Thomas Paprocki, the bishop of Springfield, Ill., has issued a decree instructing priests in the diocese to enforce the Catholic Church’s strictures against gay couples.
Specifically, Paprocki ordered priests to deny Holy Communion to same-sex couples, as well as refuse to perform Catholic funerals or the last rites given to individuals who are near death.
The decree runs counter to Vatican policy that looks to include gay people in the life of the church.
“These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues,” Paprocki said in a statement. He did not clarify why he issued the decree four years after same-sex marriage became legal in Illinois and two years after it became legal in the U.S.
Paprocki performed an exorcism in response to the Illinois gay marriage law, suggesting politicians were “morally complicit” in assisting the sins of same-sex couples.
His latest edict is a stark contrast to the tone from Rome and the approach espoused by Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich last year when the Vatican issued a major church document titled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love.”
In that document, Pope Francis reiterated that same-sex marriage is not analogous to the church’s definition for marriage. But when it comes to inclusion in the life of the church, the church exists to form people’s consciences, not to serve as a substitute, he said.
“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” Francis wrote. “But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness.”
Paprocki said individuals in same-sex couples would not be admitted to confirmation and could not receive communion, last rites or Catholic funerals unless “they have given some signs of repentance before death.” They also are not allowed to serve as readers or Eucharistic ministers during Mass.
Chris Pett, the incoming president of DignityUSA, which advocates for LGBT Catholics, called the document completely out of step with Francis, Cupich and other top American bishops.
“What’s the purpose? What’s the intent?” said Pett, of Chicago. “(Paprocki) speaks from this level of authority and oversight that has nothing to (do) with what a bishop does and what the church is meant to accomplish. … It’s supposed to bring people to God.”
Cupich, who oversees the Catholic Conference of Illinois, was not immediately available to comment. But in April of last year, he echoed the tone in the Vatican document, saying gays and lesbians are to be welcomed into the church with respect and dignity.
Whether Paprocki actually had the authority to issue such a decree is not the point. The bishop is only expressing the undercurrent of revolt in the church by conservatives against the ultra-liberal Pope Francis.
Most media portrays the opposition to Francis as a question of good versus evil. Nothing could be further from the truth. The pushback against the pope’s policies have more to do with Catholic traditions and longstanding dogma being tossed aside.
But the most vocal opposition to the pope has developed over his desire for debate about marriage and divorce, gay people and the family.
After two synods on the issues in 2014 and 2015, Pope Francis produced the document Amoris Laetitia, in which in effect he told the church’s bishops to make local decisions about the divorced and remarried and their receiving of communion.
Traditional church teaching says that a Catholic who remarries after divorce can receive communion only if the church has also annulled his or her first marriage. Some bishops have seen Amoris Laetitia as a direction to compassionately welcome people without annulments to receive the eucharist.
That has outraged conservatives. A letter to Pope Francis from four cardinals hostile to change was made public. The communication took the form known as a “dubia,” expressing doubts, demanding yes and no answers and in effect challenging the pope’s authority by asking him to make points of church teaching clear on this issue and Christian life.
The four accusers included three retired cardinals, plus Cardinal Raymond Burke, an arch-conservative American canon lawyer who has gone as far as threatening to issue a correction to Pope Francis over Amoris Laetitia. Burke has been a thorn in the pope’s side for some time.
He was given a powerful judicial role in Rome by Benedict XVI, from which Pope Francis moved him. Last year Burke and other conservatives were ousted from the Vatican department that oversees worship. Then, earlier this year, during a row between the pope and the ancient Knights of Malta which led to the departure of the order’s British leader, Matthew Festing, Cardinal Burke was sidelined in his role as envoy to the order. Within days anti-Francis posters appeared on the streets of Rome; so has “fake news” by way of spoof Vatican newspaper pages mocking him.
Paprocki’s decree is a shot across the bow to the progressives. The battle being waged in the Vatican and throughout the world is for the soul of the church and whether it will bend to fashionable notions of what’s popular, or whether it will maintain its traditions and dogma that many believe originate with God himself.