Springfield Diocese Sets Restrictive Expectations for Parents of Catholic School Children

August 24, 2015

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.”

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

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

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



Are You Better Off One Year After “Who Am I to Judge?”

July 30, 2014

Pope Francis

It has been a year since Pope Francis uttered those famous words which inspired so much hope in those Catholics who work, hope, and pray for LGBT equality and justice: “Who am I to judge?”  So, now a question for LGBT Catholics and their supporters: “Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

Spoken on his plane ride home from World Youth Day in Brazil, the pope’s rhetorical question was stated in regard to gay priests.  But, as the year has worn on, many people began to see that the attitude expressed in those words reflected a new spirit in the papacy, especially with regard to LGBT issues.

That interpretation was confirmed when just little over a month later, Pope Francis, in a remarkably candid personal interview, said that church leaders should not be so “obsessed” with “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

The papacy’s new spirit was evidenced by the fact that throughout the year there seemed to be a lowering of the rhetoric that came from the Vatican in regard to same-gender marriage and LGBT people.  In Pope Francis’ statements about marriage there was a refreshing absence of references to the threat of marriage being redefined.  Indeed, a number of prelates, including Vatican officials, began speaking about the possibility of support for legalized civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Moreover, in the fall, it became public that the pope had written to Kairos, an LGBT Catholic group in Florence, Italy, in response to their letter to him.  And at the end of the year  the pope’s Jesuit parish in Rome even provided a free funeral for a homeless transgender woman when her family rejected her body.

All of this good news was magnified by the announcement in the later autumn that the pope was calling a synod of bishops to discuss marriage and family topics.  Better yet, the Vatican was encouraging bishops to survey the laity about their perspectives on this matter.  Indeed, a question about pastoral care of same-gender couples was listed as one of the issues on which the Vatican wanted lay input.

But to get back the original question:  “Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

For some, lingering question persisted throughout all the media hype surrounding Pope Francis’ approach:  Was all of this just window dressing?  Was this just a “kinder, gentler” Vatican that was still promoting the same negative message regarding LGBT people and issues?  When were the real changes going to happen? Style is one thing, but substance is another.

Over the past year, I’ve mentioned several times that I think that Pope Francis may not be ready to make big changes, but that he seems to be paving the way for such change in the future.  I still think that is true.  But, I’ve also come to think of these symbolic gestures by the pope in a new way lately.  I think that what he is trying to do is to send up some “test balloons” to see how people react to them.

I think the fact that so many bishops have spoken out in favor of civil unions or have had positive things to say about same-gender couples are proofs that the reactions have been somewhat good.  In fact, I’ve noticed that strongly negative statements about same-gender marriage now seem more the exception than the rule.

I admit, however, that American bishops have certainly not been the ones in the forefront of any positive trends.  We here in the United States still have to wait for some more positive changes in the episcopacy here.  San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone spoke at the March for Marriage in June, despite calls that he stay away from an event with many anti-gay sponsors.  The U.S. bishops opposed Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity and gender expression.  Prelates like Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput and Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Paprocki made some egregious statements regarding marriage.  In the U.S., we still have a long way to go in terms of better leadership on LGBT issues from our nation’s bishops.

But, of course, bishops are not the entire church.  We’ve also witnessed amazing demonstrations of LGBT support from Catholics this year, especially from younger Catholics who have had LGBT teachers fired from their schools.  We’ve seen Catholic politicians come out in strong support of marriage equality and gender identity non-discrimination.  One Illinois lawmaker even quoted Pope Francis when she expressed here support for that state’s marriage equality law.  Throughout the year, we’ve seen an incredible surge of LGBT support on the part of rank and file Catholics.  And many of them have been made more bold and optimistic because of Pope Francis’ statements and gestures.   Even non-Catholics like Edie Windsor, whose marriage equality case was successful at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and the editors of Time magazine  and The Advocate feel more positively toward the pope.

So, we still have a long way to go, but we should pause for a moment to reflect on how far we have come.

“Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

For me, the answer is “yes!”

(What’s your answer?  Post your response to that question in the “Comments” section of this post.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry







LCWR Supporters Write to Bishops with Christmas Greetings

December 19, 2012
New Ways Ministry staff write to support LCWR

New Ways Ministry’s Bob Shine and Sister Jeannine Gramick write to support LCWR.

New Ways Ministry staff and local friends sent over two dozen cards in support of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the nuns who have long championed LGBT persons and organizations, including New Ways Ministry.

The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of Catholic church reform and social justice organizations including New Ways Ministry, asked Catholics to send Christmas cards and emails to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and the three American bishops (Archbishop Peter Sartain, Bishop Leonard Blair, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki) tasked with implementing the Vatican’s mandate for LCWR.

You can add your support through this link. New Ways Ministry strongly encourages all Catholics and LGBT advocates to send notes expressing your support for LCWR in this Christmas season.

As reported previously, the Vatican’s critique of the nuns partially emerged out of their support for LGBT persons and organizations.  You can find previous Bondings 2.0 posts about the nuns’ controversy by typing “LCWR” into the “Search” box in the right-hand column of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Previous post on the LCWR card writing campaign:

December 5, 2012: Support LCWR with a Christmas Card to the Nuncio and the Bishops!


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