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Following Gay Funeral Guidance, Online Petition Seeks to Oust Catholic Bishop

Thousands have signed an online petition seeking to remove Robert Morlino as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.
Madison Bishop Robert Morlino speaks to crowd during his installation ceremony at St. Raphael Cathedral, Friday, Aug. 1, 2003, in Madison, Wis.AP

An online petition seeking to remove Robert Morlino as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, has generated support from thousands of people after critics said he suggested that priests can refuse to perform funerals for gay people.

A recent newsletter approved by Morlino and emailed by a top aide to priests in the diocese says funeral rites "may be denied for manifest sinners" if they would cause unavoidable "public scandal of the faithful." Among issues he said should be considered was whether "the deceased ... was a 'promoter of the gay lifestyle.'"

"[Morlino] is an open and practicing bigot whose attitudes and opinions about the LGBTQI members of his Diocese (and our beloved families) are nothing short of inhumane," the scathing, 350-word petition states. "He cannot be a shepherd to his flock if he does not love all his sheep equally the way Christ would have."

The petition, which as of Thursday afternoon had garnered more than 6,600 signatures, was started by Amelia Royko Maurer, who said she and her husband were both raised and educated in Catholic churches in Madison.

“The removal of Morlino would show that the Catholic Church can, once again, evolve further beyond its historical intolerance," Royko Maurer told NBC News. She said through her petition, she wants members of the LGBTQ community to know they are not alone, and they don't deserve to be treated as "less than."

DignityUSA, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, said the message in the Catholic Diocese of Madison's newsletter only serves to distance LGBTQ people and their families from the church.

Following the backlash to its funeral guidance, the Catholic Diocese of Madison released a series of tweets clarifying its position on funeral rites.

"A person’s sexual orientation is not, nor are the specific sins we have committed (in and of themselves), a barrier to a Church funeral!” the first tweet stated. "Only with 3 important conditions being met is a funeral ever denied (universal Church law, not from any diocese), but this would be rare … Conditions: Public Sin/No Repentance/Funeral brings scandal. Any of these not met, I get a funeral in the Catholic Church. I choose."