A same-gender couple’s attempt to register their child in a Catholic school in the diocese of Springfield, Illinois, has resulted in a new diocesan policy which, according to a local newspaper account “could call into question parents’ lifestyles, especially if they go against Catholic teaching, and takes a new approach toward a more Protestant tradition of tithing.”
Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported this past weekend that Bishop Thomas Paprocki sent a letter to local pastors and principals on July 20th, informing them of the new “Family School Agreement” which would require non-Catholic families to attend Sunday Mass and contribute financially. According to the news report, the Agreement also stipulates the following for all parents, Catholic and non-Catholic:
“. . . the expectation that parents, adoptive parents or legal guardians of children enrolled in Catholic schools meet with their parish pastor if they are ‘not living in accord with church teaching.’
“That would take in persons who are divorced and remarried but haven’t been granted an annulment, unmarried couples living together, and people who are in same-sex marriages or partnerships.”
The newspaper said it obtained a copy of Paprocki’s letter, which mentioned that it was the case of a same-sex couple attempting to register their child in the spring was one of the reasons for instituting this policy. In 2013, Paprocki made headlines for conducting an exorcism on the same day that the governor of Illionois signed marriage equality into law.
In terms of tithing, the newspaper reported the following details about the Agreement:
“The discipleship and stewardship components of the Family School Agreement mandate that the entire family, even if some members aren’t Catholic, participate in weekly Mass and on holy days of obligation, and it ‘obliges’ families to try to tithe at least 8 percent of their income to the parish church in addition to paying school tuition.”
Jonathan Sullivan, the diocesan director of catechetical services, which is responsible for overseeing the schools, acknowledged that 8% is an “aspirational” figure. He also said that the Agreement might be revised for the following year. The agreeement was modeled on a similar one in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.
An anonymous source who attended an August 7th diocesan meeting of pastors and principals said that objections were raised to the tone and substance of the Agreement. Some schools have not required parents to sign the Agreement. No pastor or principal was willing to speak with the reporter, however.
The penalty for not adhering to the Agreement can be severe, according to the newspaper:
“Parents and students who actively promote ‘a moral or doctrinal position contrary to Catholic teaching’— supporting ordination of women priests, for instance — would be considered in violation of the Family School Agreement. The agreement says that could lead to the expulsion of the student.”
John Freml, who is a graduate of Springfield Catholic schools and serves as the coordinator for the Equally Blessed coalition and a local Call To Action chapter, offered a pastoral critique of the new policies:
” ‘What parents in their right minds would idly sit by while a religion teacher is forced to tell their children that something is wrong with their family?’ . . . This is not the kind of church that Pope Francis has called for, and Paprocki should reread what the pope has said about how the church should treat children of same-sex parents.”
Though Sullivan said that the diocese “isn’t trying to coerce people” to convert to Catholicism, the new policy will most likely be felt that way by many parents. It will encourage the saddest and lowest form of “religious” behavior: going through the motions without an internal assent.
The new policy seems in line with a philosophy that Paprocki expressed in defending his exorcism, referenced above. In an interview in 2014 he stated:
“. . . [S]ometimes, like any good parent will tell you, that sometimes you have to discipline your child, sometimes you have to say no. And sometimes, you even have to punish.
“And when a parent does those things, they’re not being hateful towards their children, they’re actually being very loving by correcting them and showing them the right way to do things.”
In a sense, the new policy is setting up requirements for what people have to do to receive the Church’s ministry. That is not a Catholic thing to do. Catholic schools around the nation and the globe educate millions of non-Catholic students, as well as millions of Catholic students whose parents may disagree with the magisterium of the Church. Setting up a requirement for what people have to do to receive services from the Church goes counter to what millions of Catholics around the world are doing. Catholic education should be an expression of the Church’s desire to serve the world, not a reward for going through pro forma steps.
According to the Springfield diocese, school enrollment there has been decreasing. This new policy will surely speed up that decrease, as parents will choose other alternatives that respect their human dignity and individual consciences–two principles of Catholic teaching which the schools should be demonstrating.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry