It's not surprising that Madison Bishop Robert Morlino is just livid about news accounts tying Pope Benedict XVI to the protection of pedophile priests in Wisconsin and elsewhere, accounts that have shocked the conscience of people throughout the world.
What's surprising is what Morlino is livid about: not the decades of abuse and cover-ups, all done under the nose of church officials including Pope Benedict, but the fact that this is getting renewed attention.
"[T]he mass media are trying, with every fiber of their being, to make Pope Benedict XVI look guilty," wrote Morlino in a recent column in the Madison Catholic Herald. "Their big line is 'What did the Pope know and when did he know it?'" He said the media are treating the pontiff "like any other politician," as someone who's "probably corrupt."
Morlino, who has ripped Madison's lack of "public morality" while providing cover for a military school whose graduates have killed nuns and priests, accuses those who question the pope's conduct in this scandal of having a devious hidden agenda: "Of course, many see their role as to destroy the Church of Christ, the Catholic Church. They want us out of the way. So, a very good way to attack the Church is to attack the Holy Father himself."
But wait, there's more: Morlino asserts that "the very people who want to make the Holy Father responsible for everything heinous in the sexual misconduct scandal are the least likely to accept the pope's authority in any manner. They are the most disobedient people, in general."
Morlino's comments were offered as an aside in a March 25 column in which he inveighed against another affront to his crimped sensibilities: national health care reform. He claims the bill as passed "continues to force taxpayers to fund abortions" - an outright lie - and lambastes a group of Catholic nuns who dared challenge misstatements on this matter made by the bishops.
The scandal involving Wisconsin, spurred by a recent New York Times article based on newly obtained documents, comes on the heels of fresh revelations about church-assisted sexual abuse in Europe. The facts of the matter, indiscernible from Morlino's column, are these:
In 1996 a Vatican office headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, put the kibosh on attempts by church leaders in Milwaukee to defrock the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who is believed to have molested as many as 200 boys between 1950 and 1974, while assigned to a Milwaukee-area school for the deaf. (Morlino, in another recent statement, minimized Murphy's victim count as "several.")
Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote Ratzinger directly to urge that Murphy be defrocked. When this letter drew no response, he appealed to other Vatican officials, explaining his desire to minimize potential embarrassment to the church.
Then the Rev. Murphy dashed off a letter to Ratzinger, seeking "your kind assistance" in preventing any taint to "the dignity of my priesthood." Ratzinger's office moved to halt the defrocking process; Murphy died in 1998 and was buried in his priestly vestments.
The Times story included a sidebar, co-written by former Capital Times reporter David Callender. It tells how Murphy's victims tried for years to alert church officials to the abuse they endured. But their pleas "fell on the deaf ears of hearing people."
Among the victims is Madison resident Steven Geier, who said he reported the abuse to several priests at his home parish here. This was confirmed by one of the priests, the Rev. Thomas Schroeder, who said he told a nun, who told a nun supervisor at Murphy's school, who did nothing.
"I assumed that if enough people told her, she would finally believe it," said Schroeder, now retired and living at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center on Madison's west side. He apparently did not specify how many people he thought would be "enough."
In other words, while Morlino assailed those who question the church as "disobedient," his own diocese is implicated in allowing the abuse of children to continue.
Geier declined to speak to Isthmus; elsewhere, he's criticized church officials for not acting. David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), is shocked by Morlino's comments.
"It is so hurtful to victims" to hear such dismissive responses, says Clohessy, who was himself molested by a priest as a child. Even if the named targets are media, "victims interpret those kind of harsh remarks as attacks on them."
Clohessy sees Morlino's column as part of a larger church strategy to "shoot the messenger, circle the wagons, minimize the horror and distract the flock." He's especially disgusted by Morlino's claim that the pope's critics are seeking to "destroy the Church," calling this an attempt to "inject political and theological considerations into a criminal matter."
Instead of lashing out defensively, Clohessy thinks church officials "ought to be saying 'thank you' to each and every person who has helped shine a light on this horrific and ongoing scandal."
Will more animals suffer if law is 'strengthened'?
Rick Bogle doubts the UW-Madison paid much attention to the state's animal cruelty statute until last year, when the local Alliance for Animals began questioning the legality of sometimes-fatal decompression experiments involving sheep (see Watchdog, 8/27/09, 9/24/09 and 10/8/09).
Now he thinks UW officials are actively committed to change - not in the experiments but in the law.
Bogle, the Alliance's co-director, points to a recent amendment to a bill meant to strengthen state laws against animal mistreatment. The amendment, offered by the bill's author, Rep. Nick Milnoy (D-Superior), exempts "bona fide experiments carried on for scientific research" from the section requiring that animals be given adequate food and water.
Milnoy tells Isthmus he made this tweak in response to concerns raised by the UW-Madison's representative at a recent hearing. But he doesn't think it changes anything: "There currently are exemptions for scientific research in the state statutes."
That's where it gets dicey. The Alliance argued, and Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard agreed, that the statute's exemption for research pertained only to a more general section on animal cruelty, not the section that prohibits the use of decompression to kill animals.
The same appears true for the section on food and water, meaning Milnoy's bill could provide a research exemption where none currently exists. Does that mean researchers could starve and dehydrate animals? Bogle: "If they wanted to, yes."
While Blanchard felt the sheep experiments violated the law, he opted not to prosecute, calling this an unwise use of his office's resources. The Alliance and the national group PETA have filed a petition urging that the university be prosecuted for the sheep experiments.
A court hearing on this petition was held last week. A written ruling is pending.
The postcard from Madison Gas and Electric is pretty clear. Headlined "Tree-Trimming Notice," it informs homeowners that the utility "will be trimming trees near our power lines in your neighborhood in 2010 to minimize tree-related storm damage and electrical outages." It says further notice will be given "approximately two weeks prior to actual trimming."
Just one thing: This postcard was recently sent even to homeowners on streets that have no above-ground power lines, and hence no need for MGE to come after their trees.
MGE spokesman Steve Kraus calls it a "blanket mailing" that goes out anytime work is planned. "Everybody in an area has to be notified," he says, even those not affected.
Tan free or die!
From Sun Prairie resident Lynn Johnson's letter to the editor in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal: "This [10%] tax on tanning salons [as part of health care reform] is equivalent to the Russians putting up a fence [in Berlin], and the government is waiting to see if the citizens will rally against the members of Congress who voted for this tyranny."