Morlino funeral is Dec. 4; Bartylla elected to run Diocese until new bishop is selected

November 27, 2018

Two key decisions were made at the Catholic Diocese of Madison during the first working day since Bishop Robert J. Morlino’s death -- electing Monsignor James Bartylla to run the Diocese until a new bishop is selected and scheduling Morlino’s funeral mass for Dec. 4 at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church.

A group of nine priests who make up the Diocese’s College of Consultors voted unanimously Monday to elect Bartylla, the vicar general for the Diocese, as the diocesan administrator effective immediately, the Diocese announced. Prior to his appointment as vicar general, which is essentially the second-in-command job at the Diocese, Bartylla was the Diocese’s vocations director and Master of Ceremonies to the bishop.

Morlino died Saturday at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison following what the Diocese described as a “cardiac event” last Wednesday. Morlino, who was 71, had been the bishop for the Diocese since 2003.

Bartylla’s election as the interim bishop is the starting point of a long process to select a new bishop that ends with the pope making the choice. That choice will likely create big changes for the Diocese because Pope Francis has made it a priority to select bishops who are eager to carry forward his mission, according to the head of a Canadian-based Catholic media group.

“The present pope has a real direct handle on all of this,” said Father Thomas M. Rosica, the chief executive officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada.

That is not good news for conservative Catholics who like the current vision for the Diocese created by Morlino that is based on traditional Catholic values. Morlino was often critical of the direction the more liberal Pope Francis was heading the Catholic Church. “I don’t think the new bishop will differ from Pope Francis’ vision,” Rosica said. “Pope Francis has offered a very positive type of vision. It invites pastors who are close to the people and aren’t out doing their own thing.”

It usually takes a year before the selection process is completed but a number of factors can stretch the process to two years, according to Rosica. The controversy the Catholic Church in the U.S. is dealing with from investigations across the country into decades of child sex abuse by priests could end up being one of those factors.

“They aren’t moving very quickly right now because the bishops of the United States are going through their own challenges right now,” Rosica said. “But I would think a priority would be given to the Diocese and they will take all kinds of things into consideration.”

The next step in the process is for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to assess the needs of the diocese through questionnaires, according to Rosica. At a later stage, potential candidates surface and recommendations are made by the archidiocese and sent to the Apostolic Nuncio, which is the Holy See’s ambassador to the United States..

After conducting investigations and interviews, the Apostolic Nuncio sends a list of three candidates for the Congregation for Bishops, an administrative body for the Holy See that oversees the selection of bishops. Besides the pope, the other key players in the selection process are the U.S. members on the Congregation of Bishops -- Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich and Washington D.C. Archbishop Emeritus Donald Wuerl. “They meet with the pope. They can talk to him about it,” Rosica said.

But what role Wuerl can play is up in the air. He was forced to resign as the Washington D.C. archbishop after he was accused of mishandling priest sexual misconduct cases as a bishop in Pennsylvania. Some believe he should be kicked off the Congregation for Bishops and other influential posts he still holds.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki will preside over Morlino’s funeral mass and Bartylla will deliver the homily, the Diocese announced. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. on Nov. 4 at St. Maria Goretti, 5313 Flad Ave., on Madison’s Southwest Side and the funeral mass will begin at 11 a.m. Interment will take place at Resurrection Cemetery, 2705 Regent St, immediately following the funeral mass.

Sioux Falls Diocese Bishop Paul Swain, who has strong ties to the Madison Diocese, will lead the prayer vigil for Morlino next Monday at the O’Donnell Chapel at Holy Name Heights, 702 S. High Point Rd., from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Solemn Vespers will follow.

Swain worked for Morlino and his predecessor, Bishop William Bullock, at the Diocese and eventually became vicar general before he was selected by Pope Benedict XVI as bishop for the Sioux Falls Diocese in 2006. Prior to his ordination as a priest in 1988, Swain was legal counsel for Wisconsin Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus. He chose to join the priesthood after Dreyfus decided not to run for re-election and his four-year term ended in 1983.

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