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

Bishop Paprocki’s Decree Was Released on Orlando Massacre Anniversary

Catholics have continued to express their strong responses to Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree barring people in same-gender marriages from participation in church activities, including being denied funerals. To read further about the decree, click here. For more reactions, click here.

Bishop Paprocki (1)Deb Word of Fortunate Families wrote an open letter to Paprocki, and noted that the decree was released on June 12, the one year anniversary of the massacre at an Orlando LGBT nightclub in which 49 people were murdered. Word wrote:

“I thought your decree was heartless and an assault on our families, our children, our church community. That was until I realized the date of the [decree]. You chose to remember the dead with a communication that says they were not worthy of BURIAL. I have never seen such hate and I am filled with grief and frankly nauseous that any human could do this. . .Please sir, resign. Or put down the pen. But please stop hurting my kids!”

To read an open letter to Paprocki from Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, click here.

On Vox.com, Brian Flanagan, a theologian at Marymount University, Virginia, believes Bishop Paprocki is “entirely qualified” to deem married gay Catholics as “manifest sinners,” according to canon law definitions.  Vox’s report continued:

“At the same time, [Flanagan] points out, other canon laws suggest that Paprocki’s narrow interpretation is itself problematic: He notes that, generally speaking, when there’s room for interpretation, the governing principle of canon law is that a law should be interpreted ‘to the benefit of the baptized Catholic.'”

Flanagan also questioned whether Paprocki’s actions were prudent, saying “he’s essentially failed” in preventing scandal:

“[T]his decree’s mean-spiritedness deeply undermines respect for Catholic bishops and their teaching authority. Coming just after Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy, denying funerals to the departed and their grieving families seems jarringly unmerciful, and un-nuanced in its blanket application to married gay people as compared to other Catholics who fall short of perfection. . .the denial of a funeral to a married gay person is more scandalous to most Catholics than that funeral’s occurrence.”

Martin Pendergast, a member of London’s Farm Street Church LGBT Community, told Independent Catholic News:

“A number of [U.S.] bishops are locked into the realm of ideas rather than really responding to the reality of peoples’ lives which Pope Francis keeps urging ALL of us to do. . .LGBT Catholics, parents and families are not the stumbling blocks here, rather it is ideological bishops such as Bishop Paprocki who are the real cause for scandal.”

Dr Gemma Simmonds, C.J., a theologian at Heythrop College in England, added, “I hope that we can all work to build a scandalously merciful church rather than setting ourselves up as harsh judges of those whose judgement lies in God’s hands alone.”

Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reportersaid Paprocki “should be sacked.” Winters says that Paprocki’s action “warrants the extreme sanction of removal from office proposed in the motu proprio, Come una madre amorevole.” He continued:

“If I were a bishop, and I think we can all agree it is a good thing I am not, but if I were, I would issue a decree that Tom Paprocki can’t be buried in my diocese. As it is, I suspect 95 percent of the bishops in this country were horrified by what Paprocki did, and the other five percent, while not horrified, would not follow his lead.”

Finally, Steve Jones submitted a letter to The State Journal-Register opposing the decree despite Jones’ own reservations about marriage equality. He wrote:

“Maybe Bishop Paprocki should open his eyes and see what his flock has been seeing for years. Such as Catholic grade schools closing because of lack of students, Masses not full, and the younger generations not involved in the church, largely in part to the gross mishandling of the priest abuse scandal. Don’t believe me, go to a Catholic Mass and count the number of attendees who might fall between the ages of 16 and 36. . .Now is the time for the Catholic Church to unite and grow, not divide and continue its downward spiral.”

Jones concluded by referencing Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” statement, adding, “the God I pray to at night loves people for who they are, not who I want them to be.”

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to 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

For continuing updates on Bishop Paprocki’s decree and more Catholic LGBT news, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 using the box in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 29, 2017

Priest Bans Gay Man from Singing at Grandmother’s Funeral

When Connor Hakes’ grandmother died, he wanted to honor her with a song at the funeral. But because he is a gay man, the parish priest denied Hakes’ request to sing, adding more pain to an already painful time.

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Connor Hakes

Hakes’ family are longtime parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Decatur, Indiana. Generations of the family, including his grandmother, were part of the community there, and Hakes had even sung at the church before, reported WANE.

But Fr. Bob Lengerich, pastor, banned Hakes from singing at the parish until the “present situation” was resolved, though he did not, in the letter explain what the “present situation” is.  One of the issues mentioned in the letter that would ban people from liturgical roles was “openly participating in unchaste same-sex relationships.”

Father Lengerich made his thoughts known in a letter to the grieving grandson. The letter also said that scandal is caused by someone “openly advocating” for same-gender relationships. He claimed there were “several LGTB parishioners who have openly declared their intentions to embrace a homosexual lifestyle” and therefore do no receive communion at Mass, nor serve in any parish liturgical ministries.

The priest told Hakes that he could sing to honor his grandmother “as long as it is outside of the Mass and outside of the Church,” even suggesting the post-burial luncheon as a possible moment. He concluded the letter saying the parish did want Hakes present and did “want to enter into a real dialogue and conversation.”

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Fr. Bob Lengerich

Hakes claimed that Fr. Lengerich based his claims about the gay man’s sexual life on a picture posted to Facebook several years ago of Hakes celebrating Pride. The grandson told WANE that Lengerich “had judged me and really formed an opinion about me without ever communicating with me. . .All of a sudden I felt very ostracized” from the parish that had always welcomed him.

The family has filed complaints with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which is now involved to seek healing after the divisive incident. Hakes said he prays that Lengerich’s heart will soften to allow the priest to become “a better leader for the Catholic Church.” Hakes is also very clear about where his grandparents would stand on the matter and what Christian discipleship entails, reported PinkNews:

“Both my Grandma and Grandpa would be disgusted by their parish. Their compassion and empathy was abundant, no matter who you were. They saw beyond race, religion, sexuality, and social class. They loved everyone. That is what [it] means to be a Christian. That is what it means to be Catholic.”

Whatever his intention, Fr. Lengerich’s offer of dialogue and conversation falls flat when framed wihin the context of the priest denying Hakes the opportunity to honor his deceased loved one. Why didn’t he enter into dialogue and conversation before making a decision? It  is particularly disturbing that Lengerich somehow dug up a years-old photo of Hakes, and then seems to have inferred from it that Hakes was in a same-gender relationship. Certainly, there are more productive uses for Lengerich’s time and energy as a priest.

Once again, a priest who should be a source of consolation and unity has added to a grieving family’s pain and divided a parish community. Denying LGBT people the ability to participate in mourning rituals or denying them Communion at a funeral Mass are not infrequent events sadly. If church ministers cannot even be merciful and welcoming in these most painful moments, how can the church expect LGBT people and their families to show up at any other moment?

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 30, 2016

 

 

Priest Who Denied Communion to Same-Gender Couple Now Disrupts Parishioner’s Funeral

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St. Leo’s Catholic Church

A Montana priest’s disruption of a parishioner’s funeral recently has its roots in his denial of communion to a same-gender couple in the parish in 2014.

Almost two years ago, Fr.  Spiering, 29, denied Communion to Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick because the two men had recently married. The pastor expelled them from parish ministries in which they had been active. Fellow parishioners at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Lewistown protested the priest’s act at the time, including resignations by the church choir’s director and several members.

Earlier this month, at least three of those former choir members and director Janie Shupe were invited by the Valach family to sing at the funeral of Pearl Valach, a parishioner at the church for all of her 92 years. Ms. Valach had disagreed at the time with the priest’s decision to deny Communion to Huff and Wojtowick but remained in the church. Her daughter-in-law, Susan Valach, explained to the Great Falls Tribune:

“She was upset when the decision was made. . .She continued to be faithful to the church, but with pain in her heart.”

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Pearl Valach

Greg Clark, partner of Pearl’s son Frank Valach Jr. for twenty-plus years, said Pearl was so pained by the priest’s actions that she never spoke about it. But Greg, Frank, and other members of the Valach family left the parish after the communion denial. They said the decision to hold the funeral at St. Leo’s was painful, but did so to respect Pearl’s wishes.

When Valach’s loved ones and parishioners–more than 300 people–gathered for the funeral on the morning of March 8, he told Shupe she could not join the singers, but she could only participate at the funeral from her pew. Shupe explained:

” ‘It was mortifying. It was the most embarrassing thing. I could have stepped down, but at the same time I thought, “That’s ridiculous “. . .I can’t believe anyone in the right mind, let alone anyone who professes to love God, could do this.’ “

Fr. Dan O’Rourke, the parish’s former pastor who was invited to celebrate the funeral, defended Shupe’s right to lead singing. After he argued with Spiering about the decision, Spiering threatened to prevent O’Rourke from presiding at the funeral, and threatened to ban him from the parish. The family, however, refused to let their mother’s funeral be tarnished by Spiering’s continued exclusion. When Spiering informed Valach’s widower, Frank Valach, that the he would now celebrate the funeral Mass, the family rejected that offering and demanded Fr. O’Rourke. Susan Valach explained:

” ‘We immediately said, “Absolutely, no”. . .I went up to the choir and said we would cancel. Our family was so upset and finally (Spiering) agreed to leave. . .

” ‘As a family, we would like to let this go, but it isn’t right. . .It hurts all Christians because it’s not compassionate.’ “

Fr. Jay Peterson, vicar general for the Great Falls-Billings Diocese who was in attendance, presided at the funeral Mass. Peterson invited the women, including Janie Shupe, to lead the singing. Greg Clark said all involved were able to put aside the pre-funeral antics of Spiering for a “reverent, celebratory, and beautiful” liturgy. Clark wrote on his blog [editor’s note: he uses strong language in the blog post]:

“For the balance of the day our family basked in her glow. And there was no doubt that God was with us. Hence against all odds, our love for her conquered all. It wasn’t until later that evening that our angst and frustration over the morning’s events arose again. All must be told about the sins of that Father.”

But the incident — and the harm done — has not ended. This controversy continued to play out in the following weeks. Spiering commented on the incident before his homily at Mass on March 22, stating the he does not regret the decision he made but only the manner in which he made it. He attacked Fr. O’Rourke in his statement and promised St. Leo’s parishioners a new funeral policy to “prevent such problems” in the future. Spiering apologized to the Valach family in a one-liner at the end, but the family said neither the priest nor Bishop Michael Warfel had reached out to them since the funeral.

Fr. O’Rourke released his own statement, explaining that Spiering would not let the matter drop even though the funeral was set to begin in fifteen minutes and had threatened to ban him from the parish. The former pastor’s statement ended positively: “The singer/musician sang her heart out.”

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Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff

Fr. Peterson, in his position as diocesan vicar general, defended Spiering’s actions as an exercise of his “canonical rights” despite it not being “the right pastoral decision.” Peterson said Bishop Michael Warfel was “very concerned” about the incident, which was described as an “unfortunate conflict.” Peterson, a longtime friend of the Valach family, said despite it being Holy Week he hoped “things can be dealt with sooner than later to bring healing and unity and peace” and would be involved if he could help, reported the Independent Record.

In the words of a Billings Gazette reporter:

“It was supposed to be a simple funeral for a woman who was a lifelong Catholic and a lifetime member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown. . .Instead, it devolved into a disagreement that nearly derailed the rite and left family and friends confused and angry.”

Few incidents in the church hurt more than sacramental exclusion and interference. These incidents cause tremendous pastoral damage to those targeted  and those witnessing these The tragic nature of this funeral incident speaks for itself. Coupled with Spiering’s denial of Communion to a same-gender couple, this funeral fiasco should be enough for Bishop Warfel to question Fr. Spiering’s ministerial competencies and role in active ministry and in the priesthood altogether.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Memorial Mass for Father Bob Nugent Scheduled

Father Robert Nugent, SDS

As many of you know, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS, passed away at the beginning of this month.  His funeral was held at St. John the Baptist Parish, New Freedom, Pennsylvania, where he spent more than 25 years of his priestly life, ministering with the community there until his retirement in June 2013.  He was buried in the parish cemetery.

New Ways Ministry will host a Memorial Mass for Fr. Bob, to which all are invited.  The details:

Sunday, February 2, 2014
1:00 p.m.
Whitefriars Hall Chapel
1600 Webster Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017

A light reception will follow the liturgy until 4:00 p.m.  All are welcome. Please RSVP by Wednesday, January 29th.  Phone: (301) 277-5674. Email: info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

On January 17th, Fr. Bob’s community, the Salvatorians, held a memorial Mass for him in Milwaukee, where their U.S. headquarters are located, and where Fr. Bob passed away.  Because he was not buried in the Salvatorian Cemetery in Milwaukee, his name will appear on a stone pillar there which stands next to a statue of their founder, Fr. Francis Jordan, SDS.

The following are a list of  links to obituaries of Fr. Bob that appeared in the press around the nation:

Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBernardo, Jan. 2, 2014: “Father Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Passes Into Eternal Life

Religion News Service, Kevin Eckstrom, Jan. 2, 2014:  “The Rev. Bob Nugent, Silenced for his work with Gay Catholics, dies at 76”

National Catholic Reporter, Tom C. Fox, Jan. 2, 2014: “New Ways Ministry Co-Founder Passes” 

Washington Blade, Lou Chibbaro, Jan. 2, 2014: “Robert Nugent,Co-Founder of LGBT Catholic Ministry, Dead at 76”

York Daily Record, John Hilton, Jan. 3, 2014: “The Rev. Robert Nugent, former New Freedom priest silenced for working with gay Catholics, dies at 76″ 

Religion Dispatches, Peter Montgomery, Jan. 3, 2014: RIP: Bishop Otis Charles and Rev. Robert Nugent” 

Los Angeles Times, Elaine Woo, Jan. 4, 2014: Father Robert Nugent dies at 76; priest who supported gays, lesbians”

New York Times, Paul Vitello, Jan. 9 2014:  “Rev. Robert Nugent, Priest Who Counseled Gay Catholics, Dies at 76″

National Catholic Reporter, Megan Fincher, Jan. 10, 2014:New Ways co-founder ‘was the archetype of a priest’ “

Washington Post, Emily Langer, Jan. 10, 2014: “The Rev. Robert Nugent, priest who ministered to gay Catholics, dies at 76 

Human Rights Campaign, Diane Martin, Jan. 14, 2014: HRC Honors Life, Legacy of Father Nugent”

May he rest in peace.

–Francis DeBernardo, 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