What is one to make of the news that Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, will be holding a prayer service, including prayers of “exorcism in reparation for the sin of same-sex marriage” at the same that the the governor of that state will be signing the newly-minted marriage equality legislation into law next week?
The background of the story is revealed from a press release put out by the Diocese of Springfield:
“Scheduled for approximately the same time that Gov. Pat Quinn signs into Illinois law the redefinition of civil marriage, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki will offer ‘Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sixth and Lawrence streets in Springfield, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 4 to 5 p.m. Clergy, religious and laity are invited to attend.
On one level, the news is simply ridiculous. Resurrecting a ritual that is filled with medieval sensibilities and myths and which is totally irrelevant to most Catholics living in the 21st century reveals a mind so out of touch with the faith of his people that one has to wonder what the bishop hopes to accomplish by this act. Will his prayers overturn the democratically processed law? Does he expect lightning to strike the pen of Governor Pat Quinn, a Catholic, as he signs the bill? Is he hoping that these prayers will reverse the growing national consensus, including most Catholics, that marriage equality should be the law of the land?
On another level, however, the news is frightening. Did Bishop Paprocki not realize the storm that he would create by using such exaggerated language? Did he not realize the pastoral harm and confusion that such language would cause? Did he not care that his heightened rhetoric will most likely be used by anti-gay people to inflict real, physical violence towards LGBT people?
If he did not think of these things, then one has to wonder how thoughtfully the bishop makes his decisions. If he does not think about the effects and reverberations from his decisions, it could mean that he was simply blinded by his desire to make his point about the new marriage law without concern for how people’s lives could be harmed.
Most alarming is the rationale that Bishop Paprocki used to explain his decision. Lest one think that the use of “exorcism” is simply metaphorical, the bishop makes clear his true intent:
” ‘The context for this prayer service may be understood by recalling the words of Pope Francis when he faced a similar situation as Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010,’ Bishop Paprocki said.
“Regarding the proposed redefinition of civil marriage in Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio wrote on June 22, 2010: ‘The Argentine people must face, in the next few weeks, a situation whose result may gravely harm the family. It is the bill on matrimony of persons of the same sex. The identity of the family, and its survival, are in jeopardy here: father, mother, and children. The life of so many children who will be discriminated beforehand due to the lack of human maturity that God willed them to have with a father and a mother is in jeopardy. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts. … Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is an intention [which is] destructive of the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project (this is a mere instrument), but rather a “move” of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.’
“Bishop Paprocki noted, ‘The pope’s reference to the “father of lies” comes from the Gospel of John (8:44), where Jesus refers to the devil as “a liar and the father of lies.” So Pope Francis is saying that same-sex ‘marriage’ comes from the devil and should be condemned as such.”
One has to wonder where Bishop Paprocki has been since Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis, whose outreach towards LGBT people has been unparalleled in the papacy. He takes Cardinal Bergoglio literally from this 2010 quotation, made in the heat of a political debate. Why didn’t he take literally the words of Pope Francis, made in a more reflective moment, when he said that church leaders should not obsess about same-sex marriage?
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, who debated Bishop Paprocki on the issue of same-sex marriage earlier this year, stated it eloquently:
“It is disingenuous of Bishop Paprocki to use the words of Pope Francis from 2010 against same-sex marriage. As President of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina in 2010, he was articulating the words of the Bishops’ Conference. We know from information made public since then, that even in 2010 he personally advocated civil unions. The Pope urges all of us to be open, and Francis sure has.
“Bishop Paprocki should heed the words of Francis in 2013 from his interview with the Jesuit editor of Civilta Cattolica.
‘We cannot insist only on …gay marriage … it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time…The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.’
Jesuit spiritual author Father James Martin offered the following observation about Bishop Paprocki’s prayer service on Twitter yeserday:
There is yet another way to interpret Paprocki’s strange decision to host this “exorcism.” It is an indication of how desperate some of the Catholic hierarchy have become in their attempts to oppose marriage equality. Having failed in the political process, the bishop now is trying to encourage fear by evoking a medieval ritual which no longer is taken seriously by most Catholics. This tactic is similar to Ted Cruz’ attempt to hijack the Affordable Care Act by closing down the government. Everyone loses in a situation like that, but the biggest losers are those who use false methods to stir up fear and confusion. Such extremist tactics reveal the weakness of their ability to connect with people through more rational and humane means.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
November 15, 2013: “Springfield bishop calls for exorcism tied to gay marriage.”