Catholic Groups Object to Bishop Paprocki’s Anti-Gay Decree

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.

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Reform organizations’ letter to Bishop Paprocki

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.'”

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Contact Bishop Paprocki about his decree

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.

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John Freml

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.”

To read more Catholic reactions to Paprocki’s decree, click here and here.

New Ways Ministry continues to recommend you contact Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 13, 2017

Archdiocese Denies Same-Gender Catholic Couple the ‘Freedom to Bury’

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Michael De Leon, front left, and Greg Bourke, back right, with their two children outside the U.S. Supreme Court

A Catholic cemetery refused a same-gender couple’s headstone design because officials say its symbols conflict with Catholic teaching.

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, a married couple, had purchased a joint burial plot at St. Michael Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Last October, they also submitted a headstone design after consulting an Archdiocese of Louisville employee, reported The Courier-Journal.

The design includes the U.S. Supreme Court building, signifying Bourke’s and De Leon’s roles as plaintiffs in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges decision which legalized marriage equality in the U.S..  It also includes interlocked wedding rings. The couple thought nothing of their burial plans after this because, Bourke explained, they considered the matter innocuous “like picking out countertops.”

On March 30 the couple received an unexpected letter from the executive director of Catholic Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Javier Fajardo saying that their design had been reviewed by the “proper Church authority.” The letter said the  Archdiocese “cannot approve the depiction of the Supreme Court building and the use of wedding rings” because they allegedly conflict with church teaching. The letter did make clear the couple could retain the remaining design and affirmed their ability to be buried together under a shared headstone.

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Proposed headstone design

Speaking at a press conference this week, Bourke said the couple believe they have been “dealt with unfairly” because their design is quite modest in comparison to existing headstone engravings. Commenting on an engraving featuring the spires of Churchill Downs, Bourke said according to The Huffington Post:

” ‘In my mind, it’s outrageous that the church would think it’s OK to have an icon on a memorial of this palace for gambling, and yet they would find an image of the Supreme Court — which is an icon of American democracy — is somehow inconsistent with church teachings.’ “

Bourke suggested the Archdiocese’s action was “deliberate retaliation against my family,” inconsistent with Pope Francis’ desires for the church, and asked: “Is that what Jesus would do?”

Catholics for Fairness, which campaigns for LGBT equality in Kentucky from a faith perspectie, joined Bourke and De Leon at the press conference. Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s LGBT civil rights organization, who also attended, said the couple “might have a more receptive audience with the Vatican than with the Archdiocese.” He said further, as reported by 89.3 WFPL:

“They’re simply looking for the same dignity that everyone else has in death; to have their final wishes honored and the Catholic Church, specifically the Archdiocese of Louisville and Archbishop Kurtz, are denying them that yet again. . .They’ve faced repeated indignities here in the Archdiocese, and it’s really time [the Archdiocese] listened up and stopped.”

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera of the Human Rights Campaign called headstones “sacred and personal statements about our lives, faith, accomplishments” and continued:

“There is so much room in Pope Francis’ call for mercy and acceptance and in a diverse Catholic community that values its LGBTQ brothers and sisters grace and generosity – instead of the narrow and hurtful decision by the Archdiocese. These two good men of faith deserve better.”

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, chosen as the 2015 Persons of the Year by the National Catholic Reporter, deserve much better. Beyond seeking marriage rights, the couple remain involved in both LGBT advocacy and in the life of their parish of 28 years. Earlier this year, Bourke and De Leon helped organize the fifth annual Pilgrimage of Mercy which called upon Catholics to support LGBT non-discrimination protections.

As a result of their past efforts, their burial plans are not the couple’s first conflict with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and the Louisville archdiocese. In 2012, Bourke was forced to resign as a Boy Scout leader because of his sexual identity, and even after the Boy Scouts of America reversed their ban on LGBT leaders, Archbishop Kurtz barred Bourke from the Scouts permanently.

Archbishop Kurtz told the National Catholic Reporter that Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia would affect “every aspect of church ministry.” This incident is a prime opportunity to re-imagine what this ministry of burying the dead, a corporal work of mercy, means for the church today. Will church ministers afford LGBT people equal burial plans? Will church officials respect LGBT people’s consciences and the relationships to which they may have committed themselves in life? Will the violence of Communion denials at a parent’s or partner’s funeral be replaced with enhanced grief care that is intentionally inclusive for families with LGBT members?

 These broader questions should be considered by theologians, by pastoral ministers, and by the entire faithful so we can shift Catholic grief care and burial practices to be more just and inclusive. But in the meantime, a first step could be taken if the Archdiocese of Louisville would simply reverse its discriminatory decision and give Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon the freedom to bury.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

NEWS NOTES: August 19, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that may be of interest:

1) Using hyperbolic language, the Catholic bishops in England released a document responding to that nation’s passage of marriage equality earlier this year. The document reiterated common messages from the hierarchy, while adding new concepts about Catholics being alienated in their own country because of the new law. You can read more at The Catholic Register. Marriage equality in England has at least one columnist asking if the Catholic Church should remove itself from marriage altogether.

2) Responding to the firing of educator Carla Hale this spring for marrying her wife, one set of Catholic parents began wondering about a Catholic burial for their gay son. While several Catholic officials and funeral directors assured them the institution denies a Catholic burial in only the most extreme instances, these parents remain dissatisfied. Alternatively, one gay Catholic man told The Columbus Dispatch: ” ‘One place the Catholic Church is really, really, really nice about is death.’ ”

3)In the African nation of Cameroon, more anti-gay prosecutions and the seeming assassination of prominent advocate Eric Lembembe caused LGBT rights organizations to demand better conditions from the civil and religious authorities in Cameroon who support homophobic language and acts. LGBT advocates said in a statement reported by France 24: ” ‘The religious authorities, the Cameroonian Roman Catholic Church in particular, take a position on homosexuality in order to incite violence,’ ” Cameroon, where about a quarter of the population are Catholic, is one of the worst nations for LGBT rights.

4) A Michigan high school student won a lawsuit in which he claimed his First Amendment rights were violated during a 2010 classroom interaction. The student claimed his Catholic faith did not allow him to accept LGBT people, and was then written up by his teacher for disruptive behavior. Some observers in Education Week believe this case could have broader implications in the tension over free speech in schools and anti-bullying policies that seek to protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry