By Kathleen Gilbert

MADISON, Wisconsin, June 23, 2010 ( – Catholics in the diocese of Madison, WI are hitting back at negative media coverage of their bishop after he welcomed priests with the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, a group renowned for their traditionalist liturgy and fidelity to orthodox Catholic teaching. Supporters note that, contrary to the picture painted by dissenting voices in the media, Morlino’s focus on orthodoxy is increasingly popular with Catholic youth – even in the liberal stronghold of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Madison Bishop Robert Morlino, one of the most outspoken advocates for the unborn among the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, has defended the priests against criticism that the move represented a “step backward” and that the priests’ approach is, in the words of one parishioner, “quite different than we have become accustomed to.” Morlino heard parishioners from St. Mary’s Parish in Platteville at an occasionally-heated meeting on Monday.

Despite media coverage focusing on dissenting voices, many were eager to voice support for their bishop – especially among pro-life Catholics.

Peggy Hamill, director of Pro-Life Wisconsin (PLW), indicated that Morlino’s fidelity to Catholic orthodoxy matched his reputation as “a man of integrity, and consistency.”

“Pro-life Wisconsin knows him to have a deep respect for the sacredness of human life which he expects his priests to reflect,” said Hamill. “Bishop Morlino’s selection of new priests for the diocese of Madison is simply consistent with his fostering appreciation for the sacred.”

PLW board member Greg Wagner agreed that “there’s lots of positive” in the diocese’s reaction to Morlino, despite the consistently negative news coverage.

Morlino has been subject to scathing criticism for his adherence to orthodox Catholicism in the past: he met with a strident outcry from liberal Catholics after sacking a pastoral associate who refused to recant her thesis questioning the masculinity of God as well as the authority of male Church hierarchy.

“There’s quite a bit of support here in the Madison diocese, it certainly isn’t all negative,” said Wagner.

In addition, Wagner pointed to the “just phenomenal” Catholic spiritual life at the University of Wisconsin Madison’s St. Paul University Catholic Center, saying that the “youth are getting behind Bishop Morlino.”

“St. Paul has probably become the epitome of what a good Catholic parish would now look like,” he said, with hundreds of students attending daily Mass, and maintaining Eucharistic adoration, Bible studies, and regular attendance at the sacrament of reconciliation – all on what is considered one of the most heavily liberal public research universities in the country.

Scott Hackl, director of development at the St. Paul Catholic Student Center at the University of Wisconsin Madison, expressed support for Bishop Morlino and confirmed that local Catholic youth have increasingly come to support the bishop and his views.

“There’s no doubt that this order of priests is helping to [give] a strong image of what the priesthood is supposed to resemble,” Hackl, 29, told LSN. “Personally, I commend the bishop very much in bringing priests to our diocese.”

Hackl said there was “no question” that Morlino’s zeal for orthodoxy was catching on with Catholic youth in the diocese. In addition, he said, Morlino’s concerted effort to connect with young people in his flock has met with a positive reception.

“What we’ve found is students respond very well to the teachings of the Magisterium. And whether they personally agree with them or not, they still respond very strongly to that versus having more watered-down type of approach that just fuels an atmosphere of … apathy,” he said.

See related coverage:

Bishop: All Priests Must Play Recorded Homily on Life and Family or Suffer “Serious Consequences”

Bishop Nails Pelosi and ‘Catholic’ Groups for Spreading ‘Fog of Confusion’ on ObamaCare