Bishop Thomas John Paprocki
Springfield Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki is no ordinary church leader. He’s an expert on exorcisms, has stature as a canon lawyer and has been a hockey goalie. He added to his local and national notoriety recently with a column in the local diocesan newspaper.
Paprocki wrote that people who vote for candidates that favor abortion rights or gay marriage (read: Democratic) are going to hell.
The erudite Paprocki didn’t put quite as fine a point on it. But the message was clear, and some are arguing that he crossed the line into political advocacy from the pulpit, which can jeopardize a religious organization’s tax-exempt status.
“I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy,” Paprocki wrote.
If Paprocki didn’t cross the line, he certainly inched a few toes over it.
The rest of the letter was nothing new. For years, the conservative Catholic hierarchy, which has cemented its control of the church in Benedict’s papacy, has made it clear outlawing abortion is its No. 1 priority and everything else the church purports to hold dear, particularly its social justice mission to help those in poverty, takes a back seat.
Like any good attorney, Paprocki tried to demolish the arguments of those who might accuse the church of hypocrisy before they made them.
Doesn’t the church also oppose the death penalty and why aren’t GOP politicians who don’t persona non grata? Well, the Catechism provides a loophole, Paprocki wrote.
“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” Paprocki quotes it as saying.
His success in refuting such arguments and offer of absolution to Republicans for their own transgressions when it comes to Catholic teachings as “not intrinsic evils” makes it all the more clear that Paprocki was doing some partisan shilling.
In 1983, the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin developed a doctrine called the “consistent life ethic.” He argued that all human life is sacred and that emphasis ought to be given to opposing abortion, capital punishment and war and promoting social justice and economic opportunity. In his attempt to unify liberals and conservatives in the church, Bernadin argued that to be truly pro-life, one had to act to preserve life beyond the conception and birth of a child. Attacking poverty and economic injustice is a means to reducing abortions, which will continue to happen whether they are legal.
There are many in the church, particularly the nuns who have found themselves under attack in recent years for not adhering strictly to church doctrine, who still subscribe to Bernadin’s philosophy. But recent political rhetoric from the church’s male leaders indicate it has been left in the 20th century.
Poll after poll has shown that lay Catholics nationwide reject their church’s teachings on certain issues, particularly the prohibition against using birth control and gay marriage. Statements like Paprocki’s will only serve to increase that divide.