Madison Catholic Bishop Robert C. Morlino died late Saturday, three days after suffering a "cardiac event" during planned medical tests, the Catholic Diocese of Madison said. He was 71.
Morlino died at 9:15 p.m. at St. Mary’s Hospital, the diocese said in a statement that asked the faithful to "pray for the repose of his soul, for his friends and coworkers, and for all of the faithful of the Diocese of Madison."
The announcement followed a series of increasingly urgent messages over the weekend on Facebook and elsewhere for prayers after Morlino suffered an apparent heart attack while undergoing medical testing.
At the bishop's request, spokesman Brent King said late Friday, "the decision was made not to trouble people for Thanksgiving Day, but at this time it is appropriate to notify the faithful and all people of good will, and to request your prayers."
By early Saturday evening, however, the diocese was seeking "urgent prayers" for Morlino, adding "our hope lays in a miracle" for the bishop’s recovery.
"Whereas yesterday morning held a number of good reasons for hope for the recovery of the bishop, today has been filled with a number of disappointments in that regard," the diocese’s vicar general, Msgr. James Bartylla, said in a post on Facebook Saturday.
"Unfortunately, matters have continued to turn for the worst and it is likely that our hope lays in a miracle at this point," Bartylla said, adding, "I would ask that in addition to prayers for a miracle, you would also pray that if and when the time comes, the Bishop would be given the grace of a happy death and look soon upon the face of our God."
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An all-night prayer vigil of Adoration had been called for Saturday night into Sunday morning at Holy Name Heights. After the announcement of Morlino's death, the vigil continued, "now for the repose of his soul," the diocese said.
Morlino was installed as the fourth bishop of Madison on Aug 1, 2003. He quickly became a polarizing force, upholding conservative Church teachings that often were at odds with the more liberal flock he led.
A staunch traditionalist beloved among Catholics seeking a stalwart defender of church doctrine, Morlino gained a national reputation for vigorously opposing abortion and same-sex unions.
Under his tenure, more young men studied to become priests, Latin masses have made a comeback in some areas and priests have been encouraged to use only boys and seminarians as altar servers — changes that have drawn praise from traditionalists. In his messages to the faithful, Morlino repeatedly focused on the Church’s opposition to abortion, embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage.
But some parishioners, especially women and gays, have said they felt forced out by Morlino’s rhetoric and actions, although church-going is down nationally across many denominations.