Back in March, a Lublin man who’d recently joined a cult vandalized St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Neillsville, just across the border in the Diocese of La Crosse. He threw things around, broke statuary, desecrated the altar and generally destroyed as much as possible in a short amount of time.

When he was arrested, police reported he was speaking in a demonic voice and was likely on drugs. He was muttering about “destroying the insolent temple,” and said he’d committed the crime on his “father’s” instructions.

As a journalist and a Catholic, I was (perhaps naively) surprised to hear of occult activity in the area – especially the type effective enough to provoke desecration and possible demonic possession. Although I am admittedly creeped out by such things, I considered talking to police, priests and others to gauge whether it is an isolated incident, or whether there is more going on below the surface.

In the end, I never got around to writing the article, which would have required many hours to investigate and write, and since it wasn’t technically our news beat, the story came out as a brief.

I live in the Diocese of La Crosse, which switched from a diocesan newspaper to a magazine a few years back. Although the vandalism made the news across this region – and required an immediate visit from Bishop William Callahan to re-consecrate the altar – it never reached the magazine’s glossy pages.

Don’t get me wrong – I like reading “Catholic Life.” It’s well-designed and full of cheery articles on converts and re-verts and good works. It’s local Catholicism, sunnyside up. It’s all marketing department, not so much journalism.
The downside is, well, there’s no place for the downside. When the Diocese of La Crosse froze, then scrapped, then reinstated its pension plan, the job of disseminating information went to the secular press, which may not have given Bishop William P. Callahan and diocesan officials a lot of opportunity to start an in-house conversation – that is, a conversation among Catholics alone, whose campaign contributions support diocesan finances – about the best way to proceed.

Sometimes, families have to tackle tough issues, and we’ve got some of our own here in the Diocese of Superior. Abusive ex-priests are one of them. We’ve had them in the past, and well, times have changed. No longer do we shove them under the rug, which seems to be how many bishops handled them in decades past. Now, we emphasize protecting children, creating safe environments and ensuring our seminarians are thoroughly vetted before their ordinations.

For some time now, Bishop James P. Powers and diocesan administrator Dan Blank have been working with a specialist to review old files. Such effort must be undertaken with great care, because there are many concerns – moral, ethical and legal, among others – that arise. When the process is completed, the Catholic Herald will print a list of priests who have been credibly accused of abuse, and we will all move forward together – free to focus our time and energies on healing as a diocese, a Church and as people of God.

Priest shortages are another difficulty in our diocese and, I’m certain, in many mission dioceses. Older priests are retiring, and we don’t have enough younger priests to replace them. Our short-term solution is to hire priests from dioceses with strong vocations, so Catholics across our vast but somewhat sparsely populated diocese can continue to have convenient access to the sacraments.

This year, six new priests from India are blessing us with their presence (and willingly suffering through our winters). I’ve heard and read beautiful homilies given by our Indian priests – they have so much wisdom and perspective to offer, because their life experiences have been so different from ours – and I pray they will be warmly welcomed in their new parishes and communities.

But, in the long-term, we need a plan to address changing demographics, decades of few vocations, the loss of religious order priests and other realities of Catholic life in northern Wisconsin. To that end, the chancery staff, bishop, priests and others have been working on New Springtime Revisited, an initiative to put new systems in place that will ensure the strength of the local church in years to come.

Deanery meetings have been conducted around the diocese to discuss the future and, as they seek to identify problems and offer new solutions, we will be sharing their findings with all of you, our readers. That’s why we’re here.