By Kathleen Gilbert

MADISON, Wisconsin, March 18, 2009 ( – Bishop Morlino, who has come under fire in the past for proclaiming Catholic Church teaching on life and family, is again facing the ire of liberal Catholics.  This time, the Madison bishop is facing protests for sacking a pastoral associate who advocates dissident liberation and feminist theology.

Ruth Kolpack, who has served as pastoral associate at St. Thomas parish since 1995, was dismissed by the bishop on Thursday after she refused to recant a 2003 Master’s degree thesis extolling the use of female pronouns in describing God, and questioning obedience to Church hierarchy.

“I’m concerned about women, about young girls, who grow up in a patriarchal, male-dominated society. What does it do to their self-esteem?” said Kolpack in defense of her thesis after the firing.

Prior to her dismissal, the bishop told Kolpack she could agree to denounce her thesis, make a profession of faith, and take an oath of loyalty in order to keep her post at St. Thomas. She said she would agree to the last two conditions, but would not denounce the thesis.  Call to Action, a dissident Catholic group backing Kolpack, stated in a news release that such a move would be “not true to her work” and “risk her reputation as a scholar and academician.”

While unwilling to get into details, the bishop told protesters that the thesis wasn’t the only issue, as he had found her overall teaching mentality “troublesome” as well.  Kolpack participated in diocesan educational programs.

Brent M. King, director of communications of the Diocese of Madison , explained in response to a National Catholic Reporter query that church personnel “must uphold the faith and morals of the church … through what they publicly teach and claim to believe, what they associate themselves with, and by their actions.”

Call to Action, America’s leading dissident Catholic group and famed for its rejection of the Church’s teaching on life and family, reportedly urged its constituents to write to the Papal Nuncio to condemn Morlino.  On Saturday, a group of about 45 people holding placards in protest of the firing awaited Bishop Morlino, who invited the heckling crowd to discuss the matter later that day.   

The latest battle markes a long-standing feud between Bishop Morlino, who has earned a reputation for outspokenness on orthodox Catholic teaching, and a group of liberal Catholic laypeople and clergy in Madison. 

For example, in 2006, after becoming aware of certain priests contradicting Church teaching on life and family issues, Morlino 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.  The move reportedly had some priests in the diocese “furious at what they see as a threat.” 

In a 2007 confrontation with the bishop instigated by Call to Action members, prominent Catholic commentator Fr. John Zuhlsdorf noted that the attack was “probably coming mostly from pro-abortion Catholics.”

On the recent spat, Thomas Peters of the popular American Papist blog observed that while the bishop expressed a willingness to discuss the matter, “The reaction of these Madison dissenters, however, is to blow up and plan mass protests. …  which makes me think that this is all they really wanted to do in the first place.”