It is important that I set the record straight in response to the multitude of requests I have received to do so.
On Sunday, September 7, while in prayer before Mass, I had a sense that I needed to set aside the homily that I had prepared in order to address the confusion perpetuated by two of our public officials with regard to a most basic conviction of our Catholic and human reason with regard to abortion.
Recently, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made comments regarding Catholic teaching on human life on Meet the Press. After Speaker Pelosi's comments I had remained silent (deliberately so, due to the good responses of so many of my brother bishops) but on that Sunday morning Senator Joe Biden also went on Meet the Press (a very widely watched Sunday morning talk show) and presented confused interpretations of the Church's teachings about abortion, and I could no longer remain silent.
The line between politics and religion
In the first place, if Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden believe in the separation of church and state, these two representatives of our government should not put themselves in the place of the bishops, who are the teachers of the faith.
In the second place, they should know what the teaching of the Catholic Church is. Both are very competent, generous, well-educated public servants and, if they choose to speak about their Catholic faith in a way that reaches a very large national audience, they are obliged to do so with accuracy.
It is simply a fact that both of them failed with regard to this obligation.
My point in the homily that Sunday morning was not so much that they failed, because I can understand that. They failed because the catechesis that they received after the Second Vatican Council left them confused, and they clearly continue to persist in that confusion to this very day - and to hand it on to others on a widespread, national basis.
When Catholic civic leaders do this, what is a bishop to do? It doesn't matter whether the leaders are Republicans or Democrats; the issue is that these leaders are Catholics misrepresenting and confusing the teachings of the Catholic Church to a very large national audience. That is the issue and that was the issue which I sought to address.
Media reports have pictured me as being very critical of Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden. If the homily that I gave were carefully listened to, I think it would be quite clear that I was critical of those who, after the Second Vatican Council, confused Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden about the teaching on conscience and therefore on abortion, and who continue to confuse them to this very day. I specifically mentioned that I don't really blame Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden. That is the first point in setting the record straight.
Language in the media
What has compounded this issue even more, though, and made it necessary to set the record straight, is language many in the media have chosen to use. One particular story described me as an "angry Bishop Morlino" and another one called me "irate." Someone who knows me well and who heard the homily said to me just this morning (with a smile), "Bishop I've seen you irate, and you were definitely not irate when you gave that homily!"
Another account indicated that I had "blasted" Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden. I really didn't "blast" anyone. I was convicted and convinced, but not in a "blasting" mode.
And, again, if anyone was criticized in the homily, it would be those who have caused the confusion of Speaker Pelosi, Senator Biden, and so many good people.
Granted that none of our media representatives were present at that Sunday Mass and were merely working from a recording, the media should be careful to present reality and truth rather than their own perception. The media should be sophisticated enough to make a distinction between being convinced and convicted and being angry and irate.
In this particular case, they have proven that they don't know the difference. This is more than unfortunate, as the perception that they promulgate is taken by so many as reality, which is completely unfair to the bishop and inaccurate in regard to reporting the truth.
My point that day (to my own people, to whom I give my homilies) was that they should be sure that they understand correctly the teaching of the Church and that they should, without fear and with a great deal of love, go out and present that teaching - even if it results in their being less popular, which it certainly would. My point was about Catholic instruction and mission. It was not primarily about politicians or even pro-life.
I haven't seen any media coverage which accurately portrayed what I intended. They present the news in such ways as to stir up resentment and conflict within the Church because, I suppose, that sells copy. They do it at our expense and I am not surprised, but we know what their agenda is.
The Church is apostolic
Through all of this difficulty with the mass media, it has become clear that more than a few Catholics do not understand what it means that the Church is Apostolic.
Not a few are willing to cooperate with demonizing the bishop just the way the media might demonize Senator Barak Obama, or Senator Biden, or Senator John McCain, or Governor Sarah Palin. Stating facts about people in a serene way is not demonizing them. Misrepresenting the facts using inflammatory language, like "angry," "irate," and "blast" is.
Every time we celebrate Mass in the Diocese of Madison, we mention that we celebrate in union with myself, unworthy though I am as the bishop, and with our Holy Father. The Church is Apostolic and that means that the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, have a special gift from the Holy Spirit, unique to them, to teach, and to govern, and to sanctify. This does not mean that the bishop is holier or in any sense better than anyone else.
But if someone who claims to be Catholic wants to be united with Christ, he or she needs to be united with our Holy Father. And, if they are members of the Diocese of Madison and they want to be united with our Holy Father, they need to be united with me, insofar as I teach what the Holy Father and the other bishops teach.
Cooperating, when the bishop is demonized by the press, does not reflect that one looks at the office of bishop with faith - sadly quite the opposite.
Every Sunday we pray that we believe in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." That means we believe in a Church where the apostles and their successors, the bishops, are called to teach and to govern and to sanctify in a unique way.
It is clear to me that an examination of conscience is in order for all of us. I examine my conscience twice a day about many things. But all of us need to examine our conscience about whether we profess, genuinely, honestly, our faith that the Church is apostolic, because it seems clear, as I said, that there is a great misunderstanding of what that means on the part of many people.
Obligation of love
Let me close with a quote from the homily of a brother bishop, that he gave at his recent installation as bishop. He remarked, "This same obligation of love, this officium amoris, is owed to the whole flock entrusted to the bishop's care. This crozier, however, carries a second burden, one which compels the bishop to guide the flock. A prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours (Lent, Evening Prayer, Week I, III, IV), recited by clergy, religious, and many laity, states:
"'Father of all holiness, you gave us Christ as the shepherd of our souls; stay with your shepherds and the flock entrusted to them, do not leave the flock without the loving care of its shepherd, do not leave your shepherds without an obedient flock to follow them.'
"The very Apostolic nature of the Church requires that we remain in the flock," the bishop continued, going on to quote St. Cyprian of North Africa (Unity of the Church 66:8:3; c.255 AD),
'Whoever is not with the bishop is not in the Church. You must understand that it is to no avail that people may beguile themselves with the illusion that whilst they are not at peace with the bishops of God, they may still worm their way in and surreptitiously hold communion with certain people.'
"This sacred duty to guide the flock is necessary for its unity, so that we may all journey together toward salvation."
The Second Vatican Council, if anything, reinforced this teaching about the office of bishop.
Thank you for reading this. God bless each one of you. Praised be Jesus Christ!
Diocese of Madison, The Catholic Herald
Offices and mailing address: Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, 702 S. High Point Rd., Madison, WI 53719
Phone: 608-821-3070 Fax: 608-821-3071 E-Mail: email@example.com