Bishop Robert Morlino, Advocate of Catholic Teaching, Dies

by Alex Wasilkoff


On November 24, Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, passed away following a "cardiac event."


The widely-respected Bishop of Madison was initially a Jesuit. He was ordained in 1974 and taught philosophy at several universities, including here at Boston College, as well as at Notre Dame. In 1981, he left the Society of Jesus and was incardinated as a priest of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan. After almost two decades in Kalamazoo, Morlino was consecrated a bishop in 1999. Pope St. John Paul II appointed him to Helena, Montana. Then in 2003, he was moved to the episcopate of Madison.

In a letter from the diocese upon his passing, Morlino’s three priorities were laid out: “to increase the number and quality of the men ordained to the diocesan priesthood; to instill a greater sense of reverence throughout the entire diocese, especially through our worship of God, celebrated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and to challenge Catholic institutions in the diocese to live out their professed faith in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, through their ministry in the secular community.” By all accounts, Bishop Morlino succeeded on all three.


During his 15-year episcopate, he ordained 40 men to priesthood. When Morlino arrived there were six seminarians, and at the time of his death, there are currently 24 seminarians. He also engaged a liturgical revival within his diocese, which includes his support for the traditional Latin Mass. Madison now has 11 parishes regularly celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. In his 2017 Christmas homily, the bishop called for increased reverence during liturgy and specifically encouraged the practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. In addition to increased reverence, Morlino emphasised the role of beauty in the Mass. In an article for the Madison Catholic Herald, he wrote, “[The Mass] must be nothing less than beautiful, reflecting the perfect beauty, unity, truth, and goodness of the object of our worship and adoration Themselves, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”


Bishop Morlino also made evangelization a priority. In 2005, his cathedral was damaged by a fire and needed to be torn down. Rather that build a new cathedral, Morlino realized that the New Evangelisation would be better served by other means. Therefore, he prioritized the construction of St. Paul’s, a new Catholic center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and established many other campus ministry programs. In his evangelical efforts, he was never one to water down the Faith to fit the culture. Morlino was known as one of the most vocal defenders of the Church’s teachings.


This commitment to orthodoxy lead to a few incidents which were not without controversy. Morlino was not afraid to fire diocesan employees who publicly contradicted Church doctrine. In particular, Morlino had been criticized for his outspoken defense of Catholic teaching on gay marriage. His decision in 2017 to disallow funerals for people in public homosexual relationships created a stir at the national level. He responded to such criticism, “I had no intention of creating a stir. I really believe, honestly, that the stir was created when at least certain Catholics had the perception that some priests were not teaching clearly about marriage. [...] I really looked upon this as relieving certain priests of the responsibility to defend marriage if they felt that somehow there was going to be a certain discomfort about this at some level or another.”


During his last few days, Bishop Morlino exhibited a touching moment of pastoral sensitivity and refused to let his office announce that he had been taken to the hospital the day before Thanksgiving. He did not want Thanksgiving celebrations to be marred by concern for him. On Friday, November 23, the vicar-general issued a prayer request for the bishop, and six hours later, he alerted the diocese to the bishop’s death. Bishop Morlino will be remembered as a great shepard, a promoter of vocations, and a defender of the Faith.


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