Thomas Paprocki, the Catholic Bishop of Springfield, IL, recently made international headlines with a Decree that banned people in same-sex marriages from receiving Communion, the Sacrament of the Sick, or even Catholic burial unless they showed signs of repentance. Now, in a video posted by CNS,com, the Bishop extends the ban to include politicians and judges who support marriage for same-sex-couples and those who support abortion, as well as individuals who are divorced and remarried without annulment, and users of contraception. In a mantra-like chant, he names many categories of people who are told they must “repent, go to Confession, and amend their lives” before receiving the Eucharist.
Some have suggested that LGBT people should see Bishop Paprocki’s expansion of the sacramental ban as a sign that we are being treated in the same way as other people. This is not a consolation. What we seek is not for others to be subject to banishment and exclusion, as we too often have been. We seek welcome and affirmation for all, respectful dialogue with our Church’s leaders, and to be treated as full and equal members of our Church. We believe that Bishop Paprocki’s pronouncements are harmful to our entire Church, as well as to the individuals and families directly impacted.
Many say that the approach taken by Bishop Paprocki and many other Catholic bishops represents one “side” in a battle for the soul of the Church, sometimes characterized as “Benedict vs. Francis.” Pope Emeritus Benedict represents those who are seen to seek a smaller, purer Church, where orthodoxy and adherence to doctrine define true Catholicism. Pope Francis typifies a more lenient Church that emphasizes pastoral accompaniment, mercy, and a dialogic approach to doctrine. The conflicts between these approaches have been evident in Vatican assemblies, such as the two-year long Synod on the Family, in public statements from Church leaders either supporting or challenging the Pope’s position on a variety of issues, and in Diocesan management.
While there will always be differences in how Church leaders interpret and implement Church dogma, the punitive and exclusive tactics promoted by the Bishop Paprockis of the world betray the very soul of the Catholic faith. They go far beyond the terrible damage inflicted by the promulgation of doctrines that limit human possibilities, especially in the realm of gender and relationships. They reflect a view of humanity as fundamentally wicked and needing to be controlled by the select few who are powerful and good. They repudiate essential tenets of our tradition and of Scriptures from Genesis through the Gospels. According to Genesis 1: 31, humans were created in the Divine image. We are beloved enough that God intervenes repeatedly throughout history to restore our freedom, or to set us back on a path of righteousness. In the ultimate act of salvific love, God’s own Begotten One was sent to redeem humanity, through ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection.
This unlimited outpouring of love and generosity demonstrates a view of humanity as cherished, embraced, and held close. It follows that anyone claiming to act on behalf of the Divine Lover should model a similar approach toward God’s people. They should continually seek out the lost, the lonely, and those who long to be in right relationship with the Church. Banning people from the sacramental table and, even worse, from the rituals that provide comfort and consolation at the time of death, are egregious violations of this pastoral responsibility.
Recent studies, such as those done by the Pew Research Center and Public Religion Research Institute, have shown that between one-third and 40% of adults raised Catholic in the United States have left the Church. Punitive approaches that dwell on sinfulness only exacerbate this exodus. It is time for Catholic Church leaders who find declarations such as those made by Bishop Paprocki harmful to be vocal in promoting a vision and model of Church that honors the belief that all humans are made in the Divine image, and must be unhesitatingly welcomed in the community of faith.