Bishop squirms on the hot-seat in Phoenix

Illinois bishop faces challenging audience at talk on same-sex marriage,” Michael Clancy writes for National Catholic Reporter.

And it seems that Bishop Thomas Paprocki was not up to that challenge.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., walked into a beehive when he agreed to speak about same-sex marriage before a small audience in Phoenix over the weekend. But at least the bishop was there, taking the stings.

Paprocki joined Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a longtime advocate for gay and lesbian people, on the stage Friday in front of about 150 people at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ.

The presentation … featured opening remarks from Paprocki and Gramick, then questions from the audience.

Most of those questions, it seems, were directed at the bishop. And he had no answers. Or, rather, he had a lot of answers — contradictory ones, which amounts to the same thing as not having any.

One audience member asked the bishop how he viewed King David’s relationship with two wives if marriage has not changed through history. Paprocki said that was a long time before the Catholic church and said the questioner was arguing for polygamy.

Catholic Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s anti-equality message received a warm reception from the audience.

Let’s give Paprocki the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not stupid enough to really believe that “the questioner was arguing for polygamy.” The questioner has simply pointed out a contradiction in the bishop’s argument. Paprocki said marriage has not changed through history and the questioner pointed out that it most certainly had changed over time — that marriage in the Bible was very, very different from marriage today.

The questioner actually underestimates the number of wives David had — he had at least seven, plus at least 10 concubines and one royal bed-warmer. But the point is clear: Marriage for King David did not mean anything like the same thing it means for Bishop Paprocki.

The bishop, having lost that point badly, changes the rules: “Paprocki said that was a long time before the Catholic church.”

OK, fine, let’s go with that. New rule: Marriages from “a long time before the Catholic church” don’t count and we mustn’t refer to them as meaningful models for Catholic marriage. Got it.

Next question:

Another audience member asked about marriage between elderly people who would never have children. Paprocki recommended reading the biblical story of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who got pregnant at an old age.

So much for Paprocki’s new rule. Consistency and logic do not seem to be the bishop’s strong suits.

In any case, it seems that you now have the bishop’s permission to defend the sanctity of marriage by raping your wife’s maidservant. (Or did Paprocki not want us to read that part of “the biblical story of Abraham’s wife, Sarah”?)

Bishop Paprocki’s squirming evasiveness, his shifting appeals to scripture and his logical contradictions were not the worst part of his performance at this event. The worst part was his steadfast refusal to listen. At all.

And that refusal to listen resulted in the silliest thing Paprocki said in Phoenix:

“If there is no moral truth, only alternatives, then everything should be OK,” he said.

“There is no moral truth, only alternatives,” isn’t the other side of Paprocki’s argument. It’s simply his self-serving, inaccurate, willfully ignorant caricature of the opposing side.

Whenever someone says, “I disagree with you, Thomas Paprocki, about a particular moral question,” his brain somehow twists this into “There is no moral truth.”

This is the same game Southern Baptist Bishop Al Mohler regularly plays whenever he encounters anyone with a moral view that differs from his own. Here’s what I wrote earlier this year in response to the Paprockian arrogance of Mohler’s post lamenting “The Marginalization of Moral Argument in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate“:

Al Mohler does not listen.

If he listened, he would understand that a demand for equality is a moral demand. If he listened, he would understand that moral argument hasn’t been marginalized, it has been marshaled against him. There is a moral argument being made, forcefully and repeatedly, and it is an argument that demonstrates the immorality of Al Mohler and other defenders of inequality.

Like Paprocki, Mohler refuses to imagine any possible view of “moral truth” other than his own. Anyone who makes a moral argument challenging his own moral assertions, he claims, must be attacking morality itself. Either you agree with him or else you’re a nihilist. Without Mohler, everything is permitted.


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  • ReverendRef

    The worst part was his steadfast refusal to listen. At all.

    “I wear a purple shirt — You will do as I tell you.”

  • FearlessSon

    Most of those questions, it seems, were directed at the bishop. And he had no answers. Or, rather, he had a lot of answers — contradictory ones, which amounts to the same thing as not having any.

    Altemeyer to the rescue (by which I mean explanation):

    As I said earlier, authoritarians’ ideas are poorly integrated with one another. It’s as if each idea is stored in a file that can be called up and used when the authoritarian wishes, even though another of his ideas–stored in a different file–basically contradicts it. We all have some inconsistencies in our thinking, but authoritarians can stupify you with the inconsistency of their ideas. Thus they may say they are proud to live in a country that guarantees freedom of speech, but another file holds, “My country, love it or leave it.” The ideas were copied from trusted sources, often as sayings, but the authoritarian has never “merged files” to see how well they all fit together.

    It’s easy to find authoritarians endorsing inconsistent ideas. Just present slogans and appeals to homey values, and then present slogans and bromides that invoke opposite values. The yea-saying authoritarian follower is likely to agree with all of them. Thus I asked both students and their parents to respond to, “When it comes to love, men and women with opposite points of view are attracted to each other.” Soon afterwards, in the same booklet, I pitched “Birds of a feather flock together when it comes to love.” High RWAs typically agreed with both statements, even though they responded to the two items within a minute of each other.

    But that’s the point: they don’t seem to scan for self-consistency as much as most people do. Similarly they tended to agree with “A government should allow total freedom of expression, even it if threatens law and order” and “A government should only allow freedom of expression so long as it does not threaten law and order.” And “Parents should first of all be gentle and tender with their children,” and “Parents should first of all be firm and uncompromising with their children; spare the rod and spoil the child.”

  • In any case, it seems that you now have the bishop’s permission to
    defend the sanctity of marriage by raping your wife’s maidservant.

    It’s been a very, very, VERY long time since authority in the Catholic Church was anti-rape.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I think Anne Gray had the best response to the bishop’s unwillingness to actually hear a word anyone was saying:

    Paprocki said the church would love to welcome gay people but is forced into a defensive position by “activists pushing an agenda.” That set off Gray, who has a gay son, again.

    “Here I am,” she said. “The big scary gay agenda.”

  • Magic_Cracker

    When a person’s standard of Truth is an appeal to his own authority, he can never be wrong.

  • phantomreader42

    It’s no sillier than “screw the rules, I have green hair!”

  • Whenever someone says, “I disagree with you, Thomas Paprocki, about a particular moral question,” his brain somehow twists this into “There is
    no moral truth.”

    To be frank, almost everyone I have ever met in my life frequently makes the mistake of confusing “Your standards are different from mine” with “You have no standard.”

    Like, my wife gets very hung up about the appearance of cleanliness. Since I don’t, she expects me to respect her desire for the appearance of cleanliness, but she has a very hard time taking my own standards of cleanliness seriously — as far as she’s concerned I “don’t care about” cleanliness. In fact, I do care a great deal that things be hygenic and that things not smell bad, and that I be able to find things — I just don’t care about clutter. But it’s very hard for her to appreciate that when she clears away the clutter and resultingly, I can’t find things, this bothers me in the same way that the clutter bothers her. (I also frequently get annoyed by her dismissive reaction when I am bothered by the smell of decay. She doesn’t notice it, and can’t quite believe that I could care about something being unclean).

    I don’t think this is a conservative issue. I think people have some kind of mental shortcut wired up that says “Not my standards == No standards”

  • Matticus

    I don’t know whether to feel depressed or vindicated every time I hear a bishop or other church leader confirming that I was right to leave the church because I’m not wanted–both for my views and for who I am.


  • Not wanted in that church, perhaps, but I can think of a few places you are most certainly wanted. Like right here.

  • Matticus

    D’aww, thanks. Mostly I don’t feel anything about the subject because I’m at the point where I don’t really care. Just sometimes they come out and say it so explicitly that I’m not sure how to react.

  • Lori

    When you’re acting like Eric Cartman, whatever it is ur doin it wrong.

  • Lori

    For those who haven’t seen South Park and don’t get the reference.

  • Gotchaye

    Yeah, this comes up all over the place.

    It’s a way of not having to deal with what it actually means for someone to disagree with your values. Acknowledging the existence of sincere disagreement actually undermines one’s own beliefs. There’s a lot of interesting work on this in epistemology and in philosophy of religion – the fact of religious disagreement is about as challenging to typical beliefs as the existence of evil is.

    If people can carefully work through a problem while thinking that they’re being reasonable about it and can come to a different answer than you did, then that instantly casts doubt on your answer. Maybe you’re the unreasonable one. The symmetry is uncomfortable. Either the answer is basically down to personal preference or someone – maybe you! – is going wrong in a way that introspection can’t detect. “We disagree about what’s right” is a lot more uncomfortable of a position than “you know what’s right and don’t like it, so you don’t want rules at all”.

    Obviously the stakes are much lower when the question is “how clean should we keep the place?”, but it’s basically the same thing, I think. When people disagree about how clean the house should be they don’t want to argue about whose preferences hold sway. They want to be arguing that there’s some objectively correct standard of cleanliness which just happens to align with their preferences.

  • ReverendRef

    As Anonymous Sam said, you are most certainly wanted here.

    There are probably more than a few Episcopal churches that would welcome you as well.

  • I think it’s that common fundamentalist assertion that God’s morality is the only one true morality. A lot of fundamentalists seem completely unable to grasp that idea that God not being the sole arbiter of day to day life decisions does not mean there is no arbitration whatsoever.

    I often hear it paired along with the idea that from God comes morality, so non-Christians can’t possibly be moral.

  • Jon Maki

    “There is no moral truth, only alternatives,” isn’t the other side of Paprocki’s argument. It’s simply his self-serving, inaccurate, willfully ignorant caricature of the opposing side

    This the same kind of RTC thinking that states that anyone who holds a different religious belief, or holds no religious belief, is a de facto Satanist.

  • arcseconds

    Have these people never heard of Euthyphro?

    (well, more accurately, have they never heard of Euthyphro? The eponymous character makes the same mistake as they do, so maybe they have heard of him…)

  • Lizzy L

    I recently heard an NPR interview with an 82 year old nun who is a whistleblower; she reported a local priest for sexual abuse. At the close of the interview, the reporter asked her if she had ever considered leaving the Catholic Church. In as strong a voice as I have ever heard, and without missing a beat, this remarkable woman said, “Never. It’s my church. They can leave.”

    From now on, that’s going to be my response too, should I have to deal with folks like Bishop Paprocki, who doesn’t want to recognize me as his sister in Christ, whom he has been commanded to love. Yes, I am gay, and no, I’m not leaving. It’s my church. He can leave.

  • Matticus

    I think the damage has already been done. I was never the most religious person growing up, but this (along with several other things, from Confirmation to family relationships) snuffed out what little faith I had. These days I go back and forth between Atheist and Agnostic, depending on how cynical I’m feeling.

    Probably the closest I could ever come to calling myself a Christian would be to admire and strive to emulate Jesus’ teachings on morality and justice–the real stuff about compassion, mind you, not the stuff that so many “Christians” try to pass of as “biblical morality”–without accepting the divine elements. You know, the gospels as a philosophy, or “Gospels-as-Buddhism” type of deal, if that’s even a thing. Is that a thing? Because it sounds like it should be.

  • JessicaR

    On the flipside, when an audience is in the wrong, I look forward to the no doubt flood of press releases from Christian groups denouncing this,

  • WingedBeast

    They have a response to the Euthyphro dilema.
    It’s an imagined “3rd option” that says “Goodness is part of the nature of God.”
    That just rewords the question, though. “Is good good because it is God’s nature or is God’s nature good because it is good?”

  • WingedBeast

    To translate for Paprocki “If morality isn’t strictly obedience to the dictates of God, then it isn’t anything.”
    It’s not true, of course, but it is a problem of morality being considered a matter of faith, rather than a matter of compassion or empathy or love.

  • Gotchaye

    And yet it takes hours to get someone to understand that.

  • zmayhem

    Gah, I can’t get away from this damn story! I’ve been fencing with someone in those comment threads all day and came over here for a break and a breath of sanity.

    I also loved (by which I mean “wanted to stab, set on fire and nuke from orbit”) how the bishop also just out-and-out said, “If you don’t like it, go be a Protestant.” Because this one issue means more to whether one can be a good Catholic than belief in the Trinity, the Sacraments, the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, the Assumption, transubstantiation, the intercession of the saints, or any of a hundred other doctrines that speak clearly and explicitly to the nature of that triune, fully human and fully divine God and our relationship with that triune, fully human and fully divine God. Apparently all those things are just picky little details, and the one doctrine on which our membership in the communion of saints must rise or fall is “No Homo.”

    SMASH. SMASH. SMASH. I need to go bury myself in a month’s worth of Cute Overload or something.

  • Fusina

    If it helps, part of it is that their day is over, and they know it. Gay people are gaining equality under the law at an increasingly rapid pace (isn’t it awesome?) and all they can do is continue to spout the same things they have been saying, while knowing that their generation is dying off and the upcoming generations are okay with gay marriage and the resultant rights and privileges thereof. I’m hoping that I live to see a world where the rights of gays to marry is taken for granted.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Did he specifically say “Abraham’s wife, Sarah”?

    If so, wow. He can’t even mention a woman of the bible on her own merit; he has to mention her through her morally superior penis weilding owner.

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t Abraham and Sarah half-siblings? So he’s lauding incest, which the bible clearly condemns.

  • Carstonio

    Declaring that marriage hasn’t changed through history is not only incorrect but also irrelevant. A fair response is to ask whether marriage should change. In another context, Paprocki’s comment on its own might appear to defend adherence to tradition as a moral value. But here he sounds like he’s trying to rationalize his emotional reaction to homosexuality. He may have nothing more than a feeling that it’s wrong, and chooses to misinterpret this as a self-evident truth. Maybe he’s not listening because, to him, the folks saying there’s nothing immoral about homosexuality might as well be saying that the sky is plaid.

  • WingedBeast

    And, it’s worth noting that marriage *has* changed historically and within US history.

    Namely, the relative legal position of man and wife has changed. Who you are allowed to marry has changed (Loving vs State of Virginia). How many people you can marry has changed (at least in Utah).
    So, yeah, marriage has changed… even within just the past few decades.

  • That’s a lovely soundbite. But in reality, is it her church? Where does the money go? Who’s benefiting from people staying in the church? And how can the people of the church remove authorities who’ve done wrong? Is there actually any way they CAN?

    I just think the rot is too deep. The Vatican and Catholic authority in general have been too rotten for too long. They’ve been sexually abusing both adults and children for a very long time — at this point, I think they consider it their right. And at this point, people staying are only enabling it. Because the people obviously aren’t having an effect on the highest echelons. Why should the rotten ones leave when they’re still being funded by everyone who stays?

  • ohiolibrarian

    Even when it’s all Christians, they don’t seem to comprehend that they could be wrong about “God’s morality”. When someone makes a Christian argument using Biblical verses that maybe God cares more about the widow and orphan than about homosexuality, one would think that it would give them pause given that the supposed consequences of being wrong is eternity in hell. But no.

    It just seems impossibly arrogant for people to be that sure that they have the inside track on God’s mind–with no doubts. I sometimes wonder if some people’s belief is more of a cultural artifact than an actual belief. They can’t really think there is really-true “God” who will make judgements about them, can they?

  • FearlessSon

    Probably the closest I could ever come to calling myself a Christian would be to admire and strive to emulate Jesus’ teachings on morality and justice–the real stuff about compassion, mind you, not the stuff that so many “Christians” try to pass of as “biblical morality”–without accepting the divine elements. You know, the gospels as a philosophy, or “Gospels-as-Buddhism” type of deal, if that’s even a thing. Is that a thing? Because it sounds like it should be.

    I suspect it is A Thing. Are you familiar with the Jefferson Bible? It was made by Thomas Jefferson, ostensibly to share with the indigenous American cultures, but in practice he kept it for his own reflection rather than printing it. What he did was cut and paste (literally with scissors and glue) portions of the Bible while cutting out any supernatural references, leaving pretty much only Jesus’ own testimonials and lessons. has a copy of it, if you are interested.

    When some Christian dominionists talk about the “religion of our founding fathers,” I doubt that they were referring to this guy (who was also the one pushing the ideas about the separation between church and state.)

  • I’m the same way. At this point, I suspect I’m probably more familiar with the Gospels than a lot of the conservative Christians I argue with, but I’m strictly a pantheist.

  • FearlessSon

    It just seems impossibly arrogant for people to be that sure that they had the inside track on God’s mind–with no doubts.

    I get the idea that what they have is an enormous craving for certainty. They want to have the one true definitive right answer to everything, and never worry about being wrong.

    Of course, thinking that you have the one definitive answer (as opposed to one most-likely answer for a given set of information) is a very quick way to becoming wrong as sooner or later something is likely to challenge that. As a result, they become very well practiced at chasing away their doubts, denying they have them, and never thinking about it.

    Which in turn leads to a lot of people with a lack of creative imagination or self-awareness, and this sadly takes the breaks of indulgent self-righteousness.

  • dpolicar

    I know a lot of people who seem to treat professed certainty as a way of signalling how important an opinion is to them.

    E.g., the difference between “I’d really really really like the Red Sox to win!!!” and “I’m sure the Red Sox will win!!!” just doesn’t seem to matter much to them in ordinary conversation.

    I generally treat assertions of certainty about what God thinks as something similar. The convenient thing about such statements is that, unlike statements about who will win a baseball game, all likely observations are consistent with any answer I might choose to give.

  • arcseconds

    Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.

    My response was basically ‘wot?!‽’

    way to miss the point…

  • Matri

    “I want to help you people, but you people keep bugging me with requests for help!”

  • Matri

    I have a dead hyena that is more familiar with the Gospels than most conservative Christianists.

  • Matticus

    Thanks, FearlessSon, I am familiar with the Jefferson Bible. I’ve never read it, but it might be something worth checking out. I wish there was more information (or at least confirmation) on whether the Gospels-as-philosophy minus the supernatural is A Thing. The Jefferson Bible sounds like a great start, but Jefferson himself was a Deist. I’m not that familiar with Deism, but doesn’t it still presume some kind of divine force? Because I doubt that I can bring myself to believe in any kind of divine force.

    Except maybe The Force, back before Midichlorians ruined it.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Also, am I the only person who keeps reading this man’s name as “Poprocks”?

  • themunck

    I am quite certain that it is, at least, a thing. I don’t think it has a name yet, though…hmm…rule 35 of the internet: If it does not exist, it must be created. Any good ideas for a name?

  • Matticus

    I’m pretty terrible at names, even more so at 2 am. I like the official title of the Jefferson Bible, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” but it’s not quite pithy enough to be an -ism. Most of the things I can think of are either taken or just don’t work.

  • alfgifu

    Matticus, what you’re saying brings to mind the recent discussion on another thread of John Selby Spong (link to a wikipedia article). He’s an Episcopalian bishop (retired) whose big idea is to have Christianity without Theism – it’s not my personal cup of tea, but it sounds like his Twelve Points might be of interest to you?

  • arcseconds

    Same could be said for living in America, couldn’t it?

  • arcseconds

    He’s hardly the first, either, just perhaps the most forthright.

    people have been joking about this for years.

    A polytheist believes in many gods

    A monotheist believes in one god

    An Anglican believes in at most one god

    also, there was an episode of Yes, Prime Minister where one of the running gags concerned the prevalence of ‘modernists’ within the Church of England…

  • Carstonio

    I’m confused by the joke. I had understood that Anglicanism was more conservative than Episcopalianism, and that some conservative members of the latter were fleeing for the former, mostly over ordination of women and gays.

  • Kirala

    Depends on the branch of Anglicanism, far as I can tell. The international Anglican church tends to conservatism; the Anglican church in England can be extremely liberal.

  • arcseconds

    Well, there’s several points that ought to be considered here.

    *) theologically conservative and socio/politically conservative aren’t the same thing. They statistically correlate, but you can be theologically conservative and politically liberal (and vice-versa). In fact, I recall one commenter somewhere around here (on Patheos, if not slactivist) saying that they were politically liberal because they were theologically conservative.

    *) The Church of England is only one province within the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal church in the United States of America is another, and it’s the only one (AFAIK) that doesn’t call itself ‘Anglican’.

    *) The Church of England does seem to be a bit more socio-politically conservative than the other provinces, but not as much as maybe you’re thinking.

    *) The Anglican Communion has been ordaining female priests regularly since the 70s. The Church of England started doing this a lot later, in the early 90s. There was even a comedy programme about this, The Vicar of Dibley

    So I don’t think you can be thinking of that. What you may be thinking of is:

    *) The Church of England, unlike the provinces of the Anglican Communion in the former colonies (and quite a lot of other places), does not permit the election of female bishops.

    However, this is a bit of a complicated situation.

    The Church of England is governed by a synod consisting of 3 Houses, the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy, and the House of Laity. The change needs to pass in all 3 houses, by (I’m pretty sure) a supermajority (which i think is two-thirds). It passed in the Bishops and Clergy (unanimously in the Bishops – the old gents don’t have any problem with the ladies joining them), but has been held up in the Laity by a recalitrant minority of evangelicals, who are concerned about apostolic succession, or somesuch.

    Even these guys don’t object to the existence of female bishops. They just don’t want their priests ordained by them. They wanted some arrangement to be made, but that wasn’t in the motion.

    Naturally, the people on the pews are largely in favour of female bishops.

    Oh, and there are already gay priests in the Church of England. I don’t think anyone thought to make a rule against this, so it probably just sort of happened. having a gay bishop was a bit much, though.

    So there you go. More detail than you ever wanted to know about the internal politics of the Anglican Communion and the Church of England.

  • Carstonio

    I’m talking mostly about the Anglican Catholic Church.

    How would you define theologically conservative? I tend to think of Catholicism as being that way, because it emphasizes tradition and authority at the expense of individual choice and self-determination.