ROME—So much for the Catholic Church’s new-found tolerance for same-sex couples.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has just issued a harsh decree about how he wants priests in his diocese outside of Chicago to treat same-sex couples both in life and in death. His decree came on the eve of Chicago’s Pride week, which he quite clearly does not like.
Paprocki is a hardliner who famously performed an exorcism when Illinois passed a same-sex union bill in 2013, telling the Chicago Tribune at the time that Pope Francis’s words about tolerance of gay priests—"Who am I to judge?"— were being misrepresented in the state legislature to suit politics.
“It is scandalous that so many Catholic politicians are responsible for enabling the passage of this legislation and even twisting the words of the pope to rationalize their actions despite the clear teaching of the church,” he said before performing the public exorcism. “Pope Francis is saying that same-sex ‘marriage’ comes from the devil and should be condemned as such.”
Last year, Pope Francis seemed to prove Paprocki wrong when he eased up on gays in his Apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which has been the root of a number of controversies since it came out, including a move led by American Cardinal Raymond Burke to try to force Francis into a corner to clarify his stance on church teachings and gays and divorced and remarried Catholics.
So far Francis has not budged, instead giving local pastors wiggle room when it comes to tending their flocks rather than defining what he does or does not mean when he calls for tolerance and greater understanding about the “complicated lives” of modern Catholics.
But Paprocki is clearly taking the side of hardline conservatives in the church who already support his new decree and who would prefer to see a return to more traditional views that considered gays as “immoral” and, in the phrase of now-retired Pope Benedict XVI, “intrinsically disordered.”
Given Catholic dogma, it’s not surprising that Popricki would prohibit employees of the diocese in any capacity from taking part in the blessing or “solemnization” of same-sex marriages, and he likewise decrees that no properties, whether directly or indirectly tied to the church, can be used for such celebrations.
He also calls for those in same-sex relationships not to “present themselves for Holy Communion” and instead advises pastors who are aware of “such situations” to call the couple in for “conversion.”
And it gets worse.
Popricki calls for priests in his diocese to “deprive” those living openly in same-sex marriage of ecclesiastical funeral rites, which include burial and last rites, “unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death.”
Catholic priests perform last rites on dying Catholics to prepare their souls for ascension to heaven by absolving them of the sins for which they are repentant, according to the Catholic Catechism. But if dying Catholics do not feel repentant for their perceived sins, they cannot be absolved. Under Paprocki’s rules, an openly gay person would have to denounce their sexuality and ask God’s forgiveness for living as a gay person before being allowed those last rites.
Likewise, a child living in a family with same-sex parents “may be baptized if there is a well-founded hope that he or she will be brought up in the Catholic faith,” which is assumed to mean not accepting the same-sex unions that their parents have. “The pastor should use due discretion in determining the appropriateness of the public celebration of the baptism.”
Paprocki does say those children should “not automatically” be denied admission to Catholic schools. “However, parents and those who legally take the place of parents are to be advised that their children will be instructed according to the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality in their fullness.”
The decree did not sit well with a lot of open-minded people, including Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of the New Ways Ministry, which works to build bridges between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community.
DeBarnardo wrote an open letter to Paprocki in which he condemned him for damaging the progress that has been made by Pope Francis to bring LGBT Catholics back to church.
“Your ‘Decree Regarding Same-Sex “Marriage” and Related Pastoral Issues’ has been received by Catholics across the nation with one of the strongest negative reactions that I have witnessed in almost 25 years of ministry with the LGBT community in the Church,” he wrote. “While there have been many harsh and negative statements from church leaders over the past quarter century, I think the reason that people responded so emotionally to your edict is that it addresses two very core Catholic areas: sacramental experience and life/death issues.”
The group Dignity USA also issued a press release calling the bishop’s words “mean spirited” and “unchristian.”
“Along with many other Catholic leaders, members, and theologians, DignityUSA strongly opposes withholding our Church’s sacraments from anyone as punishment. It is simply cruel and shameful to refuse burial or Communion to those who seek the grace and comfort that our Church offers at some of the most difficult moments of life,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, the group’s director said.
“This is reminiscent of the appalling practice of denying Communion, funerals, and burial to people dying of AIDS at the height of the epidemic. We want to say to Catholics of the Springfield Diocese or others whose parishes or Dioceses do not welcome them as fully who they are, there are Catholic communities that will welcome and affirm you, in the true spirit of our faith.”
The Vatican did not offer a comment on the bishop’s decree, which is effective immediately.