“The Mouth That Roared” – Rocco Palma’s Spot-On Tribute to Bishop Morlino

“The Mouth That Roared” – Rocco Palma’s Spot-On Tribute to Bishop Morlino

The gifted Rocco Palma captures the essence of the Bishop Morlino era:

Even as the US bench is known for its fair share of bomb-throwers, it’s an according shock that the most gleeful and fearless among them has been stilled.

Fifteen years into an ever-controversial stewardship of Wisconsin’s capital fold, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison died late Saturday, three days after an unspecified “cardiac incident.”

A month shy of 72, the Scranton-born ex-Jesuit was, bar none, the American hierarchy’s ultimate provocateur. And just to be fully clear, it was a distinction he didn’t mind one bit.

Assembling a full slate of Morlino’s various skewerings would take the rest of the year, but among others that suffice to tell the tale, there was the Sunday morning homily in the midst of the 2008 campaign that turned into a spontaneous diatribe against Nancy Pelosi; his blast of the liberal anthem “All Are Welcome” as a lie unsuited for liturgical use; the early depiction of his wildly progressive turf’s civic attitude as being “highly comfortable with virtually no public morality”; a Chancery clarification that could’ve been read as denying funeral rites to openly gay Catholics; the warning to graduates earlier this year that “your peers in this generation and so many others are running toward hell with much more enthusiasm and strength than so many mediocre people are running toward heaven”… and to cap it off, a decade-old academic talk that helped lay the groundwork for a Vatican inquest of the US’ religious women.

All told, some would cheer, many would cringe, but the method was simple: to leave no thought unspoken. (That Morlino’s diocesan column was always published with a disclaimer unique among the bench – namely, that his musings were intended solely for his own faithful and no one beyond them – merely reinforced the point… the warning, however, was usually honored more in the breach than the observance.)

A late-life favorite of John Paul II – with whom he bonded over their shared Polish heritage – the bishop once noted privately of how, upon his transfer to Madison in 2003, he was told that “Rome wanted a fighter” in the secularist mecca, and that’s precisely what they got. Absolutely no one agreed with everything he said – he would’ve found that boring – yet whatever one made of it, the tidal waves of reaction only went to prove how he could never be ignored.

Still, the octane level of the quotes in print obscured the piece that made it work – the telling glint in the eye that his bark was far worse than his bite. In other words, even if Morlino’s zingers made it sound like he’d chew your leg off (if not both), in reality, odds were he’d end up cooking you dinner instead… and sitting down to eat in an open shirt, still wearing his apron – then running back and forth to serve everything himself – those meals were something to behold.

The penchant for controversy hid something else, too. Given Madison’s brutal winters, you’d think the day the locals call “Skin Friday” – the end of the first warm spring week – would see the college kids thronged in the streets and down on the lakes, not packed into a downtown adoration chapel at mid-afternoon… but there they were.

You can read the rest of the tribute at Rocco’s blog: Whispers in the Loggia

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