Sunday, May 5, 2013

Holy Wisdom Monastery Off Limits For Diocese of Madison Wi. Priests and Religious

Holy Wisdom Monastery was finished in 2010 and was awarded the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum award as the most eco friendly new construction in the US.  Of course, caring about the Earth is one the charisms of the Benedictine Women of Madison--amongst other concerns.

 My favorite bishop, Robert Morlino,  is back up to his favorite thing.  After threatening a parish with interdict I wondered when he would get around to Holy Wisdom Monastery which is now infamous for inspiring the words 'going beyond Jesus'.  Those are the words that all trads who think the LCWR are a bunch of pagan New Age priestesses will use with regularity to dis the LCWR.  The words come from the paper Sr Lauri Brinks presented to the LCWR back in 2007.  The very paper for which the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith took serious umbrage and in fact, directly mentioned in it's 'assessment'.  Given all of this, I am truly shocked Bishop Morlino took so long to inform his diocesan priests that Holy Wisdom was off limits.  The following is from the Wisconsin State Journal.

In the Spirit: Holy Wisdom Monastery now off-limits to Catholic priests

Bishop Robert Morlino is continuing to put more distance between the Madison Catholic Diocese and Holy Wisdom Monastery, a former Catholic monastery on the outskirts of Madison that is now a non-Catholic ecumenical retreat center.

In the latest development, Morlino is now prohibiting priests in the diocese from “attendance or participation at all events held at Holy Wisdom Monastery and all events sponsored or co-sponsored by Holy Wisdom Monastery or the Benedictine Women of Madison,” according to a March 7 letter to priests leaked to the State Journal.

A February visit to the monastery by Sister Simone Campbell, an outspoken, progressive Catholic nun, appeared to be the final straw for Morlino. (I bet it was the final straw.  Sr Campbell happens to be the head of NETWORK, a social justice lobby which itself was mentioned by name in the CDF assessment.)

The monastery, in the town of Westport on the northwest side of Lake Mendota, once was a Catholic high school for girls run by Benedictine nuns. After the school closed in 1966, the nuns turned the site into an ecumenical retreat center, offering a place of hospitality to a wide range of people and groups.

In 2000, the monastic Catholic sisters at the site welcomed a Protestant woman to live with them, a move that led them to seek independence from the Catholic Church. The Vatican approved their request in 2006. The monastery is now managed by the Benedictine Women of Madison, an ecumenical community led by Sister Mary David Walgenbach, who is Catholic. (It is a community of exactly three consecrated women.)

Morlino’s action highlights a longstanding beef some Catholics, especially those who are more tradition-minded, have with the monastery. The monastery’s worship services, they say, retain so many elements of a Mass that unsuspecting Catholics could be duped into thinking the services are valid representations of Catholic teaching. This is especially worrisome, they say, because the worship services diverge from church doctrine in profound ways, such as allowing women to preach and embracing the relationships of gay couples. (Well, if these poor unsuspecting Catholics were duped, it wouldn't be a sin anyway and if these Catholics think women are allowed to preach, they can't be good upstanding Catholics and deserve to be duped by some hybrid ecumenical service.  LOL)

“Holy Wisdom Monastery is perhaps best known among local Catholics for substantive rejection of the Catholic faith, so I would think priests or sisters should know they are not sending a good message if they attend events there,” said Elizabeth Durack of Madison, who attends the Cathedral Parish in Downtown Madison and has been vocal in encouraging “faithful Catholics” not to attend activities at the monastery.
The monastery’s worship services, while attended by people from many Christian backgrounds, have become particularly popular among liberal Catholics and those displeased with Morlino. (How utterly unsurprising.)

Morlino, in his letter to priests, said it was his duty “to protect the integrity and unity of the faith.” There “is a grave potential for scandal and confusion among the faithful, owing to Holy Wisdom Monastery’s status as a former Catholic monastery,” he wrote.

Diocesan spokesman Brent King said no single incident or priest precipitated the bishop’s decree; however, King said, publicity surrounding Campbell’s Feb. 14 appearance at the monastery “brought more attention to a Catholic giving an address at a former Catholic monastery” and “added to the ongoing confusion.” (Probably has nothing to do with the fact Sr Campbell has a higher media profile than Bishop Morlino.)

Campbell led the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign last year in opposition to Janesville Congressman Paul Ryan’s federal budget proposal, which she viewed as detrimental to the country’s social safety net. Her February appearance at the monastery was sponsored by the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. (Also probably has nothing to do with the fact Morlino gave cover to Ryan's budget, against the statements of the USCCB, while the Nuns on the Bus did the exact opposite.)

Among those at the event was the Rev. Stephen Umhoefer, pastor of Nativity of Mary Catholic Church in Janesville, who gave the benediction and spoke warmly of Campbell’s work. His parish is part of the Madison diocese, and he is a diocesan priest. He declined comment.

Walgenbach also declined to comment. In the past, she and others at the monastery have said they do not consider themselves less Catholic because of their ecumenism. “The Catholic spirituality is bigger than the Roman Catholic Church,” Walgenbach told me last year.

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When reading the above article I couldn't help but remember a comment of Pope Francis from his Holy Thursday homily:
"Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager ... doesn't put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks," he said.

Bishop Morlino doesn't quite fit the above description because he does go out of his way to placate orthodox Catholics.  In doing so he doesn't need to become an intermediary or a mediator because operating from one end of the Catholic spectrum negates him even having to mediate anything coming from the Vatican.  All he needs to reference is in his head and his head is full of Canon Law and the Catechism.  In this particular case of Holy Wisdom Monastery, there isn't much question the Benedictines of Madison are outside or 'beyond' the catechism and the Vatican itself freed them from Canon Law.  I'm just surprised it took an appearance by Sr Simone Campbell for Bishop Morlino to finally give the word about Holy Wisdom Monastery, but then that would be two strikes against the CDF assessment.  Two strikes and they are out.

I can't help but wonder why it is OK for Pope Francis to conduct services in a detention center but not OK for Madison priests and religious to attend any events at Holy Wisdom Monastery.  I bet I might even find instances in the Madison Diocese where Roman Catholics share service space with other denominations. This kind of thing happens everywhere anymore and no one gets scandalously confused.  Ecumenical services happen in their hundreds on a daily basis, and even Bishop Morlino has no problem with mixing with protestants during political prayer breakfasts and what not.  Of course, I'm not sure those ecumenical political things actually include any Democrats or other kinds of progressive Catholics, but I'm prepared to be wrong.  Which leads me to believe this latest edict is really about LCWR nuns--x LCWR or not-- and their ecumenical services and their politics.  On that, I'm willing to bet I'm not wrong.


  1. Oh how wonderful such a place exists! I was so happy to hear about this, because this is the future. I'd be rather disappointed if the local bishop didn't rain down fire and brimstone upon the place and those uppity women masquerading as authentic preachers and ministers of the word. Inspiring.

  2. I suspect for many people, this is the future. Unless things change drastically elsewhere....ahem.

  3. Does the good bishop know about Barbara Max Hubbard's August workshop at the Holy Wisdom? I'm sure that'll blow his gasket.

  4. That actually could have been part of his gasket blowing, but I personally Sr Simone Campbell was the red flag in front of this particular bull.