Bishop Paprocki and his critics: someone here is unhinged

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 28, 2017

Liberal Catholics are badly rattled by Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree that Catholics engaged in same-sex marriage cannot receive the sacraments in his Springfield diocese. So badly rattled, in fact, that…

The excitable Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter argues that Bishop Paprocki “should be sacked.” In a column that carried a headline referring to the bishop’s decree as “unhinged” (and “unhinged” is a good word to use here, although not for the Paprocki policy) Winters says that the bishop’s stand “warrants the extreme sanction of removal from office proposed in the motu proprio Come una madre amorevole. As you may recall, Come una madre amorevole was released by Pope Francis just a year ago, detailing how a bishop could be removed from office if he had “committed or omitted acts that have caused grave harm to others.”

To date, the Vatican has never invoked Come una madre amorevole to explain the removal of any bishop. Winters believes it is time to start. Not with the bishops who covered up evidence of sexual abuse—for whom the motu proprio was obviously intended. But with Bishop Paprocki.

The problem, you see, is that Bishop Paprocki’s policy is not merciful. Winters, showing his deep commitment to the merciful treatment of all offenders, tells us that if he were a bishop, “I would issue a decree that Tom Paprocki can’t be buried in my diocese.” The Gospel of Mercy meets lex talionis.

All this, in response to a decree which—as Bishop Paprocki himself observes in an interview with Catholic World Report, answering his critics, is a “rather straightforward application of existing Church teaching and canon law.”

Another outraged critic of the Paprocki decree, Father James Martin, SJ, has paused in his promoting his own new book on acceptance of gay Catholics just long enough to condemn the bishop’s policy as discriminatory. Father Martin’s Facebook post is worth a careful look:

If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. They must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments, women who has [sic] or man who fathers a child out of wedlock, members of straight couples who are living together before marriage, and anyone using birth control. For those are all against church teaching as well.

As Bishop Paprocki notes in his CWR interview, “Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those remarks.” The Church does ban all those people from Communion—at least until they have confessed their sins and reformed their lives. (The same logic that applies to reception of Communion also applies to funerals; the Church cannot treat someone as being “in full communion” if that person is actually not in communion.) However, in most such cases, the Church instructs the individuals to refrain from Communion on their own; the ban is not made public, because the sins are not public acts. A legal marriage falls into a different category; it is a public act, and a Catholic whose public act is incompatible with Church teaching engages in a public scandal. Which is why the Church does ban Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments. Someone should probably inform Father Martin.

But just for the sake of the argument, imagine that an American bishop issued a policy similar to that set by Bishop Paprocki, but expanded (with appropriate clarification) along the lines suggested by Father Martin. Imagine that a bishop directed his priests to remind Catholics that they should not receive Communion if they had been involved in procuring an abortion, or if they were living together outside marriage, or if they were using contraceptives. Imagine that the bishop warned Catholics who are divorced and remarried that they could not have a funeral in a Catholic parish. Does that prospect frighten you? Because I say: Go for it!

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Jul. 07, 2017 4:14 PM ET USA

    Critics like Fr Martin need a lesson in Common Sense 101. Admittedly, God's Law is vexing to those who have engaged in serious immorality. But the difficulty is created by grave&willful separation from God, not by God's Law. So, there's no possible way mercy can demand excusing that separation by fiat. Instead, separation must be addressed God's way, i.e., mercy via repentance. And if the grave sinner has already died, that's a tragedy, yet God gives everyone a lifetime to choose Him&repent.

  • Posted by: ALC - Jul. 07, 2017 3:18 PM ET USA

    All bishops should be saying what Bp. Paprocki said, but instead we have some saying just the opposite and saying Paprocki's statement is confusing people. No, the lack of clarity coming from the Pope is confusing people and more bishops should be demanding clarification to clear things up.

  • Posted by: vjenkins78814 - Jun. 30, 2017 11:19 PM ET USA

    I stand with Bishop Paprocki for speaking the truth.

  • Posted by: MatJohn - Jun. 28, 2017 10:15 PM ET USA

    Expect Bishop Paprocki to be "elevated" to the diocese of Alaska in short order. The man's courage cries out for similar edicts from his fellow bishops. The name Fisher now lurks in the background.

  • Posted by: Philopus - Jun. 28, 2017 9:46 PM ET USA

    To me it seems the real scandal is that we don't see the same decree coming from all the bishops. Something like 31 of Christ's parables where on the need for us to repent and turn away from sin; yet we hardly hear any of it from most of our bishops and their priests.