace!
[Ed. Note: This article has been updated with more accurate numbers from his time overseeing the Diocese's seminary]