MADISON, WI, December 14, 2012, (LifeSIteNews.com) – The Catholic bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, has banned employees with a local “spirituality center,” including two nuns, from speaking in his diocese over concerns that they are misrepresenting the Catholic faith and preaching the New Age religion.
Bishop Robert Morlino is well known to pro-life and pro-family activists for his strong defense of the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings, particularly on life and family. He has earned praise from Catholics in the past for cracking down on dissent in his diocese.
A memo from Msgr. James Bartylla, the vicar general of the diocese of Madison, explains that staff from the Wisdom’s Well Interfaith Spirituality Center are no longer permitted “to preach, catechize, lead spiritual or prayer instructions or exercises, or to provide spiritual direction or guidance” at any Catholic institutions in the diocese.
The center is also banned from distributing any of its materials or advertising in the diocese.
The vicar general explained that an examination of the center’s website had raised “grave concerns” that “the center and its members may espouse certain views flowing from New Ageism, panentheism, and indifferentism, and may not share an authentic view of the Catholic Church’s approach to interreligious dialogue.”
Msgr. Bartylla said that these views are often associated with a “spirit of relativism.”
The center says it is “grounded in the Christian tradition,” but embraces “the wisdom found in other religious traditions” and seeks to help others reach contemplation as members of a “sacred Earth community.”
A mission statement on the center’s website says that it “serves to support those who desire to grow spiritually, seek inner wisdom, and yearn for a transformative spirituality.”
The vicar general’s letter named four women who are associated with the center who are banned from speaking in the diocese. One of these is a former employee who has been ordained as a Buddhist priest, but who still offers some of the center’s programs, according to the center’s website. Two of the others, Sr. Maureen McDonnell and Sr. Lynn Lisbeth, are nuns from the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation, a congregation of nuns based in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin.
In a press release, the communications director for the Sinsinawa Dominicans said that the two sisters named in Msgr. Bartylla’s memo “are respected and valued members of the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation.”
“Both women have been dedicated to religious life and preaching and teaching Gospel values for nearly 50 years,” the release stated. “We wholeheartedly support our Sisters and hold them in prayer as we continue our mission of participating in the building of a holy and just Church and society.”
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that, at the time Msgr. Bartylla issued his memo, Sr Maureen McDonnell was co-facilitating a weekly class at a high school titled “Just Peace Initiative: The Challenge and Promise of Nonviolence for Our Time.”
LifeSiteNews readers will remember the Sinsinawa sisters on account of Sr. Donna Quinn, who for years volunteered as an abortion clinic escort near Chicago. After LifeSiteNews broke the story about Sr. Quinn’s involvement with the abortion clinic, the congregation had issued a statement saying that they accept the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life, and that Sr. Quinn would be reprimanded.
Bishop Morlino’s order muzzling Wisdom Well comes in the wake of an investigation by the Vatican into the state of women’s religious in the United States. Earlier this year the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a doctrinal assessment which criticized the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella organization of Catholic nuns, for advocating positions contrary to Catholic teaching on a variety of issues, including on abortion and homosexuality.
The Sinsinawa sisters belong to the LCWR.
In his memo Msgr. Bartylla explained that concerns about Wisdom Well arose after applications were submitted to the diocese to have representatives of the center speak. A speaker’s policy put in place by the diocese in 2010 requires “any speaker under consideration to give a presentation on matters of faith and morals” to be approved by the diocese.
Initially the diocese had approved applications relating to Wisdom Well employees, but with “greater caveats” as “concerns grew,” says Msgr. Bartylla.
Eventually, said the vicar general, his office “directly and formally sought clarification from individuals associated with Wisdom’s Well.”
However, “The responses from these individuals proved insufficient and inconclusive to resolve the grave concerns,” prompting an investigation, and then the ban.
In 2009, Bishop Morlino earned praise as well as criticism for sacking a pastoral associate who advocated dissident liberation and feminist theology after she refused to recant her positions.
In 2006, after becoming aware that certain priests were contradicting Catholic teaching on life and family issues, the bishop instructed all the pastors in the diocese to play a recording of the bishop’s message condemning same-sex “marriage,” embryonic stem-cell research, and the death penalty in the U.S., or “face serious consequences.”