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July 17, 2003 Edition

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Notes from Msgr. Swain
Eye on the Capitol

Installation draws near: Anticipation grows

photo of Msgr. Paul J. Swain
Notes from 
Msgr. Swain 

Msgr. Paul J. Swain 

It is with great anticipation and enthusiasm that we await the installation of Bishop Robert C. Morlino as the fourth Bishop of Madison at St. Raphael Cathedral.

It will begin with Solemn Vespers and Reception of the Bishop in His Cathedral Church on Thursday evening, July 31. On Friday afternoon, Aug. 1, at a Celebration of the Eucharist, he will take canonical possession of the diocese.

The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, will read the official appointment letter from Pope John Paul II. Bishop Morlino will then take his place in the Cathedral, the chair of the Bishop, for the first time.

As part of the installation liturgy, representatives from the following groups in the diocese will be presented to the Bishop: clergy, parishes, diocesan staff, parish staffs, diocesan youth, those who minister to the hungry, the sick, the poor and others in need, as well those who represent the social, cultural, spiritual, and economic diversity of the diocese. It promises to be a beautiful and spiritually uplifting event.

Cathedral seating means tickets needed

Because St. Raphael Cathedral seating is limited to approximately 600, the Mass of Installation, and Evening Vespers the night before, must be restricted to those who have received tickets. As chair of the Installation Committee it has been a challenge for the Committee to assure an appropriate mix of personal and official presence at this historic event.

Committee members include Msgr. Michael Hippee, Fr. John Stillmank, Mr. Bill Brophy, Dr. Patrick Gorman, Mr. Gregory Keller, and Mrs. Kate Wiskus. Their hard work, along with that of many others among the diocesan staff, is truly appreciated.

Among those who have been invited are the Bishops of the United States, clergy of the diocese, family and friends of Bishop Morlino, diocesan office directors, members of diocesan boards and committees, representatives of Catholic institutions and organizations, non-Catholic religious leaders, and civic leaders. Pastors were asked to name two persons from each parish to assure a truly diocesan-wide presence.

Provision must also be made for the ministers of the liturgy, including the diocesan choir and musicians, and honor guard among others. The news media must also be accommodated. It will be a tight fit.

Pray for Bishop Morlino and diocese

We wish more could share personally in this special moment in the history of our diocese. There will be a commemorative publication widely available following the Installation. As reported elsewhere in the Catholic Herald, Bishop Morlino will be visiting parishes around the diocese to personally greet as many of the 267,000 Catholics as possible. These Masses and prayer services will be open to all.

Whether present in person or in spirit, let us all thank God for our new bishop, and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and protect Bishop Morlino during his years as our shepherd and teacher.

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End to death penalty:
Anniversary Wisconsin can celebrate

photo of John Huebscher
Eye on the 

John Huebscher 

One hundred fifty years ago, Wisconsin abolished capital punishment. Following a botched hanging in Kenosha in 1853, the Legislature put an end to the death penalty in Wisconsin and we have now gone a century and a half without it, longer than any other state.

The delegates to the convention that drafted our state constitution considered making a ban on capital punishment part of the constitution itself.

The idea had considerable support but some delegates noted that Wisconsin had no state prison. County jails, they argued, were insufficient to hold dangerous criminals for long periods. Thus the constitution remained silent on the issue.

By 1853, however, Wisconsin had constructed its first prison at Waupun and the legislature concluded that it had the means to protect society from violent criminals.

This development, coupled with the public’s revulsion over the life-demeaning spectacle of the Kenosha execution, contributed to the adoption of our ban on capital punishment.

Catholic teaching

This history is intriguing not only because it went against the grain of 19th century practice, but also because it anticipated the development of Catholic teaching on the issue.

Pope John Paul II employed a similar calculus in his treatment of the death penalty in Evangelium vitae. Citing the increased capacity of modern penal systems to protect society, and assessing these in the context of the sacred dignity of all human life, the Holy Father noted that the cases in which the death penalty could be justified are “so rare as to be practically nonexistent.”

End ‘culture of death’

The pope’s clarion call to end capital punishment as part of a larger rejection of a “culture of death” has proven difficult for some Catholics. Many may have concerns similar to those on the minds of Wisconsin citizens in the mid-1850s. Perhaps our state’s history can be helpful in resolving those doubts as they struggle to follow the Holy Father’s lead.

The 150 years since Wisconsin’s last execution have vindicated the people of our state and those legislators who acted in their name. Wisconsin has not been an unsafe place to live since that enlightened decision. As long ago as 1912 the leader of our prison system, then called the Board of Control, debunked the notion the death penalty deters criminals. Today, as then, our murder rate remains well below the national average.

Nor has our refusal to use violence as a solution to crime fostered a moral laxity in public matters. Rather, Wisconsin has long nurtured a reputation for clean and honest government that treats even modest wrongdoing as a major scandal and drives public outrage over current ethical lapses in Madison.

Solemn celebration

The first Wisconsinites served our state well in banning the death penalty. They also set an example that can and ought to give Catholics and their fellow citizens in other states the confidence they need to turn their backs on capital punishment.

All in all, the sesquicentennial of our state as a “death penalty free zone” should provide cause for solemn celebration and a quiet “thank you” to our ancestors who taught us such a priceless lesson in the value of civility and respect for life as public virtues.

John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

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