Illinois bishop on barring politicians from communion: Something had to be done
June 7, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Thomas Paprocki felt a responsibility to issue a decree barring Illinois legislators from receiving Communion after they passed recent radical pro-abortion legislation for the sake of the lawmakers’ souls and because of the scandal they created.
The scandal would be even worse if the faithful thought bishops weren’t taking action to address the situation, Paprocki, the bishop of Springfield in the state capital of Illinois, told LifeSiteNews in an interview Thursday.
And as a “defining issue of our time,” the bishop said, abortion carries more importance than other issues.
“As a shepherd of the Church, I'm concerned for the salvation of their souls,” Paprocki said of the lawmakers, “as well as the salvation of souls who are watching their actions and are scandalized by this.”
“And if we as bishops don't say anything about it,” he continued, “that just adds to the scandal of people thinking that, “Well, these politicians are doing things that are very immoral and very sinful, and the bishops aren't saying anything about that. So you know that would make it make it even worse. I just felt an obligation or responsibility to respond to what was going on.”
Paprocki has decreed that state legislators who had a hand in passing Illinois’s new abortion law may not present themselves for Communion, in particular naming both the Senate President John Cullerton and the Speaker of the House Michael Madigan as forbidden from the Eucharist.
The June 2 decree and an accompanying June 6 statement were released Thursday. The statement explains the decree and states, “Bishop Paprocki, who is a canon lawyer, consulted with other canon lawyers throughout North America before issuing this decree.”
The Illinois Senate sent Senate Bill 25, the Reproductive Health Act, to the state’s governor for approval last Friday. It had passed in the Senate by a 34-20 vote.
The law creates a fundamental right to abortion and states the “fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.” Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker has promised to sign the bill, and the law will go into effect immediately.
The abortion expansion bill has been described as the most radical piece of abortion legislation that has ever been introduced in Illinois and worse than New York’s notorious abortion law from earlier this year, also an expansion of abortion.
Paprocki, who had condemned the Illinois legislation late last month as a “gravely immoral action,” also cited Illinois House Bill 40, or the 2017 Act Concerning Abortion, in his decree.
In an exclusive interview with LifeSiteNews, Paprocki stressed the significance of the issue, saying Church teaching about abortion is clear.
“There are some issues that are more important than others,” the Springfield bishop said. “And I would call those defining issues.”
“In many ways, abortion is a defining issue for our time,” said Paprocki.
He emphasized there should be no question that Catholic legislators who vote for abortion should refrain from receiving Communion until they are in a state of grace because Church teaching on abortion has always been clear.
“The teaching of this is clear and consistent over centuries of the Church,” Paprocki said, “so any politician should know that their voting for or promoting abortion is a seriously sinful thing and that they should not then be presenting themselves for Holy Communion until they are reconciled to the Church.”
“And I would argue that in order to be reconciled it would not be enough simply to say, “I'm sorry,” he continued. “But they would then have to make some effort to have their previous actions overturned.”
If legislators were instrumental in having pro-abortion legislation passed and still a member of the General Assembly, for example, Paprocki said, “They should introduce a new bill, or somehow make some legislative effort to have these abortion bills then overturned or repealed.”
While abortion is a defining issue, the bishop clarified that the interdict on Holy Communion applies to Catholics in any type of mortal sin, stating, “It would be the same thing for a person who is divorced and remarried without an annulment, for example, or a couple that's cohabiting and they're not married.”
He addressed the argument that the Church can’t speak about abortion because it has lost moral authority for its handling of the clergy sex-abuse crisis, comparing the situation to a parent trying to discipline their children.
“To say that a parent can’t correct a child because the parent is also sinful would be really abdicating the role of the parent,” the bishop explained. “You know a parent should indeed confront his or her own sinfulness and correct it, but at the same time, has a responsibility to the proper moral instruction to their children.”
The Church has lots of members that are sinful, he said, all humans are sinful, and sinfulness has to be confronted.
“But at the same time, that doesn't mean that we should, therefore, remain silent, or we've lost our right to speak out on these things,” Paprocki stated. “In fact, it's not just a right, it's a responsibility when that's what our job is as shepherds of the Church, is to shepherd our people, our concern for the salvation of souls.”
He clarified in the interview with LifeSiteNews that Canon 916, also invoked in the decree with Canon 915, applies to the individual and does not require action by a bishop, stating that someone conscious of grave sin should not present himself or herself for Communion. Paprocki said as well that the decree applies to any abortion legislation, and that this is clearly in accord with Church teaching.
Learn more about Bishop Paprocki’s views and past actions by visiting FaithfulShepherds.com. Click here.
See the full interview below:
For some people, the reason would be clear, but for those for whom it might not be, could you explain why you felt it necessary to issue this decree?
Well, I'm the bishop of Springfield Illinois, which is the capital of the state of Illinois.
And so we had this legislative action taking place at our capital, which is just a few blocks away from our cathedral. And I felt this is something that I have the responsibility, for what I would consider to be a very immoral piece of legislation that was taking place right there at our capital. And so I thought that it would be important for me, first of all, to protect the integrity of our sacraments and the clarity of our faith about this. Because we have a situation where very prominent Catholics are identifying themselves as Catholic, and at the same time are saying that they reject the Church's teaching on abortion and euthanasia and marriage and family life and a lot of different views. And I think as a shepherd of the Church I'm concerned for the salvation of their souls, as well as the salvation of souls who are watching their actions and are scandalized by this. And if we as bishops don't say anything about it, that just adds to the scandal of people thinking that, “Well, these politicians are doing things that are very immoral and very sinful, and the bishops aren't saying anything about that,” so you know that would make it make it even worse. I just felt an obligation or responsibility to respond to what was going on.
In the decree you specifically name the Illinois State Senate President and Speaker of the House; did you communicate with them before issuing the decree?
I did communicate with the speaker of the house on a couple of occasions about this.
I did contact Senator Cullerton's office. He did not return my phone calls, so after the vote was taken last week I followed up with letters to both of them with a copy of my decree. You also mention Catholic legislators in general who have cooperated in evil and committed grave sin by voting for any legislation that promotes abortion. So can you clarify a few things, that this applies to legislators while they're in the Springfield diocese vs. if they if they actually reside somewhere else. Jurisdictionally, can you clarify that?
I'm citing two different canons here, Canon 915 and Canon 916. And Canon 915 is the one that says a person should not be admitted to Holy Communion because they have obstinately persisted in manifest grave sin. And that one is directed by name to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President because they have a consistent pattern of not only voting for pro-abortion legislation but also facilitating it because of their leadership roles. So in 2017, they were very active in the passage of House Bill 40, which provided for taxpayer funding of abortion, as well as stating that if Roe vs. Wade is ever overturned that Illinois would continue to be a state where abortion would continue to be legal. And then the bill that was just passed last week, Senate Bill 25, was stating that abortion is a fundamental right, that an unborn baby doesn't have any independent rights of its own, and required also private insurance to pay for abortion. So you have this, that together with what I would call an aggravating factor of the leadership role, and promoting this legislation, therefore, is the reason why I cited the Senate President and the Speaker of the House by name as having Canon 915 apply to them. Cannon 916, on the other hand, I didn't name anyone. And, Canon 915, I was saying that they are not to be admitted, that does apply to them only in the Diocese of Springfield because that basically is an instruction to the minister of Holy Communion not to give them Holy Communion. On the other hand, Canon 916 is addressed to everyone, really, who is conscious of committing a grave sin. And so a person who has committed a grave sin should not present himself or herself for Communion, and that would be anywhere, not just in the Diocese of Springfield, that would be anywhere and for any grave sin, not just this sin. And so in that sense, it was just a reminder saying, to vote for pro-abortion legislation is a grave sin, and just like anyone else in the state of mortal sin, (they) should not approach for Communion. So it would be the same thing for a person who is divorced and remarried without an annulment, for example, or a couple that's cohabiting and they're not married. Also to those who are also in seriously sinful situations, that they should not be presenting themselves for the sacraments. But that burden is really on them and it does apply to them everywhere.
But is it not up to the bishop in the diocese where they reside to see that it's actually applied?
No, that would be with Canon 915, so Canon 916 applies to the individual. There's no action required by the bishop, really, in 916. If the bishop, or even a pastor, were to take this step of saying that you’re not going to be admitted to Holy Communion, that's Canon 915, and that has to be very specific, meeting those requirements of obstinate persistence and manifest grave sin.
Do you mean for this to extend beyond the recent law that was passed, as far as referring to the Catholic legislators in general, if they vote for any legislation that promotes abortion, did you mean for that to extend beyond the current law that's at hand?
Well, yes, because I'm saying, and I think this would be the clear teaching of the Church, that to vote for pro-abortion legislation is gravely sinful. So it's not tied to any specific piece of legislation, it's any abortion legislation. That's the consistent teaching of the Church, that's why I started out my decree with a quote from the Didache, which goes back to the first century of the Church, which declared, “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion, and shall not cause a newborn to perish.” So from the very beginning of Christianity, abortion and infanticide were considered to be sinful. I also then quote the Second Vatican Council, so a more recent teaching of the Church. In Gaudium et Spes, in paragraph 51, it says that abortion and infanticide are “abominable crimes.” I also quote Pope Francis in 2016. He said that abortion is a “very grave sin” and a “horrendous crime.” The teaching of this is clear and consistent over centuries of the Church, so any politician should know that their voting for or promoting abortion is a seriously sinful thing and that they should not then be presenting themselves for Holy Communion until they are reconciled to the Church. And I would argue that in order to be reconciled it would not be enough simply to say, “I'm sorry.” But they would then have to make some effort to have their previous actions overturned. So if they were instrumental in having pro-abortion legislation passed, if they’re still a member of the General Assembly, for example, they should introduce a new bill, or somehow make some legislative effort to have these abortion bills then overturned or repealed. It may be like a person who steals from someone, and you go to Confession and you ask for absolution. I've always been taught, and this is what we teach with regard to stealing, that in addition to being given a penance and Confession, you also have to make restitution. You can't steal a million dollars, for example, and say, “Gee, I'm really sorry about that, but I'm going to keep the million dollars.” If you're sorry about it, you’ve got to give the money back. And so similarly here, if you're really sorry about your abortion votes, then you have an obligation, I would argue, to do something to reverse that.
Further, in citing Pope Francis and Church documents in issuing this degree, how do you respond to someone who might say that the Church is too obsessed with abortion?
I would say, first of all, I don't think it's the Church that's pushing this as an issue in the public square. It's the pro-abortion movement that is keeping this at the forefront and pushing for extreme legislation that wants to make it possible for abortion to be legal anytime on demand. Secondly, I would say that there are some issues that are more important than others. And I would call those defining issues. Like in the 19th century, slavery was a defining issue for our country, and certainly for President Abraham Lincoln, a very famous citizen from Springfield that we're always very conscious of in our hometown there. But you know, just as it was that slavery was a defining issue in the 19th century, in many ways abortion is a defining issue for our time. And it's interesting to see how this is lining up in our country. It’s almost a reversal of roles from the 19th century. In the 19th century, you had the Southern states on the side of slavery and the North on the side of the abolition of slavery. And here you've got Southern states that are passing laws against abortion, states like Georgia and Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, all those states are promoting and fighting for respect for unborn human life. In contrast, you have states from the north, like Illinois and New York, on the wrong side this time of the moral issue. They're promoting something that is very seriously sinful. And I hope that just as in the place of slavery, eventually our country overcame and rejected slavery and became all united in rejecting not only slavery but also racism, it's my hope that our country will overcome the sin of abortion and be united in our respect for all human life.
In issuing the decree, Bishop, you mentioned, importantly, that some are going to point out the Church's own failings with regard to abuse of children.
And you say that “The same justifiable anger we feel toward the abuse of innocent children, however, should prompt an outcry of resistance against legalizing the murder of innocent children. The failings of the Church do not change the objective reality that the murder of a defenseless baby is an utterly evil act.”
My question is, how would you encourage Catholics facing that same argument - that the Church has lost moral standing due to the sex abuse scandal - how would you encourage them in articulating as you do that the abuse of children and abortion are both bad and that the failings of some Church leaders do not negate the reality of the evil of abortion?
Well, I would compare it to a parent trying to discipline their children.
You know, as parents would perhaps be mindful of their own wrongdoing as a child or even as an adult. And to say that a parent can’t correct a child because the parent is also sinful would be really abdicating the role of the parent. You know a parent should indeed confront his or her own sinfulness and correct it, but at the same time, has a responsibility to the proper moral instruction to their children. And so in a sense, Mother Church has lots of members that are sinful, we're all sinful, and we have to confront that sinfulness, and we are doing the best we can to try to confront the evil of clerical sexual abuse of minors. But at the same time that doesn't mean that we should, therefore, remain silent, or we've lost our right to speak out on these things. In fact, it's not just a right, it's a responsibility when that's what our job is as shepherds of the Church, is to shepherd our people, our concern for the salvation of souls. We’re concerned for the salvation of our politicians as well as the faithful in Churches who are rightly scandalized by these Catholic politicians who are taking up positions that are very contrary to Church teaching and are expecting that the Church will respond to that situation (concede on Church teaching).