Bishop of Madison disciplines Cross Plains’ St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff priest after controversial political involvement

MADISON, Wis. — The Bishop of Madison is disciplining a Cross Plains Catholic priest after controversial political involvement, according to a statement published by the Diocese of Madison on Friday in the Catholic Herald.

The news comes after a Wisconsin State Journal report on Father Richard Heilman’s statements both from the pulpit at St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff and in a podcast that downplayed the January 6 insurrection and encouraged people to donate to criminal defendants who participated in it.

“The Bishop of Madison has taken current disciplinary action regarding a Diocese of Madison priest, Fr. Richard Heilman, who has engaged in online social media and other activity involving statements bearing inordinately on controversies stemming from the electoral political realm,” a statement from Bishop Donald Hying read.

“The details of priest personnel matters, including any specific disciplinary actions taken in this case, generally remain confidential and involve the duty to protect the good reputation of the involved parties.”

Father Heilman has said in the past that the Diocese of Madison has already admonished him not to get too involved in politics.

Heilman has not yet responded to a request for comment, but posted on his Facebook page that he was “doing okay”, and asked people not to attack Bishop Hying.

“I am okay, and I am praying and listening very closely to the Holy Spirit,” he wrote in a post dated July 23, one day after the discipline notice. “I cannot begin to describe the depth of my love for all of you.”

The Diocese of Madison has not yet responded to a request for comment on the discipline, and wrote in the Catholic Herald that the Diocese does not provide specific details about personnel disciplinary matters. In the release, Bishop Hying included a statement from January 2021 explaining further his position on priests getting involved in politics.

“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,” he wrote. “Such actions threaten to politicize the Church and divide our people even more.”

On July 8, Father Heilman in a sermon posted to Youtube downplayed the January 6 attacks, and talked about Jesus’ actions overturning tables of people selling merchandise in a temple, referring to a Biblical story.

“I’m in the school of thought that all those who played up the optics of violence during the time, breaking windows or whatever they doing…nobody shot anybody,” he said. “We saw security guards opening doors and welcoming them in, because they knew that they were the ‘gentle as doves’ group, they weren’t the ‘domestic terrorist’ group.”

Father Heilman has frequently engaged in partisan politics from the pulpit as well as on podcasts. On the morning of the insurrection*, he took to the pulpit to blast what he called left-wing politics.

“This is being set up for a pretty significant battle that lays ahead of us,” he said. “We just simply cannot allow this movement, and I’ll use their name, ‘progressive’. What they are progressing away from is the way of God.”

Under federal rules, churches with a tax-exempt status are banned from ” directly or indirectly” participating in political campaigns, and have a number of other rules they must comply with to keep their status.

“Religious leaders can’t make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions,” states an Internal Revenue Service guide.

Father Heilman has also frequently appeared on podcasts alongside Father James Altman, who was ousted by the Diocese of La Crosse last July for his divisive political involvement.

*Correction: Heilman’s remarks on January 6 were delivered before, not after, the insurrection as previously stated