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Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, IllinoisYouTube/Screenshot

(LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Thomas Paprocki stepped up his criticism of Cardinal Robert McElroy, accusing the San Diego cardinal and other dissident prelates of “heresy” and suggesting that they have excommunicated themselves from the Catholic Church.

Writing in First Things on Tuesday, Bishop Paprocki said that McElroy’s call to give Holy Communion to grave sinners, including homosexuals and adulterers, meets the definition of heresy, the penalty for which is “automatic excommunication.”

Without naming McElroy, the bishop quoted directly from a widely criticized article that McElroy wrote for America magazine last month in which he explicitly rejected “a theology of eucharistic coherence.”

“Imagine if a cardinal of the Catholic Church were to publish an article in which he condemned ‘a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the eucharist’ and stated that ‘unworthiness cannot be the prism of accompaniment for disciples of the God of grace and mercy,’” he wrote, quoting McElroy’s article.

Bishop Paprocki, who leads the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and serves as chairman-elect of the Church governance committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference, also took aim at cardinals who have denied Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.

“Or what if a cardinal of the Catholic Church were to state publicly that homosexual acts are not sinful and same-sex unions should be blessed by the Church?” he wrote. “Until recently, it would be hard to imagine any successor of the apostles making such heterodox statements.”

Multiple cardinals, including Jean-Claude Hollerich and Reinhard Marx, have publicly repudiated Catholic teaching on the sinfulness of homosexuality in recent months. Hollerich, the archbishop of Luxembourg and relator general for Pope Francis’ Synod on Synodality, declared last year that Catholic teaching against sodomy is “false” and should be changed. The late Cardinal George Pell accused Hollerich of “explicit heresy” and urged the Vatican to censure him.

Marx, the archbishop of Munich and a member of the Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, has performed same-sex “blessings” and claimed in April that homosexuality “is not a sin.” Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, has also suggested that the Church could “bless” same-sex unions. McElroy, for his part, has attacked Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and suggested that they are not necessarily sinful.

“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon today to hear Catholic leaders affirm unorthodox views that, not too long ago, would have been espoused only by heretics,” Bishop Paprocki continued.

“‘Heretic’ and ‘heresy’ are strong words, which contemporary ecclesiastical politeness has softened to gentler expressions such as ‘our separated brethren’ or ‘the Christian faithful who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church,’” he added. “But the reality is that those who are ‘separated’ and ‘not in full communion’ are separated and not in full communion because they reject essential truths of ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 1:3).”

Though the idea that a bishop “may be separated or not in full communion because of heresy” is “deeply troubling,” he wrote, the errors promoted by McElroy and like-minded prelates indeed “involve heresy.”

“Yet both the cases mentioned above would in fact involve heresy, since heresy is defined as ‘the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith’” Bishop Paprocki explained, citing canon 751 of the Code of Canon Law.

He also quoted canon 750, which states that all members of the faithful “must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith” and that “anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Bishop Paprocki noted that the penalty for heresy is extremely serious — automatic or “latae sententiae” excommunication — and applies to prelates as well as to the faithful.

Canon law provides such a severe penalty due to the nature of the offense, “since a person who espouses apostasy, heresy, or schism has de facto separated themselves ontologically — that is, in reality — from the communion of the Church,” he wrote. “Thus heretics, apostates, and schismatics inflict the penalty of excommunication upon themselves.”

As with any Catholic, a cardinal “who denies settled Catholic teaching, embraces heresy, the result of which is automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church,” he added.

Bishop Paprocki: McElroy, pro-LGBT cardinals reject definitive Catholic teaching

Referring to Cardinal McElroy, Bishop Paprocki stressed that “it is contrary to a ‘truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith’ to reject or condemn ‘a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the eucharist,’ as if no such barriers existed.”

Barriers to the Eucharist “do exist, and they are a matter of divine revelation,” he insisted.

The truth about eucharistic coherence that must be believed by divine and Catholic faith was articulated by Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord . . . For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:27–29). This has been the constant teaching of the Church for the past two thousand years. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.” A mortal sin is one which “destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God.”

The First Letter to the Corinthians notably lists homosexuality, adultery, and sexual immorality as grievous sins.

“With regard to the sinfulness of homosexual acts,” Bishop Paprocki further wrote, “the truth that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith is also stated clearly in the Catechism”:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has similarly described rejection of Catholic teaching on homosexuality as “heresy.”

Again quoting canon law, Bishop Paprocki noted that heretical clerics can be punished with removal from the clerical state and their ecclesiastical office, though only a pope can impose those penalties on a cardinal.

“If he does not do so, the unseemly prospect arises of a cardinal, excommunicated latae sententiae due to heresy, voting in a papal conclave,” he warned. “We must pray that the Holy Spirit will not let this happen, and will inspire anyone who espouses heretical views to renounce them and seek reconciliation with our Lord and his Church.”

Widening backlash against McElroy

Bishop Paprocki’s latest essay comes days after he wrote an article in Catholic World Report slamming McElroy’s attacks on Catholic sexual ethics and accusing him of promoting the heretical “fundamental option” theory.

The Springfield bishop specifically condemned statements that McElroy made in an interview with America earlier this month in which McElroy claimed that the Church is too focused on “sexual things” and needs a looser “framework” for sexuality.

“The Cardinal seems to be calling for the Church to devalue the gravity of sexual sin, but sexual sin is part of the ‘framework’ found in God’s Word,” Bishop Paprocki responded.

McElroy’s series of recent heterodox comments have provoked an explosion of criticism, including from U.S. bishops such as Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, has called for McElroy to be “publicly corrected” by the Holy See.

Pope Francis made McElroy a cardinal last August despite the San Diego prelate’s long record of disobeying and criticizing Catholic teaching.