Weeks after an Illinois bishop announced pastoral guidelines that bar people in same-gender marriages from church life, Catholics continue to object while the bishop has begun responding to critics.
Catholic Church reform organizations sent a letter to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield to express their disappointment about his decree which would, among other prohibitions, bar Catholics in same-gender marriages from having funerals. The letter read, in part:
“As communities of Catholics, we were shocked and gravely disappointed at the decree you recently promulgated. . .The Church, at its best, is a haven, a source of spiritual nourishment in a sometimes harsh world. In times of confusion, loss and grief, the Sacraments are especially valued for the strength and grace they provide to all who wish to avail themselves of them. It is disheartening to us as Catholics that our family would forego such cherished ideals in favor of mean and unkind policies.”
The organizations wrote they “decry the rancor and derision that has become such a pervasive part of public life and community,” and expect the church to be a refuge in troubled times. The fourteen organizations include Call to Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, who has written an open letter to the bishop which you can read here, commented to WGLT 89.1:
“The reaction has run the gamut from anger to shock to real disgust at such a Draconian prohibition against lesbian and gay people, especially in this era of Pope Francis where more and more Catholic leaders are making gestures of welcome. . .People feel there are so many other areas the church declares as sin that are not included in this prohibition, such as greed, militarism, racism and support for the death penalty.”
Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of Catholic feminist groups, released its own pastoral letter to the people of Springfield to “offer words of comfort” to LGBTQI persons and their families. The letter read, in part:
“The Decree misses the signal importance of public, joyfully celebrated baptisms of babies, young people, and adults as they become part of our community. It ignores the welcome table that is the Eucharist. And, it dishonors the dead who are denied church funerals not because of sin but because of love. Let especially your young people hear us sing atop our voices, ‘All are welcome.'”
In a statement, Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch said Paprocki’s “harsh tactics defy the Gospel and deny the God’s own people the love, care, and acceptance that we are called to offer one another.”
While the National Catholic Reporter noted that few bishops are willing to offer criticism of another publicly, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego did support San Jose’s Bishop Patrick McGrath who released a communique to pastoral ministers in his diocese that said all Catholics would be welcome to the sacraments. McElroy commented:
“‘I think that is the appropriate policy that I would hope the priests would observe, especially in the times of funerals, but more broadly in the sense of regular pastoral action in support of men and women who are in all states of lives and who have all sorts of challenges. . .Our fundamental stance has to be one of inclusion in the church, especially during a time of burial.'”
In the face of criticism from many quarters, Bishop Paprocki is speaking out in defense of his decree through a diocesan statement, a column in the diocesan newspaper, and an interview. NCR reported about the interview:
“. . .Paprocki states that he was surprised by the attention the decree received as it is ‘a rather straightforward application of existing Church teaching and canon law.’ He also said he has ‘received many supportive comments and assurances of prayer,’ including ‘positive reactions’ from the priests in the diocese.
“When the online news magazine asked about Martin’s Facebook post, Paprocki said, ‘Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those remarks.'”
Paprocki also clarified that his decree applied not to lesbian and gay people generally, but specifically to those persons who had entered into civil same-gender marriages. He added that even someone in such a marriage could be fully admitted to the sacraments “if they repent and renounce their ‘marriage.’ ”
Responding to DeBernardo’s open letter, which suggested people would leave the church because of such exclusive policies, Paprocki told Catholic World Report “the real issue is not how many people will come to church, but how to become holy, how to become a saint.” The bishop added, “It is disappointing when people leave the Church, just as it surely must have been disappointing for Jesus when people walked away from Him.”
Such clarifications are doing little to pacify the bishop’s critics. The look to his lengthy LGBT-negative record for proof that this decree is but one instance among many harmful actions. You can read about Paprocki’s full record by clicking here.
John Freml, a married gay Catholic in Springfield, told WGLT 89.1 he was “disappointed and very hurt” by the decree. But, Freml added, the church is not simply the bishops but the entire people of God. He was supported while coming out at a Catholic high school, and he and his husband have found welcome at their parish where “we didn’t make any effort to hide who we were.”
New Ways Ministry continues to recommend you contact Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki
Catholic Pastoral Center
1615 West Washington Street
Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757
Phone: (217) 698-8500
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 13, 2017