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    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    It's hard being the boss


    Morlino, bishop for 270,000 Catholics in the 11-county Madison diocese, had ordered all parishes to play his strongly worded audio message on Nov. 4 and 5, just days before an election in which all three hot-button topics will be on the state ballot, either directly or indirectly.

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    Voters will decide Tuesday whether to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage and civil unions, and an advisory referendum will ask them whether they think state legislators should reinstate the death penalty. Meanwhile, stem-cell research has been an issue in a close governor's race.

    Morlino warned priests in a letter that any verbal or nonverbal expression of disagreement with him on their part before or after the playing of the audio message "will have to be considered by myself as an act of disobedience, which could have serious consequences."

    For some Catholics, Morlino had gone too far by inserting politics directly into the sanctuary and by slapping a gag order on priests. But others cheered. Finally, they said, a tough- love church leader willing to state the obvious and herd a sometimes wayward flock back into line.

    The decision was not a difficult one for Frank McMahon, although he said it was one he thought he would never have to make.

    As a prerecorded message from Bishop Robert Morlino began playing during Saturday's Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Madison, McMahon, 70, a lifelong Catholic, quietly but purposefully strode to an exit.

    "I could have stayed in there and pretended I was soaking it up, but why be a hypocrite?" said McMahon, as he waited out the 14-minute message from Morlino by gazing at a quilt hanging in the church vestibule.

    A handful of other parishioners also walked out, unwilling to hear Morlino's opposition to three controversial issues - same-sex marriage, the death penalty and embryonic stem-cell research. One read the Bible. One prayed. One dabbed at tears.

    In the taped homily, Morlino never utters the words "election" or "referendum," and he never tells people to vote "yes" or "no." But his message is clear.

    He says residents "have a big challenge right now in Wisconsin" on three issues.

    He says there is no right to redefine marriage, and that "if we admit that there is such a right, that causes the collapse of the family and that causes the collapse of society, in due time."

    On the death penalty, he says life without parole and secure prisons can protect society from criminals. Embryonic stem-cell research is being promoted for commercial interests, Morlino says, not because it has ever led to the cure of a single disease.

    Quoting the Bible, Morlino says that a person who tries to confuse the issues, causing another to sin, "would be better off with a millstone around his neck, tossed into the sea."

    Judy Winter, a Catholic from Platteville, said she was pleased that Morlino had stated so forcefully what is "simple, natural law."

    "I think he has absolutely every right and every duty to speak to the issue because there's been so much confusion," she said, likening Morlino to a corporate CEO who calls in managers and states company policy.

    She attended two church services over the weekend - one in Lancaster and one in Fennimore - and saw no one walk out. Those who walked out at other parishes "obviously are not well-educated in natural, moral law, let alone Catholic teachings," she said.

    However, others have challenged Morlino on Catholic teachings. In an open letter to Morlino printed Thursday in the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times, 50 Catholic families in the Madison diocese said his opposition to civil unions for gay couples "is dangerous and wrong."

    "Jesus told us the most important of his teachings was to 'love one another' with tolerance and understanding being fundamental to the Christian way of life," the ad said.

    The people in the ad seem to think that love means tolerance.

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