Doug Erickson of the Wisconsin State Journal (WSJ) recently contacted me for a “faithful Catholic” view of Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.
His article can be found at Holy Wisdom Monastery provides church services for disaffected local Catholics.
Doug’s WSJ article discusses the membership and philosophy of the Holy Wisdom group in some detail, but relegates input from real Catholics, including from the Diocese of Madison (quoting space limitations), to a last paragraph entitled “detractors.”
For the sake of accuracy, the Diocese’s complete statement and my complete statement to the WSJ are provided here:
Diocese of Madison’s clarification: click here for PDF statement.
My complete statement:
About 335 people are members of the weekly Sunday congregation at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, a community of Benedictine sisters. More than half are estimated to be disaffected Catholics who’ve left parishes in the Madison diocese over disagreements with Catholic Church doctrine in general or Bishop Morlino specifically.
The service is called a “Sunday Assembly with Eucharist.” It used to be a Catholic Mass, and still is structured like one, but the sisters are no longer under the jurisdiction of the diocese (as of 2006). Consequently, it is an ecumenical service where women preach and distribute the communion bread and wine. The language is “inclusive,” with no gender-specific references to God. Same-sex relationships are celebrated and same-sex marriage advocated.
1.) Have you heard of the service and, if so, what are your thoughts about it?
2.) Many of the people who worship there still call themselves Catholics, despite disagreeing with the Church on issues such as birth control, abortion, same-sex marriage and female priests. In your opinion, are they Catholics? Why or why not?
3.) As someone who supports the bishop and Church doctrine in general, does it bother you when hear about parishioners who leave their parishes for these types of reasons?
Benedictines of Middleton
Thanks, Doug, for your questions. I welcome the opportunity to answer them.
The faithful Catholics of Madison who are aware of the existence of the community you mention, Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, are aware that it has departed from the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Morlino and Pope Benedict graciously granted the nuns’ petition to abandon their Catholic identity in 2006, and wished them well in their ecumenical efforts. They are no longer Catholic Benedictine sisters. One of their three members is Presbyterian, and they are no longer a Catholic religious order. Perhaps a more appropriate name for them would be Ecumenical Women of Madison to avoid confusion.
The fact that these three ladies retained the name “Benedictine” (Benedictine Women of Madison) does seem to invite confusion. St. Benedict placed great emphasis on obedience to one’s superiors within the community of the Catholic Church. Under the Rule of Benedict, “unhesitating obedience” is required as the first degree, or step, of humility. The members of Holy Wisdom specifically chose to remove themselves from accountability to lawful authority in the Catholic Church.
I was not aware that these women, after petitioning the Vatican for dispensation from their religious vows and after departing from Catholic teaching, still call themselves Catholics, or that their followers call themselves Catholics. Since they dispute Catholic teaching on the topics you mentioned—birth control, abortion, same-sex marriage, and female priests—one would not expect them to cling to the name Catholic. And as you correctly mentioned, the prayer service they perform is not the Mass, so faithful Catholics would have no reason to participate with them on Sunday.
Through the centuries, many groups have departed from the Catholic Church. In some cases, dissenting groups considered themselves the authentic continuation of the true Catholic Church and were not eager to coin a new name for themselves, but over time each group got some new name that was useful in identifying them.
You might find it interesting that just a few miles from Holy Wisdom Monastery (directly west of Waunakee), you can find an old public school with signs proclaiming “St. Therese Chapel, Latin Mass.” This little community belongs to a group called the Society of St. Pius X. They left communion with the Catholic Church because they believe that the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) made the Church too liberal. They say that the Church of Pope Benedict and Bishop Morlino has become so liberal since Vatican II that it has lost its identity, and that they (the Society of Pius X) are the real Catholic Church.
At Holy Wisdom Monastery, another little group says that Pope Benedict and Bishop Morlino have too conservative an interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and they (at Holy Wisdom) are the real Catholics of the Church that was reformed at the Second Vatican Council.
Guess which of these three groups (the Catholic Church of Pope Benedict and Bishop Morlino, the Society of Pius X, and Holy Wisdom
Monastery) is going to be around a hundred years from now.
The Gospels make it very clear that the Lord Jesus greatly valued unity among His followers. That’s an important part of why He gave authority to Peter and the other Apostles, whose successors are the pope and the bishops of the world in communion with him. Without authority, you get tens of thousands of denominations with competing doctrines – that is the Protestant experience.
Perhaps even more than unity, Catholics value the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, which we believe to be outward signs through which the Risen Life of Jesus Christ comes to dwell in us, to recreate us in His image. It is really amazing that a group that still calls itself Catholic would be willing to accept a “Sunday Assembly” as a substitute for the Mass.
It is my experience, and the experience of a billion Catholics worldwide, that the Sacraments, the teachings and the discipline of the Catholic Church produces a great deal of good fruit in the lives of individuals, families and the larger community. Catholics are good people. The doctrine of the Catholic Church steers people to a wholesome and happy life. Catholics serve the world with churches, charities, universities, hospitals and orphanages. If the Catholic Church did not bring peace, joy and serenity into the lives a great many people, it would not have lasted this long nor grown this large.
Abortion and the gay lifestyle both lead to numerous medical, psychological and emotional disorders. Many forms of birth control are abortifacient and lead to the same problems as abortion does. Female priests deprive the faithful of the Eucharist, providing them with bread instead.
Abortion- a Much Bigger Deal Than You Think!
Church has no authority to ordain women.
Also Catholic Answers.
So when my fellow Catholics begin to discard the teachings of the Church, I grieve for them. They are headed for mistakes and for pain that could have been avoided. I pray for them, for their return to wisdom. I do not try to label them. Does it matter whether they are errant Catholics or not Catholics? No matter what we label them, the laws of right and wrong and of morality still stand, and they and others will suffer from the mistakes that they make.
Disaffected Catholics are free to leave and to start their own churches. Sounds like that’s what the Holy Wisdom group has done. It is, however, important, that they do not misrepresent Catholic Church teaching, confusing those who are interested in following the Catholic Church. The ecumenical women of Holy Wisdom Monastery must make clear that their teachings are not Catholic.
UW would not tolerate professors who teach fallacious math or physics, and medical schools would not graduate doctors who poison people instead of healing people. The Catholic Church cannot allow misrepresentation of her doctrine, either. It is unfair of the Holy Wisdom group to misrepresent themselves as Catholics if they are doing so.
It is important to make one more point. The Diocese of Madison contains 275,000 Catholics, most of whom are faithful. We also have the previous (now retired) Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Federation (head of all the Benedictines in the world) in residence in our Diocese. His name is Abbot Marcel Rooney, he was born in the midwest, and he is now teaching advanced courses on the Sacred Liturgy at the Bishop O’Connor Center in Madison, which are open to everyone.
It may be more interesting and more newsworthy to report on these interesting and faithful Catholics of Madison, and on the real Benedictines, rather than reporting on the dissident 170 (0.06 of 1% of Madison Diocese Catholics, or one of 1,600 Catholics), or on two elderly women who have rescinded their Benedictine vows and have joined up with one female Presbyterian minister in trying to create an alternative to the Catholic Mass, an alternative which deprives the congregation of the Eucharist.
Hope you can put the Holy Wisdom Monastery group into perspective in your article, and that people are not misled into thinking that the Holy Wisdom group represents Catholics.