Action Alert!

no defense intended

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 18, 2009

OK, so why did Madison's Bishop Robert Morlino pick a PR fight he will certainly lose, and which he must have known at the outset he would certainly lose? Well folks, you won't find out from the NCR article.

Headlined, "Wisconsin parish worker fired for feminist views: Allowed no opportunity for defense nor to face accusers," Mike Sweitzer-Beckman's piece tells the story of Ruth Kolpack, long-time pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Beloit, who was just minding her own business when Morlino called her in and fired her.

Kolpack said that when she met with her bishop she was given no opportunity to defend herself, nor did she have a chance to face or respond to those who had accused her.

When she met with Morlino, he stated that her views on the teachings of Jesus were "off base," according to Kolpack. She also said he informed her that he had not read her thesis in its entirety, only "bits and pieces."

She said that during the meeting he asked her to denounce the thesis, make a profession of faith, and take an oath of loyalty in order to remain as a pastoral associate at the parish.

She said she could not refute the thesis in good conscience, that to do so would risk her reputation as a scholar and academician.

How about a little reality therapy?

  • 1. Kolpack's contention that she was not allowed to defend herself is refuted by her claim that Morlino was prepared to let her keep her job if she professed Catholic doctrine. That's to say, if she was falsely accused of heterodoxy, she could have cleared things up to everybody's satisfaction by a profession of faith.
  • 2. Kolpack's "accusers" are likely to be CCD students who came home from her classes with ideas distressing to their parents. Does she really think those eleven or twelve-year-olds should be brought in to confront her?
  • 3. Morlino is obliquely criticized for using Kolpack's Master's thesis as a gauge of her convictions.  But Kolpack denied the accusations of heterodoxy.  Well, child-abusing priests characteristically deny the accusations of abuse.  So should a bishop throw up his hands, call it a stalemate, and go home?  No, he looks further for impartial testimony.  In this case, Morlino was able to refer to an objective and undeniable record of Kolpack's opinions: her own writing.
  • 4. Morlino has a doctorate in moral theology from Rome's Gregorian University. While he might well have asked Kolpack to recant her thesis, he would not have asked her to "denounce" it (which is subliterate) or to "refute" it (which is absurd).
  • 5. Kolpack claims that a recantation would put at risk "her reputation as a scholar and academician." What reputation? A Google search draws a total blank. The fact that she calls herself an academician rather than an academic (which is what she meant) proves that she is neither. There's nothing wrong with that, but as a motive for her refusal to renounce heresy it's far-fetched to the point of disingenuousness.

The Diocese of Madison is not giving details about the firing, claiming that its personnel policy prohibits going into specifics and that doing so would prejudice Kolpack's good name. This is obviously two-edged. The dismissed person's good name is protected by non-mention of the actual failings on which the firing was based, but made vulnerable by public speculation as to imagined failings that played no part in it. Journalists, however, are free to question anyone they wish, and it's remarkable that the NCR's man failed to ask, or report, which of her opinions Kolpack herself believed controversial.

If Kolpack was as universally esteemed as the NCR makes her out to be (no person favorable to her dismissal was interviewed), why was she dimed-out in the first place? Well, there are such things as parish busy-bodies, and misunderstandings often occur, so why not put to her the obvious hot-button questions: does Kolpack accept or does she not accept Church teaching on abortion, contraception, divorce, sexual morality, women priests? If she supports the doctrine, then there's simply a communications problem. And if she doesn't, then it's not at all clear how Morlino is at fault.

To some Catholics, after all, it matters whether or not the Church is right about what she teaches -- in fact it matters more than whether the person who conveys the teaching is lovable or not -- and the same Church insists Catholics deserve sound teaching as a right, not as a favor bestowed according to the whim of their pastors. Morlino has defended this right.
That the problem had to be addressed by the bishop in the first place is lamentable. Back to the NCR story:

A news release issued by Kolpack supporters stated that over the past three years, Madison diocese officials received “several accusations” against Kolpack. It added that last January, Fr. Steve Kortendick, pastor of St. Thomas and St. Jude parishes in Beloit, met with Morlino about those accusations. Since then, the release said, Kortendick and the diocesan chancellor, Kevin Phelan, had met in an unsuccessful effort to find a "positive resolution."

If the Catholic principle of subsidiarity were taken seriously, the pastor would have dealt with Kolpack himself. Either he shares Kolpack's theology or lacks the nerve to confront it, so the buck gets passed upstairs to the bishop, and Call To Action and the NCR get into the act.

There are few more thankless tasks than coming to the defense of Church teaching. The defender is invariably painted in the colors of the Grand Inquisitor, and every heretic is a Galileo. With Call To Action pushing and the media pulling, public sympathies will naturally favor Kolpack over Morlino. Happily, this bishop isn't afraid of being the Bad Guy when doctrine is at stake.

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