Springfield Bishop's Guidelines On Gays Stir Backlash

Jun 26, 2017

Springfield Bishop Thomas Poprocki says married gay parishioners place "scandal" on the church.
Credit Seth Perlman / Associated Press

A new set of guidelines issued by Springfield's bishop, aimed at denying a role in the church for  married gay Catholics, has prompted an immediate backlash.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki said people in same sex marriages cannot be buried in Springfield Catholic churches, receive communion or serve in parish ministries.

"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," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for the Catholic LGBTQ community.

In particularly harsh language, Paprocki cited what he called the "objectively immoral nature" of same sex relationships and said those Catholics who participate in them bring "public scandal" to the church. 

"Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites," the bishop wrote.  

DeBernardo said that the portion of the decree many found most hurtful is the prohibition on funerals."To turn away people at their moment of greatest grief just does not feel Christian," DeBernardo said.  

"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," he added. 

Paprocki was an outspoken critic of same-sex marriage in the lead-up to the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling establishing marriage equality.

In a statement he issued to clarify his pronouncement, Paprocki wrote, "Jesus Christ himself affirmed the privileged place of marriage in human and Christian society by raising it to the dignity of a sacrament. Consequently, the Church has not only the authority, but the serious obligation, to affirm its authentic teaching on marriage and to preserve and foster the sacred value of the married state."

DeBernardo predicted that the bishop's pronouncement, titled "Decree Regarding Same-Sex 'Marriage' and Related Pastoral Issues," would have the opposite effect and result in an outpouring of support for gay Catholics.

 Recent studies show that a majority of Catholics nationwide support the right of gay citizens to marry.

 "Bishop Paprocki probably hopes it will help more people become opposed to marriage equality, but I think it is going to probably have the opposite effect. I think the harshness of this directive is letting people see the discrimination that gay and lesbian people face, and will move people to be more supportive of lesbian-gay issues," DeBernardo said.

 DeBernardo said he encourages gay Catholics to remain within their parishes if they have found a spiritual home there. He predicted that many priests in the Springfield diocese will refuse to follow the bishop's guidelines,  but be guided instead by the tone of greater mercy and inclusion advocated by Pope Francis.

 He said he would welcome an opportunity for the gay community to engage in  a personal conversation with the bishop.

 Paprocki has gone farther than nearly all of his fellow American bishops in condemning same sex relationships. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, where Paprocki was a priest for many years, has said the reception of communion in the Catholic Church is a matter of individual conscience. 

 The Archdiocese of Chicago has no similar set of guidelines addressing the sacramental rights of gays and lesbians. 

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