Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Now What's Going On In Madison

OK OK, the individual ego does not exist for about a nano second but a person can stay enlightened for about a good ten minutes.

At first I wasn't going to post another Bishop Morlino story, and this particular story has more to do with his Vicar for Clergy than it actually does Morlino.  Granted it was passed on under Morlino's signature, but still it just seemed to be more of the same oh same oh.  And then I read the linked material from NCR's report and just couldn't stop myself from writing.  Here is an excerpt of the NCR article by Joshua McElwee:

Wisconsin bishop bans materials, speakers from interfaith center

By Johsua McElwee - National Catholic Reporter -  12/11/2012
Madison, Wis., Bishop Robert Morlino has forbidden his diocese's parishes and schools from using materials /from an area interfaith spirituality center and banned the center's staff members, including two Catholic /sisters, from speaking at all diocesan events, according to a letter from the diocesan vicar general.

The blanket ban, first reported Tuesday by the Wisconsin State Journal, concerns Wisdom's Well Interfaith Spirituality Center, which provides workshops and overnight retreats for people seeking spiritual direction.
Msgr. James Bartylla, Madison's vicar general, states in a Nov. 27 letter to the diocese's priests that even the center's advertisements for centering prayer are no longer to be distributed on parish property.

"Centering Prayer," Bartylla writes, "is a type of contemplative prayer, yet 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."

The letter, signed by Bartylla on Morlino's behalf, says the diocese's concern with the center is "evidenced mainly from its website" and is centered on fears that the center and its members "may espouse certain views flowing from New Ageism."  The rest of the article can be read here.


 I detect gnosticism coming from the chancery.  How else to understand this sentence:
contemplative prayer is a charism usually only given to those advanced in the spiritual life,  or this part of the same sentence:
attempting contemplative prayer can be counterproductive and even seriously harmful."  Both of these sentiments most certainly imply there are levels of prayer for initiates and that spiritual gurus are needed to proceed, otherwise comtemplative prayer could be seriously harmful. I thought this levels and initiates kind of thinking was associated with gnosticism.  The Church decided real early on that there were no hidden teachings of Jesus reserved for the more advanced.  Maybe Morlino found some, or maybe he's afraid New Agers found some, or maybe he's just losing it.

I do remember watching an EWTN program where one of their collared talking heads started spouting that Centering prayer or other contemplative prayer could open one up to attack by demons.  That was the last EWTN show I ever watched.  I found that kind of suggestion utterly abusive and more than likely to cause great harm to naive suggestible pious Catholics.  The placebo effect can work both for and against people and it can work much stronger when the suggestions are coming from ritual authority figures like EWTN priests.

Centering prayer has been a part of the Christian spiritual tool box for about fifty years and I don't know that I've ever read it harming anyone.  I have read oodles about how it's helped millions of people.  I have read the occasional orthodox cleric such as Msgr Bartylla imply it can harm people--of course, always without any proof.  But then if you actually take the time to read the material on the Diocesan website it's pretty apparent the good monsignor more or less compared the Vatican's document on New Ageism with the website material of the Wisdom's Well Center and hi lighted every place he may have found 'New Age' talking points.  I was shocked, utterly shocked, those words included 'quantum physics'.  Oh my God, I better stop reading any quantum physics, and Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating and and almost every other thing on my bookshelves.  It might be easier just to self excommunicate.  Does anyone know the orthodox ritual for that?



  1. Wow, you and the Pontifical Ones are still fighting over which one Jesus like best. Cute.

  2. I'm sorry, but this is not gnosticism (at least not in any intentional way) and Bishop Morlino isn't losing it. Quite the contrary. It's about control, pure and simple. Without "sound spiritual direction accompanied by orthodox doctrine" the clergy have absolutely no control over the contemplative's experiences. She come up with all kinds of strange and wonderful ideas, and with no one to tell her that the Holy Spirit wouldn't possibly speak without the Pope's permission she may actually believe them. Worst of all, she might actually spread the word that God can actually speak to and work through ordinary laypeople, without mediation from the guys in satin and man-lace. If people start believing that then this Pope's church is done for.

    1. The control issue is the real issue. I just thought it was hugely ironic that the Diocese would use a form of gnosticism as rationale for acting on their control issues. You are quite right, we can't be having mystics operate free of clerical supervision. All one has to do to see the traditional history of this is go back and look at how many of the people involved in Marian apparitions were quickly shunted into monastic convents and placed under clerical spiritual advisors.

    2. You are right Bluebird, it is not about gnosticism and it seems silly that Morlino uses this type of rational. But it is about a man who is a simple bishop loosing it in the fear of lost control. The problem is that many people do believe in centering prayer, they see it as a most powerful, and prayerful part of their life and existence. Most if then are educated enough to understand or attend the seminars. Henry Nouen was one of the figures that helped introduce this type of medication to the "simple" faithful. Many have found the inner power to even question a very bad group of leaders. This is what this and other Bishops see. It is too late, way too late for them to control. They only make the Church look small and in fact it is getting smaller for those that were educated in it. Many are leaving. Many will never return, nor will their families. That does not mean they are not following The Way of Christ (the Way of Christ) was the original name of the Christian Church. It is too bad that the RC Bishops no longer follow in the Way. They follow mammon, power, control, edifices, yes as someone says below. They follow the money!! That is all. How empty.

  3. The Sinsinawa Dominicans have always been a thorn in the side of bishops of Madison. (That's my home diocese and these women taught me through primary school many, many, many, many years ago.)

    They are well educated, articulate, appropriately independent, and just plain NOT what the Ontologically Emasculated ecclesiastics expect a good Catholic woman to be.

    And, they don't bear lots and lots and lots of children, either. (The must be practicing birth control!)

    Jim McCrea

    1. Jim, I also read in the comments to this NCR article that these Dominicans took on Morlino for his active involvement with the School of the Americas, and this is a form of payback. I could certainly buy that reasoning.

  4. Point one : I love the phrase Man-Lace.

    Next point: You know what else is a contemplative practice? The Rosary. Shall we ban that next? When did bishops get stupid?

    Third point: Dominican sisters are a seriously smart bunch. Don't go down a mental dark alley with one or they will mess you up.

    PS there is a problem trying to post comments from the Ipad. I can only type one character of the captcha then I'm locked out. Thought you would want to know.

    1. Your comment on The Rosary being contemplative. This is true when it is done correctly. But I suspect that to the 'simple bishop' it is little more than repetitive words and a fingering of the beads for his simple faithful. No risk of inadequate spiritual direction this way.

    2. SUE B: Blogger is having issues because I am having difficulty posting articles. I hope they get their issues fixed. I think Morlino's agenda is something entirely and this poorly done hatchet job is proof of another agenda.

  5. I have heard of pseudo-science from the Creationists on the right but not pseudo-theology by Msgr Bartylla and EWTN among extreme daft on the right.

    My guess looking at the age of the good sisters is that they cater to a older and probably well healed group of Catholics whom I think Morlino would be fearful of being drained away from his plans to build a new $65 million dollar cathedral jacked up in the end with loans from the K Of C and in the end costing the faithful left in the Madison Diocese with shoddy construction and a $200 million real cost price tag. It has been done before elsewhere in the U.S.. Tried and true bishop scams are always the best and easiest to explain to the bureaucracy in Rome.

    Follow the money.

  6. Colleen, those statements about contemplative prayer caught my eye, too. I think you're right to hear echoes of gnosticism in Bartylla's suggestion.

    I also hear a crude kind of branding, which says that only Catholics have the real prayer brand--and only Catholics wearing collars know how to assess the quality of the brand. And if you depart from the control of the collar, you may open yourself to demonic deception by an evil brand . . . .

    It's all rather crude and I suspect it has a lot to do with the alliance of Catholics and the evangelical religious right, where this kind of chatter about centering prayer and contemplative prayer and Zen and yoga has been dominant for some years now.

    1. I like the concept of 'evil brand'. I also think this latest Morlino tantrum is all deception and misdirection.

  7. "Both of these sentiments most certainly imply there are levels of prayer for initiates and that spiritual gurus are needed to proceed, otherwise comtemplative prayer could be seriously harmful. I thought this levels and initiates kind of thinking was associated with gnosticism. The Church decided real early on that there were no hidden teachings of Jesus reserved for the more advanced. Maybe Morlino found some, or maybe he's afraid New Agers found some, or maybe he's just losing it."

    ## It may be of interest that this approach is in fact far from new in the CC - the distinction between kinds of prayer is a commonplace in Catholic accounts of mystical prayer.

    This is not the same issue as the insistence of people like St. Irenaeus that there was no "secret doctrine" for some Catholics, that did not exist for others. Such a distinction would mean there were two Catholicisms, two Christianities, two Faiths.

    But, there *is* a difference: not in the doctrine taught, but in the people taught it - in its receipients. An everyday example: a child, a seminarian, and a theology professor may all be Catholic; but no one would teach a six-year old about Just War theory or the theology of marriage or the fine detail of the theology of the Incarnation. That would be daft pastoral practice, and daft pedagogy.

    Instead, people are taught according to what they able to receive: a seminarian should be able to understand things about the Church's faith a child cannot. So with mystical theology: it is all one thing, but it is varied by the degree of spiritual growth, & sensitivity to God's Will, & growth in likeness to Christ of the individual. So some can receive more than others.

    All Catholics are called to be holy as Christ is Holy, but not everyone is called to be a St. Teresa of Avila. She was able to receive what she did, because she had come to be the sort of person who could do so. That is not Gnosticism.

    1. I can concede most of your point Rat, but this entire message from Morlino included much more than centering prayer and other contemplative practices. In the main the letter sent to priests equated most of the practices used by the Center as occult or tinged with the occult. Which brings up the whole demon/satan thing and doorways to that realm like Yoga and TM and centering prayer and with the magic word occult, fear fear fear fear.

      The whole idea of a special charism of comtemplative prayer is unique. Granted some people are better at it than others, but a charism? I'm not inclined to see it that way.

      Pyschic or mystical talent is a horse of a different color, but even then, the issue is more about the strength of one's personal sanity quotient than ability to engage in contemplative prayer. In this area, Fr Euteneur is exhibit # one of someone who did not have the sanity quotient to operate in this area, and people paid the price. He most certainly thought he had the prayer holiness thing down, but that's not the whole issue. He didn't have the sanity thing down.

  8. The Church has been trying to chase this thing down at least since the 13th century! They used the same suppressing techniques with the Beguines - if we just delegitimize them, they will disappear soon enough. The last I heard, the last Beguine died about 20 or 30 years ago and their have been new lay movements consciously along the lines of Beguinages popping up throughout all that time even up to now. No sooner do they delegitimize one than seven others pop up almost like dandelions! To me, it is a sign of the fervancy of the faithful. The Vatican's suppressing approach to unwrit spiritual effervescence is about as successful as the so called "war on drugs". The Vatican can pontificate all it wants but the reality is as Galileo said "Still She Spins..."

    Centering Prayer is a very practical prayer discipline flowing out of the best of the Benedictine tradition. There is nothing esoteric or occultish about centering prayer. It's method derives from none other than Lectio Divina and the Divine Office... There is no need for clerical supervision with centering prayer - though I wouldn't say that spiritual direction wouldn't be helpful along the path by a long shot... Benedict wrote the rule for beginners. Benedictinism started as a lay movement. Correction! The official Church has been trying to chase this thing down since the 6th century. And Still - She Spins...