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The bishop vs the president

The bishop vs the president July 13, 2021

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My bishop is at it again.

Thomas John Paprocki, bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, has written an article for the August, 2021, issue of First Things, “Eucharistic Coherence,” about pro-choice Catholic politicians—specifically, President Joe Biden—and the worthy reception of Communion.

The name of the article is a bit of a misnomer, since there isn’t a lot of coherence here. It’s a jumble of canon law, moral theology, and Republican talking points. Well, it’s all Republican talking points, including the portions dealing with canon law and moral theology.

And this is what is so disappointing. Bishop Paprocki holds a licentiate in sacred theology, a licentiate and a doctorate in canon law, and a degree in civil law. But you wouldn’t know it from reading this piece, as dull and as lacking in subtlety as it is.

Richard Durbin

Bishop Paprocki begins by dragging out his favorite sacrificial victim to the pro-life movement, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, to remind us that Mr. Durbin is barred from receiving Communion here in Springfield. Bishop Paprocki is quick to note, “This provision is intended not to punish, but to bring about a change of heart…. The denial of Holy Communion is a medicinal remedy that seeks to foster a change of heart and encourage him to repent and return to being pro-life.”

But no one really believes this, and Bishop Paprocki himself gives away the game when he writes that Mr. Durbin is barred from receiving Communion because of “his pro-abortion position.”

“Pro-abortion” is a deplorable term, an epithet and an insult, not worthy of a Catholic bishop. No one who uses this term uses it in good faith. And to my knowledge, Mr. Durbin has not once ever expressed that he personally dissents from Catholic teaching on abortion.

So no, I don’t believe Bishop Paprocki when he says he wants to “bring about a change of heart.” Denying Communion to Mr. Durbin is coercion and nothing else.

President Biden

On to Mr. Biden, who Bishop Paprocki denounces as “virulently pro-abortion in his policies.” (That term again.) In a paragraph that is astonishing for how much falsehood Bishop Paprocki packs into it, he writes:

On his campaign website and in various public statements, Biden has made clear that he seeks legal protection for the killing of unborn human beings through abortion, and that he seeks to fund this killing at taxpayer expense. Biden has said that he would seek to codify into federal law the abortion license of Roe v. Wade if the Supreme Court were to overturn that decision, and that he supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion. Shortly after his election, President Biden issued an executive order rescinding the Mexico City Policy, thereby allowing U.S. taxpayer dollars to support abortion overseas. He has pledged to reinstate the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate originally issued under Obamacare.

A closer look

Let’s unpack this.

On his campaign website and in various public statements, Biden has made clear that he seeks legal protection for the killing of unborn human beings through abortion, and that he seeks to fund this killing at taxpayer expense.

Mr. Biden does not “seek legal protection for the killing of unborn human beings through abortion.” There is nothing to seek. Abortion is already legal.

As with Mr. Durbin, though Mr. Biden has pledged to protect access to legal abortion, he has never once indicated that he personally dissents from Catholic teaching on abortion. The thing is, Mr. Biden is not the president of Catholics only. He is the president of an officially secular nation whose people profess a vast array of religions, creeds, beliefs, and lifestyles. Mr. Biden must be president of them all and, by virtue of his oath of office, he is charged with enforcing our nation’s laws.

Yes, Mr. Biden has pledged to restore funding to Planned Parenthood that Donald Trump stripped. This does not have to mean federal funding for abortion, but I’ll get to that.

Biden has said that he would seek to codify into federal law the abortion license of Roe v. Wade if the Supreme Court were to overturn that decision, and that he supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion.

This is just fear-mongering. Bishop Paprocki knows as well as I do that Roe v. Wade is not going to be overturned. On the contrary, when the Supreme Court rules next year on an abortion challenge it agreed to hear in May, Roe will be upheld, and it will be upheld with Chief Justice John Roberts and at least one Trump appointee (and maybe more) joining the Court’s three remaining liberal justices.

The truth is, America’s abortion regime is entirely the creation of Republicans. As I have written before, five of the seven justices who voted to legalize abortion in Roe were Republicans. All five justices who voted to uphold Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey were Republicans.

A man with a law degree from DePaul University should be able to figure this out. If Bishop Paprocki has ever written about how it is Republicans, not Democrats, who created and who sustain legal abortion in America, I would like to see it.

The Hyde Amendment

Second, Bishop Paprocki is being disingenuous when he says Mr. Biden “supports repealing the Hyde Amendment.” There is nothing to repeal, for the simple reason that the Hyde Amendment is not a stand-alone law. It is an amendment tagged on to spending bills to prohibit federal funding of abortion in most cases.

Mr. Biden pledged to do away with the Hyde Amendment, and he has not added it to any of his spending bills. But given how eager he is for compromise and bipartisan legislation, you’d think the Republicans, if they cared at all about not using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, would offer concessions in exchange for including it in spending bills.

They have not. All they do is stonewall. So I seriously question Republicans’ commitment to the pro-life cause. Why doesn’t Bishop Paprocki?

Shortly after his election, President Biden issued an executive order rescinding the Mexico City Policy, thereby allowing U.S. taxpayer dollars to support abortion overseas. He has pledged to reinstate the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate originally issued under Obamacare.

The Mexico City policy actually increases abortions. It takes five minutes on Google to learn this. But when Republican talking points are your thing—when what matters is performative piety, as opposed to actual results—why look it up?

As for reinstating the contraceptive and abortifacient mandates in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare” is another propaganda term, like “pro-abortion”), see what I wrote about Mr. Biden being president of all Americans, not just Catholics. And if you don’t like contraceptives and abortifacients, don’t use them.

How to lie with statistics

Bishop Paprocki then explains the instances when material cooperation with evil may be permissible or justified—which it is when “a proportionately grave reason” exists. But he muddles this too. He cites the Guttmacher Institute figure that “more than 860,000 abortions” were performed in 2017, and concludes, “For a politician to justify promoting or voting for pro-abortion legislation or opposing pro-life legislation, he would need a reason grave enough to outweigh the killing of 860,000 babies per year.”

Bishop Paprocki did not link to the Guttmacher Institute page with the 2017 abortion statistics, but I found it. Here is the 2017 (the last year for which data is available) figure in context:

•  The number of abortions fell by 196,000—a 19% decline from 1,058,000 abortions in 2011 to 862,000 abortions in 2017.
•  The abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44) fell by 20%, from 16.9 in 2011 to 13.5 in 2017.
•  The abortion ratio (the number of abortions per 100 pregnancies ending in either abortion or live birth) fell 13%, from 21.2 in 2011 to 18.4 in 2017.
(Emphasis in the original)

So while 860,000 abortions is indeed high, it also represents a 19 percent decline in total abortions between 2011 and 2017, and a 20 percent drop in the abortion rate in the same time period.

Who was president from 2011 through 2017? Barack Obama. Who was his vice president? Mr. Biden.

By any reasonable measure, a 20 percent decline in the abortion rate in six short years is an astonishing success. That Bishop Paprocki apparently does not want his readers to know this makes him look like a Republican shill, and a particularly dishonest one at that.

The Guttmacher Institute attributes the decline to a drop in pregnancies and births overall. It names greater access to contraception, “as most private health insurance plans are now required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to cover contraceptives without out-of-pocket costs,” as a possible contributing factor.

Bishop Paprocki can complain all he wants that artificial contraception violates Catholic teaching, but once again, America is a secular nation, not a Catholic theocracy. And if you find something immoral in the fact that the U.S. abortion rate has declined because more women have access to contraception, then you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.

All scribe, no shepherd

In the end, Bishop Paprocki does not actually call for Mr. Biden to be barred from receiving Communion. He merely attempts to make a case for it. But when you are reduced to quoting from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and arguing from “prudential judgment,”  you have no case.

I have written about Bishop Paprocki before. He has a long, sad history of siding with the strong against the weak and marginalized. In 2017, he prohibited Catholics who die while in a same-sex marriage from having a Catholic funeral. A year later, he sided with Mark Janus and his billionare backers against public employees in Janus v. AFSCME (full disclosure: I am an AFSCME member).

Most infamously, in 2013, he performed an exorcism in Springfield’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception after then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation legalizing gay marriage in Illinois.

I am not going to address Bishop Paprocki’s canon law arguments. His doctoral dissertation is 580 pages long, so he rather has the edge on me there. But then again, I don’t have to address them, because in his First Things article, as in everything Bishop Paprocki does, he places the Gospel in service to the Republican Party’s right-wing agenda. Rather than seeking out the one lost sheep, Bishop Paprocki abandons it.

He would scoff at Christ for dining in the house of a tax collector. He would rebuke Christ for letting a prostitute touch him, or for curing a blind man on the Sabbath. Bishop Paprocki’s mind and heart are all zealot, no shepherd.

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