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MADISON, Wis. - Robert C. Morlino, Roman Catholic bishop of the Helena Diocese for the last four years, was named Friday as bishop of the Diocese of Madison.

He was appointed by Pope John Paul II to replace William H. Bullock, who submitted his resignation last year as required under church law when he reached the age of 75.

Like other Catholic dioceses, Madison has been hit with a series of sexual abuse claims. The Madison Catholic Diocese reported earlier this year it had paid out $1.6 million to 19 victims of sexual abuse during the past two decades.

Morlino said the diocese would cooperate with authorities if allegations arise in the future.

"The criminal law aspect is in its own sphere. We should cooperate with it completely," he said.

The Madison diocese covers 11 counties in south central Wisconsin, which has more than 267,000 Catholics, compared with 67,000 Catholics in the Helena Diocese in western and north central Montana.

Morlino, 56, serves as chairman of two committees in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They are Bishops' Committee on the Diaconate, which deals with matters concerning the ministry of permanent deacons, and the Ad Hoc Committee on Health Care Issues and the Church, which assists bishops in responding to moral and theological questions surround specific health care situations in their dioceses.

Morlino, a native of Scranton, Pa., said he was surprised and stunned by the appointment.

"I go forth again in the unknown, but I will go forth confident in the strength of the Lord, and therefore with joy, because the joy of the Lord must always be our strength," he said.

Morlino previously served in a number of positions in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Mich., and taught philosophy at Loyola College in Baltimore, St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, Boston College, the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary's College.

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan issued a statement welcoming Morlino's appointment, saying he has "long admired his priestly virtue, pastoral leadership and theological depth."

Morlino will serve as administrator for the Helena Diocese until Aug. 1, when an interim administrator - usually a priest - will take over, Helena Diocese spokesman Eric Schiedermayer said Friday.

A new bishop eventually will be appointed to fill the vacancy, but Schiedermayer said it's unclear how long that process will take.

"It can go pretty quick, but in the past it has been a couple years between bishops. We don't expect it to go that long this time," Schiedermayer said.

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