The Perfect Enemy | Rural Cross Plains priest disciplined by Madison Diocese for political activity
August 10, 2022

Rural Cross Plains priest disciplined by Madison Diocese for political activity

Rural Cross Plains priest disciplined by Madison Diocese for political activity  Madison.com

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The Madison Catholic Diocese has taken unspecified “current disciplinary action regarding” a rural Cross Plains priest who was warned last year to temper his right-wing political activity but of late has downplayed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and advocated donating money to those charged in the incident.

Father Richard Heilman (copy)

Heilman

A story posted Friday to the website of the diocese’s Catholic Herald says Richard “Rick” Heilman “has engaged in online social media and other activity involving statements bearing inordinately on controversies stemming from the electoral political realm.”

Details of Heilman’s discipline are confidential, the story says. Heilman and a lay leader at his church, St. Mary of Pine Bluff, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. Nor did a diocese spokesperson.

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“Clerics should not be publicly voicing overt and purely political opinions regarding individuals, parties, election results, the current news cycle, nor engaging in ad hominem attacks,” Bishop Donald Hying said in January 2021, according to the Friday Catholic Herald story. “Such actions threaten to politicize the church and divide our people even more.”

Bishop Donald Hying (copy)

Hying

Heilman’s comments during a podcast and from the pulpit come as Congress’ Jan. 6 committee makes its case that former President Donald Trump was at the head of a conspiracy to halt the legal transfer of power to President Joe Biden and sparked the Jan. 6 attack.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported July 17 that Heilman in a July 8 sermon downplayed the attack and contrasted it with how left-wing protesters “invaded” Wisconsin’s state Capitol in 2011 after the introduction of then-Gov. Scott Walker’s ultimately successful bill to restrict union power in the state.

In fact, the 2011 weekslong round-the-clock demonstrations in Madison that at one point drew 100,000 people to Capitol Square were overwhelmingly peaceful and resulted in no injuries or deaths and only limited property damage.

By contrast, the Jan. 6, 2021, riot resulted in injuries to 150 police officers, and a bipartisan Senate report found it was linked to at least seven deaths, including that of one unarmed Trump supporter who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby near the U.S. House chambers. The officer was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Heilman refers to those who “played up the optics of violence” on Jan. 6 and says “we saw security guards opening doors and welcoming them in. Because they knew that they were the gentlest doves group. They weren’t the domestic terrorist group.”

During the sermon, a red baseball cap with the words “Make America Holy Again” — similar to Trump campaign caps declaring “Make America Great Again” — rests on Heilman’s lectern.

Heilman in the Jan. 19 episode of the U.S. Grace Force podcast also says he was told there were “actors” at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, who might have been plants working with the federal government.

“This just seems to me like those who were instigating, who were inspiring weren’t MAGA people, but were other bad actors,” he said.

The guest on the podcast that day, Joseph McBride, an attorney for some of the Jan. 6 defendants, endorses that view, saying there were unknown “agent provocateurs on the ground that day.” Among McBride’s clients are Christopher Quaglin and Daniel Goodwyn, members of the right-wing Proud Boys.

The podcast ends with a plug for donations for the legal defense of Jan. 6 defendants and web addresses where people can learn how to make them.

Heilman said in August that Hying cautioned him earlier last year not to “trail off into politics.” He said the advice came after he criticized a series of executive orders by Biden that included loosening restrictions on abortion.

He also said he received an email from diocese Vicar General James Bartylla after he shared a news story online that provided what he called some “good news” about hydroxychloroquine, a drug that’s been touted by some, despite limited evidence, as effective against COVID-19.

In August he said “my bishop and I get along great,” but that he tries to be a “good teacher” of Catholic principles, and “I know for some people, they get upset by that.”

Heilman last appeared on U.S. Grace Force on Wednesday. He makes no mention of the Diocese’s discipline during his Monday sermon posted to YouTube.

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