SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A prominent media priest who criticized Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s restatement of norms regarding Church funerals “gets a lot wrong,” the bishop said in a response noting the importance of repentance for everyone.
Bishop Paprocki explained his decree in a July 9 video on the Diocese of Springfield’s website. He reminded everyone with a ministry in the Church that “while being clear and direct about what the Church teaches, our pastoral ministry must always be respectful, compassionate and sensitive to all our brothers and sisters in faith, as was the ministry of Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd and our everlasting model for ministry,” the bishop said.
“People with same-sex attraction are welcome in our parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, as we repent our sins and pray for God to keep us in his grace,” he said.
On June 12, the bishop of Springfield had issued an internal decree discussing same-sex marriage and pastoral issues in his diocese. The decree was leaked.
Jesuit Father James Martin, an editor-at-large of America magazine, had claimed on Twitter that the bishop’s diocesan norms regarding a ban on Church funeral rites only focused on “LGBT people” and would not be applied to others living in public sin, such as a man and a woman in an irregular union, or private sin, such as users of birth control. Father Martin suggested such a focus constituted unjust discrimination.
Bishop Paprocki had said his decree was “totally consistent with Catholic teaching.” The decree was “a rather straightforward application of existing Catholic doctrine and canon law” in a new situation where same-sex couples are receiving a legal marital status in civil law, contrary to Catholic teaching.
“Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those tweets, since canon law prohibits ecclesiastical funeral rites only in cases of ‘manifest sinners,’ which gives ‘public scandal,’ and something such as using birth control is a private matter that is usually not manifest or made public,” the bishop said.
Bishop Paprocki rejected the characterization of his decree as focusing on “LGBT people.” Rather, he said, it focused on “so-called same-sex ‘marriage,’ which is a public legal status.”
“No one is ever denied the sacraments or Christian burial for simply having a homosexual orientation,” the bishop continued. “Even someone who had entered into a same-sex ‘marriage’ can receive the sacraments and be given ecclesiastical funeral rites if they repent and renounce their marriage.”
The bishop said the priest-commentator missed the key phrase in the decree: the section saying that ecclesiastical funeral rites are to be denied to those in same-sex “marriages” “unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death.”
“This is a direct quote from Canon 1184 of the Code of Canon Law, which is intended as a call to repentance,” Bishop Paprocki said.
He cited Christ’s public proclamation in the Gospel of Mark: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
The bishop further explained the Church’s response to Church burial rites.
“This does not mean that unrepentant manifest sinners will simply be refused or turned away,” he said. “Even in those cases where a public Mass of Christian burial in church cannot be celebrated because the deceased person was unrepentant and there would be public scandal, the priest or deacon may conduct a private funeral service, for example, at the funeral home.”
Bishop Paprocki did find a point in the priest’s criticism.
“Father Martin’s tweets do raise an important point with regard to other situations of grave sin and the reception of Holy Communion. He is right that the Church’s teaching does not apply only to people in same-sex ‘marriages,’” he said.
Citing canon law, the bishop said everyone conscious of grave sin should not receive Holy Communion without first going to confession and receiving absolution. This is relevant to everyone who has committed a grave sin, whether it is sexual sin, missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of Obligation without grave cause, procuring an abortion, or having attempted remarriage after a divorce without obtaining a decree of nullity.
The bishop noted that a couple who agrees to live as brother and sister in an irregular union, if there is no public scandal, could receive Holy Communion after repenting, going to confession and amending their lives. This similarly would apply to two men or two women who live chastely with each other.
Bishop Paprocki’s decree drew significant media coverage.
“The fact that there would be such an outcry against this decree is quite astounding and shows how strong the ‘LGBT’ lobby is both in the secular world as well as within the Church,” he said.
Citing Pope Francis’ comments against judgementalism, the bishop noted that the Pope had warned against any form of lobbies, including a “gay lobby.”
Burial rites were only one part of the June 12 decree, which concerned topics including the use of Catholic facilities and diocesan personnel in same-sex ceremonies, as well as the response to people in same-sex unions and to any children who live with such couples and are presented for the sacraments or Catholic education.