SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., said that Catholics should be aware of an “unconscious hatred for the faith” as they seek to interact with the modern culture.
In an interview with The Washington Times, published Sept. 3, the bishop reflected that, in past generations, “many of the values in our secular world mirrored the values of the religious world.”
“And I think what’s happening now is that relationship — that symbiosis between our culture and the Church — has been ruptured,” Bishop Paprocki said.
He noted that he and many others grew up at a time when secular culture was more friendly to religion, as shown in the production of biblical movies like The Ten Commandments. Now, however, the culture is moving towards the “outright rejection” of Judeo-Christian values.
He pointed to an “anti-Catholic bigotry” in the culture, seen in a Late Night with David Letterman segment where the host joked about the sexual abuse of altar boys.
He said the joke showed a “profound ignorance” in identifying the Catholic Church and the priesthood with sex abuse.
“Certainly, we have had our unfortunate share of scandals and sin, and the Church is dealing with that,” the bishop said.
However, he added that the Catholic Church is now one of the most responsible institutions in dealing with sexual abuse, implementing rigorous abuse-prevention measures, training requirements and safe-environment programs.
Public figures like Letterman “continue to point their finger at the Catholic Church and say, 'You have a problem with sexual abuse,' and people are ignoring where most sexual abuse is taking place. It’s occurring in families. It’s occurring in schools,” Bishop Paprocki said.
“This lets people too easily off the hook to say that, ‘Oh, that’s a Catholic problem.’ … If people are really serious about sexual abuse, I think they need to be looking at some other places as well.”
He said comics like Letterman “think they are being funny” and think their jokes are “where our culture is.”
“I don’t know if it is overt hatred for the Church, but it is probably an unconscious hatred for the faith,” he observed.
“It’s a pagan kind of culture,” he said, adding that Christians have to “mentally adjust.”
Bishop Paprocki warned that the situation of the Catholic Church in the U.S. is becoming more like that of the Church in Poland under communism, where Christians lived in “a very hostile environment.”
The bishop has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s HHS mandate requiring employers to provide health-insurance coverage for employees’ sterilizations and contraceptive drugs, including some that cause abortions.
In addition, he has voiced concerns over a 2011 decision by the Illinois state government to ban Catholic adoption and foster-care agencies from receiving state funding on the grounds that they will not place children with same-sex and unmarried couples.
“We still have the First Amendment of our Constitution, but that is being sorely tested,” Bishop Paprocki told the Times.
He said that in response to controversies like the debate over “gay marriage,” Catholics should continue to have “a very articulate, reasoned approach.” They should not let others paint them as “bigots.”
The bishop explained that Catholics’ care and compassion for everyone is “ultimately about their salvation and eternal life.”
“To be compassionate and loving does not simply mean, ‘Oh, you can do whatever you want,’” he said. “That wasn’t Christ’s approach to us. He calls us out of our sinfulness. He died for us. He opens the gates of heaven for us.”