Tom Paprocki, Roman Catholic archbishop of Springfield, Ill., demonstrated his impotency yesterday by attempting an “exorcism” to rid Illinois of marriage equality.
Paprocki summoned up all of his moral authority and all of the spiritual authority of his office and brought it to bear. And he failed. Completely. It didn’t work.
This is a measurable, demonstrable outcome. It’s darn near scientific. Paprocki offered us an experiment that would provide clearly verifiable and falsifiable results. He conducted that experiment publicly. And the outcome of that experiment disproved his hypothesis. The outcome of that experiment confirmed that Tom Paprocki of Springfield is lacking in spiritual authority and moral strength. By their fruits ye shall know them, and Paprocki’s peacocking and posturing was unable to bear fruit.
As with all scientific experiments, of course, we must be cautious and stick to the data of the experiment itself. That’s especially important in this case because Paprocki himself seems to have misunderstood, and to have overstated, what sort of conclusions might be drawn from this exercise. The experiment he actually conducted was far more limited in its scope than the experiment Paprocki seems to have imagined he was conducting.
Paprocki’s failed exorcism attempted to invoke the full authority of Jesus Christ and the full spiritual authority of “the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church” and to demonstrate that these authorities had power over that of Satan. Yes, Satan.
“I’m not saying that anyone [who supports marriage equality] is possessed by the devil,” Paprocki said of his exorcism. But his next word was “but” — signaling the grammatical construct I’ve called the “disingenuous qualifier,” in which the conjunction “but” is used to negate what was said before it. (As in, “I’m not one to brag, but …” or “I don’t have a racist bone in my body, but …”)
So, yes, Paprocki was, in fact, saying that anyone who supports marriage equality was possessed by the devil — or, at best, under the influence of the devil and serving his diabolical agenda.
This was confirmed in the language of Paprocki’s exorcism itself, which was a series of imperative commands addressed directly to Satan:
Be uprooted and put to flight from the Church of God from souls created in the image of God and redeemed by the precious blood of the divine lamb. … Dare no more, oh cunning serpent, to deceive the human race, to persecute the church of God, to shake the chosen of God and sift them like wheat. … Be gone Satan, father of lies, enemy of human salvation. … Give way to Christ, in whom you found no trace of your works. Give way to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church, which Christ himself won by his blood.
I imagine that Satan would find this ritual somewhat confusing. Although the Devil would likely be flattered by the archbishop’s assumption that he possesses the divine attribute of omnipresence, the Evil One would probably be puzzled to be credited with this recent change in Illinois’ civil law.
This wasn’t Satan’s doing. The voters of Illinois did this through their duly elected representatives. Satan would be offended at the implication that he brought this about, or that he is somehow pleased with this development. How could anyone imagine he was behind this? It’s nothing like his style. People are happy about this greater approximation of equal justice, and he’s not in the business of spreading happiness or increasing justice. “Let justice roll down like waters” — that was the other guy. Illinois’ embrace of marriage equality also broadens the circle of those who can legally marry because they luh– … they luh— … they lerrrrrrrghhh …
He can’t even bring himself to say the word. Love is not Satan’s style at all.
One possible explanation of Paprocki’s utter failure yesterday, then, is not that he missed his target, but that he was aiming at the wrong target. He imagined himself to be challenging “Satan, father of lies, enemy of human salvation,” while in fact he was really confronting the moral authority of the people of Illinois — including a clear majority of the state’s Catholic laypeople.
Thus Paprocki’s experiment was not a test of the relative power of Christ and the church vs. Satan. His experiment, rather, was a test of the relative spiritual and moral authority of Archbishop Thomas Paprocki as opposed to the spiritual and moral authority of the Catholic laypeople of Illinois.
And the experiment confirmed that the laypeople were right and Paprocki was wrong. No fire fell from Heaven to signal that God heard or approved of Paprocki’s attempt to invoke divine authority. But the will of the people prevailed and the governor of Illinois signed marriage equality into law.
We cannot say that Paprocki’s odd experiment tells us anything about the power of Christ over Satan (or, since the exorcism utterly failed, about the power of Satan over Christ). But it did perhaps confirm that Thomas Paprocki, despite his robes and his fine bishop’s hat, does not have the spiritual or moral authority to speak for Christ and Christ’s church.
Thomas Paprocki invoked all the spiritual power of Thomas Paprocki and he invoked all the moral authority of Thomas Paprocki. And it amounted to nothing. He failed.
But remember that in science, unlike in most exorcisms, failure is a useful result. In science, failure is data.
We owe Paprocki a bit of gratitude, then, for supplying us with this useful bit of data. It’s only one result, of course, from a single experiment. This will need to be confirmed, re-tested and replicated before we draw any firm conclusions or seek to publish our findings. I’d like to see other American bishops conduct similar experiments to see if they can replicate Paprocki’s tentative early results.
Until then, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We can’t yet say with real scientific confidence that the Catholic laypeople have a demonstrably greater moral and spiritual authority than the bishops who claim to reign over them.
But we can say that all of the data we have so far points in that direction.