Thousands of Illinois residents received an unsolicited public notice about the “homosexual culture war” from a Peoria diocesan priest earlier this month, but Fr. Timothy Sauppé is refusing to apologize for his action and words, as criticism in his community grows.
The August 11th letter sent to all addresses in the 61883 ZIP code (Westville, IL) opened with the following:
“I am Fr. Sauppé, pastor of St Mary’s Catholic Church & the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! The US Supreme Court has issued a new ‘civil right’ recognizing same-sexed ‘marriages.'”
The referenced parish is St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Westville, and the letter continued by attacking same-sex relationships, reported Commercial-News.
When contacted by the press, the priest defended his letter, written “to evangelize and to protect St. Mary’s Catholic Church from future attack” according to the parish website. Sauppé told Commercial-News:
“As pastor, I’m not only over Catholics, but I’m over everyone within my parish boundaries and a lot of those people don’t know about the other side to this issue.
“So I was doing a public service to them by explaining that we have a constitutional right not to condone [same-sex marriage].”
He further denied claims the letter was political and said anyone objecting to his actions is a “religious bigot.”
The letter’s reverse side advertised local events with several organizations listed as cosponsors, though these groups deny any affiliation. Westville Lions Club president Darren VanDuyn told reporters:
“I was furious because we are a diverse group of people and I didn’t want to be tied to this belief that we don’t all share this opinion of. . .I know a lot of good people from St. Mary’s and Sauppé’s opinions just don’t represent the church as a whole. . .This is the action of one individual. Throw the flyer away and be done with it.”
While throwing the flyer away is a good first step, this is not Fr. Sauppé’s first, and, unless he is stopped, likely not last inappropriate act when it comes to homosexuality.
In a homily shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling last June, the priest claimed “they will come after the Catholic Church” by challenging churches’ tax exempt status and by forcing ministers to perform same-gender weddings.
In a post on the parish website, “Identifying & Preparing For The Homosexualist Agenda,” he said marriage equality’s expansion is linked to a new age of persecution that will “tear at the Mystical Body of Christ, as surely as did the Roman flagellum, thorns, and nails on the historic body of Christ.”
Fr. Sauppé’s tirades are not limited to opposing LGBT equality. He made headlines in 2013 with the claim that couples’ use of contraception had put the parochial school out of existence. Glancing at the parish website and a quick Google search clearly shows he holds extremist views on many topics.
The Diocese of Peoria, in which Westville is located, has at least one previous precedent of extremist Catholic rhetoric. In 2012, Bishop Daniel Jenky compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, causing some to question whether he broke election laws.
Regardless of what Sauppé says, his actions are neither a public service nor evangelical. They are precisely the opposite, and they stymie the well-being of both civil society and the church. Sauppé owes the people of Westville a profound apology for using church funds to mail anti-gay materials to their homes and businesses. Otherwise, he is simply doing the church a great disservice by fostering prejudice and fear.
To reconcile with the community after apologizing, he could educate himself like reading what some of the People of God would say to Pope Francis about LGBT issues, which have a lot more to do with love and inclusion than condemnation. He could take the further step of meeting with local LGBT people and their families, including Catholics, and follow Pope Francis’ lead in trying to create a church that is “home for all” at the Westville parish.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry