Bishop Paprocki Defends Faith and Family in the Land of Lincoln

A conversation with the shepherd of Springfield, Ill.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. (photo: CNA)

On Nov. 20, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed same-sex “marriage” into law using President Abraham Lincoln’s desk and incorrectly citing Pope Francis.

Simultaneously, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., performed a minor exorcism at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield.

In his homily that day, the bishop also quoted Pope Francis — correctly. As cardinal of Buenos Aires, the Pope said that same-sex “marriage” legislation was a “move of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Bishop Paprocki, in his words and actions, has shown his people what he stands for, fulfilling the scriptural duties of a bishop, as outlined in Mark 3:14: “to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”

In a conversation with the Register on Dec. 10, Bishop Paprocki explained his decision regarding the minor exorcism. “There are different kinds of exorcism. This was a service of supplication, in regard to particular circumstances,” he said.  “In a major exorcism, it is about a possession of a person by the devil. This was about the persecution of the Church. The civil government was adopting the redefinition of marriage, citing Pope Francis, twisting his words and using Scripture. … The exorcism was done in a public way because the redefinition of marriage was done in a public way. … Our popular understanding of exorcism is sensational and from Hollywood.” 

His battle against the devil has been a cornerstone of his pastoral care.

In his inaugural homily in June 2010, the bishop referenced the St. Michael the Archangel Prayer. After the Mass, he had 50,000 prayer cards distributed. 

His action made a wide impact in the Springfield Diocese. “Now, people have it memorized. After dismissal [at Masses], everyone joins in the St. Michael Prayer,” Bishop Paprocki noted.

He also champions devotion to St. Raphael, the archangel in the Book of Tobit who heals Tobias and Sarah’s marriage and exorcises a demon. 

He said that he didn’t find the ensuing controversy around the November exorcism entirely unexpected, commenting, “When you call out the devil, demons would cry out.”


Marriage Matters

Some critics of Church teaching have objected to his public action, asserting that, since he is celibate, he is unfit to discuss marriage. As he told the Register, “A bishop wears a ring. I wear a ring. It has the same symbolism as for a bride and groom. My bond of commitment to the Church is analogous to the marriage relationship. It is erroneous to say that those with a religious vocation don’t understand marriage. God’s love is at the root of every vocation. The priest has a loving relationship with the parish. In marriage and in the priesthood, love comes from the Lord’s grace.”

When it comes to same-sex “marriage,” Paprocki said that the language of love, fairness and equality has drawn people toward incorrect views: “Marriage is now a matter of two people who love each other. Love is a big part of marriage, but not the only one.” 

His concern about the redefinition of marriage — “unprecedented in human history” — makes him a champion of God’s vision for marriage and family. In his Nov. 20 homily, Bishop Paprocki cited a University of Texas study showing that same-sex unions are detrimental for the children involved.

The diocese will be having listening sessions about family issues to gather information pertinent for the Vatican ahead of the extraordinary synod on the family next year, per the Holy See’s recent survey request to dioceses.


‘Law of the Heart’

Bishop Paprocki is a lawyer by training and studied both civil law and canon law. His motto is Lex Cordis Caritas (The Law of the Heart Is Love); consequently, his professional demeanor is infused with paternal understanding. He founded the Chicago Legal Clinic in 1981 to help the poor and disadvantaged. The clinic helps immigrants gain legal status, protects victims of domestic violence and aids those facing foreclosure. 

Bishop Paprocki brings his legal expertise to the same-sex “marriage” issue: “We have to recognize that what is legal and what is moral are different. Marriage is now redefined according to civil law.”

But that is not how it should be, he said. “There is a relationship between sacred and secular law. We have moral objections to stealing, murder and perjury.” 

Bishop Paprocki used the example of Roe v. Wade, saying that, while something may be legal, that doesn’t automatically make it moral. 

He explained that, with same-sex “marriage,” the freedom of religion is now being separated from freedom of worship; the only religious freedom allowed is that clergy aren’t compelled to perform same-sex “marriages.”

But there is more at stake, Bishop Paprocki said. “There are ramifications when it comes to employee benefits and education, as well as for laypeople like bakers and photographers. The courts are not recognizing religious freedom.” 

For example, Judge Robert Spencer ordered Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop near Denver to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples or be fined for discrimination.


Holy Family’s Example

Because the culture is confused on this issue, the Church must speak out.

Bishop Paprocki explained the Church’s position on what marriage is: “Male and female complement each other, spiritually and psychologically,” in addition to physical differences allowing for procreation. 

The Holy Family is the perfect model, according to Bishop Paprocki. “The Holy Family is an image for family life. Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit [but] he needed a [earthly] father figure. St. Joseph is the foster father, the male father. The Holy Family shows Jesus needed a male father and a female mother.”

For the bishop, evangelization of the culture starts at home: “We don’t try to convert the world at once. We start with family members, friends and co-workers.”

He reminds the faithful that we must have hope, as Christmas promises. “Christmas is the birth of Our Lord. He came into the world, in our life and brings us the promise of eternal life.”

Consequently, the bishop doesn’t see recent developments as a fatal setback. “Those who support natural marriage should not be discouraged. The pro-life movement didn’t end with Roe v. Wade. People shouldn’t give up. They should be stirred to continue to work for a proper understanding of marriage.”

Anna Abbott writes from Napa, California.