Meet Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, ordinary of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. He is my bishop. He is a failure as a shepherd.
His latest is a new diocesan policy that will make life for transgender diocesan employees and students in Catholic schools a lot harder. More on that in a minute. First, some background.
In 2017, he barred Catholics who die in a same sex marriage from a right to a Catholic funeral “unless they [had] given some signs of repentance before their death.” Assuming for the sake of argument they had something to repent for, how would he even know?
In 2018, despite the fact that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of my union, AFSCME, in Janus v AFSCME, Bishop Paprocki sided with Mark Janus and praised Mr. Janus’ victory in the United States Supreme Court. He also lied that AFSCME donates to Planned Parenthood.
Later that same summer, in the wake of the shocking revelations from Pennsylvania of the Church’s coverup of priest sex abuse there, Bishop Paprocki issued a statement that blamed priest sex abuse on gays and on Catholic married couples who use contraception or who cohabit.
In 2019, after the Illinois General Assembly passed the Reproductive Health Act, Bishop Paprocki issued a statement prohibiting Catholic members of the General Assembly from receiving Communion when they’re in Springfield.
Bishop Paprocki then said that if they introduced and passed legislation repealing the RPA, he’d rescind the Communion prohibition. I don’t know if he knows it but using the authority of the Catholic Church (to the extent that it still has any authority) to effectively blackmail public officials makes him Exhibit A as to why religious institutions should lose their tax exempt status.
And now this, a new decree called, in Orwellian fashion, Policy 650. Under Policy 650:
It is the policy of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois that all Catholic agencies, including parishes, schools, institutions, departments, or other entities, shall respect the biological sex with which a person is born and shall apply all policies and procedures in relation to that person according to that person’s biological sex at birth.
This means, from a practical standpoint, “All persons will be addressed and referred to with pronouns in accord with their biological sex,” that “All correspondence, documents, and records will reflect the subject person’s biological sex,” and that “All persons will use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their biological sex while on Diocesan or Parish property.
Additionally, this looks ominously similar to conversion therapy, which is illegal in Illinois:
The Diocese also supports and encourages counseling for those who suffer from or are diagnosed with gender dysphoria by licensed counselors or other medical professionals who hold a correct Christian anthropology of the human person and who understand and adhere to Catholic teaching.
Policy 650 contains provisions for school children:
Students and their parents are expected to live virtuous lives guided by Gospel values and the teaching of the Church as described in the Family School Agreement (BK3§404.1). Students shall conduct themselves in accord with their biological sex at all times.
Children may be expelled if they or their parents violate this policy. Sorry, kiddos, if you thought Catholic education as administered by the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has anything to do with the love of Christ, guess again. It’s all about culture war tribalism and slavish devotion to the law. Also, notice how Bishop Paprocki subtly works in a blanket prohibition against children of same-sex parents.
Singling out LGBTAs is the usual SOP for Bishop Paprocki, he singles out LGBT people while ignoring just about every other type of sin or lifestyle contrary to Catholic teaching.
But if all lay diocesan employees are expected to be Catholics in good standing and to conduct their lives in compliance with Catholic teaching, where is his decree about employees in adulterous relationships?
What has he said about employees cohabitating with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or who are racists?
On that note, what about diocesan employees who voted for and still support Donald Trump? The satanic injustice toward immigrants that is official Trump administration policy is one of the sins that cries to heaven.
Law vs. love
I know I am punching above my weight class here. My degrees are a BS in government and an MS in journalism. Bishop Paprocki has two undergraduate degrees and multiple graduate degrees, including degrees in both civil law and canon law. I am told his doctoral dissertation in canon law is 580 pages long.
But here’s the thing: it shows. His pastoral approach to LGBT people, such as it is, is all law, no love. He has forgotten Christ’s admonition, “God made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.” He has forgotten his own episcopal motto, Lex Cordis Caritas—The law of the heart is love. His actions against gays and transgenders—and my union—are all law, no love.
It is telling that Bishop Paprocki denounces families’ efforts to support an LGBT child as “a false and overly sentimentalized conception of love.” Wrong. Love is love, and sentimentalism is sentimentalism. Sentimentalism is false love. It is dealing with the world as you wish it would be—as Bishop Paprocki is doing—and not as it is.
Love, true love, always comes with sacrifice. And as St. Paul tells us, you can have all gifts and knowledge, but if you have not love, you have nothing.
“Love thy neighbor”
Ultimately, Bishop Paprocki’s ongoing war against LGBT people will win not a single soul for Christ. Yes, it will reassure those smug, self-righteous pharisees who think further oppression of already marginalized people is somehow a good thing.
But it will do nothing to melt the hearts of the “poor banished children of Eve…mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”
Now, I renounce not one iota of Catholic teaching. And I know, as well as Bishop Paprocki does, that there is an apparently unbridgeable gap between the goals and lifestyles of LGBT people and official Church teaching. But I also know what is more powerful than that gap, more powerful than the whole Code of Canon Law behind which Bishop Paprocki hides: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
It is a difficult teaching, as we see again and again, but Christ allows no exceptions. No exceptions for gays or transgenders or any other marginalized person. No exceptions even for bishops or lawyers. When a lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor,” Jesus answers with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Fear and hate
Whatever else is contrary to the Gospel, fear and hate are contrary to the Gospel. And when Bishop Paprocki imposes contemptuous, petty restrictions on diocesan employees and on LGBT students in diocesan schools—and tacitly tells same-sex couples that their children are not welcome—he is peddling fear and hate.
Cracking down on LGBT school children is especially deplorable. These children already have it hard enough—the suicide rate among LGBT youth is already higher than the general population, and “LGBT youth have the highest rate of suicide attempts.” And here is Bishop Paprocki making it even worse for them, when he should be a loving shepherd. Bishop Paprocki is salt that has lost its savor. He is a light under a bushel. He is new wine in an old wineskin.
Bishop Paprocki, as shepherd of the people of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, is failing not just the LGBT people that God has entrusted to his care, but all of us.