Illinois Catholics Display the Best & Worst of Their Faith As Marriage Equality Becomes Law

Catholics celebrate outside Illinois’ law signing

Governor Pat Quinn signed marriage equality into law Wednesday, making Illinois the 16th state in the US to legalize equal marriage rights.

Illinois is yet another state where Catholics, including the governor and key legislators, have been instrumental in advancing LGBT rights. Lawmakers quoted Pope Francis as the grounds upon which they would vote for marriage equality and both the leaders of the Illinois House and Senate were Catholic. Lay people organized with the broader faith coalition. In state after state, Catholic leadership for LGBT rights is not only present, but expanding.

Unfortunately, marriage equality’s legalization in Illinois has also highlighted the increasingly extreme responses of Catholics opposed to equal marriage..

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield held an exorcism Wednesday night after the law was signed, offering prayers in Latin that were filled with language of demons, the devil, and sin. For those seeking further details, ThinkProgress offers a rundown of highlights from the exorcism. The bishop explained in his sermon what the exorcism was and why he felt it was necessary, but most Catholic voices questioned and condemned Paprocki’s actions. You can read the sermon here.

The Chicago Tribune reports that a petition by Faithful America garnered 14,000 signatures as of yesterday. Those signing likely share the views views of Michael Budde, chair of Catholic studies at DePaul University, who said:

” ‘It may be edifying and it may be raw meat for people on the Catholic right for whom this is a make-or-break issue…There’s always a danger of tying things like Christian ritual to politics of the day to the extent that you politicize liturgy.’ “

Other commentators wondered whether Paprocki’s exorcism would cast out more Catholics than demons from the Church. Yet, the bishop’s actions were actually topped by a hard-right Catholic organization, American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property. Their executive director claimed recent tornadoes that killed at least six and left thousands in disaster areas are “chastisements” from God for passing marriage equality, as reported in The Advocate.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, where the law was signed, spoke against marriage equality in the debate leading up to its passage. Surprisingly, his voice is now one of relative moderation. George refused to opine whether Communion should be denied to politicians who helped pass the law and is quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying the Church would adjust to new circumstances “for the sake of social harmony.”

For its part, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a now-common statement from Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. It was notable only in that it criticized Catholics’ use of Pope Francis’ words in advocating for LGBT rights.

Perhaps the best words about these negative reactions from Catholic leadership come from the Catholic parent of an LGBT child. Deb Word, president of Fortunate Families, wrote an open letter to Paprocki which said, in part:

“I read with sadness the announcement that you plan to hold a rite of exorcism as a reaction to the Governor signing the civil marriage equality bill.  As someone who works in ministry with young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth who have been discarded by their parents, (housing almost 20 homeless youth in our home in the last 4 years and counseling dozens more,) we see kids who have reached the end of their rope…

“Please understand the harm you cause when you equate Gay anything and demons.  Please stop hurting our kids in the name of protecting sacramental marriage.  Please realize the damage you do with your words.”

In previous states where marriage equality has passed recently, like Hawaii and New Jersey, bishops have made their opposition to the new laws known. Their responses have even led Bondings 2.0 to question if the bishops’ opposition on civil marriage would cease.

LGBT rights are an expanding reality in the US, and the bishops must decide whether to respond pastorally and bring Catholics in like Pope Francis has done or follow Paprocki’s footsteps and cast them out.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Daik N.
    Daik N. says:

    An international group of prominent Catholic theologians have called the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality “incomprehensible” and are asking bishops around the world to take seriously the expertise of lay people.

    Church teaching on issues like contraception and same-sex marriage, the theologians write, are based on “abstract notions of natural law and [are] outdated, or at the very least scientifically uninformed” and “are for the most part incomprehensible to the majority of the faithful.”

    Anyone can sign the statement:

  2. Chaplain Bill
    Chaplain Bill says:

    “In previous states where marriage equality has passed recently, like Hawaii and New Jersey, bishops have made their opposition to the new laws known. Their responses have even led Bondings 2.0 to question if the bishops’ opposition on civil marriage would cease.”

    An exorcism? My partner and I have been together for 25 years and I am beyond appalled by the continued animus of the bishops with their nonstop opposition — from civll rights to legal protections to ENDA to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” to partner benefits and now gay marriage. To call this anything but hatred is lipstick on a pig.

    The Pope’s comments ring very thin . . .

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    The theologians’ document cited above is a fabulous resource for all folks who are struggling with the Church’s stubborn intransigence on the wide spectrum of faithful and loving human relationships. I’m forwarding the link to my good online friend, Maria Johnson, who hosts the “Reasonably Catholic” interview program on WESU-FM 88.1 at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. It’s a lifetime list of theologians she’d love to interview for her program. In fact, all of her prior radio interviews have been archived, and may be downloaded free of charge, at this link:

    Check out her show online. It’s an absolute delight…generally punctuated with lots of wit and humor, as well as serious discussion.


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  1. […]  Illinois, New Jersey, and Hawaii recently passed marriage equality, this blog and others have wondered how […]

  2. […] Illinois passed marriage equality in mid-November, many Catholics celebrated this expansion of LGBT justicd. Others reacted quite negatively, including Bishop Thomas Paprocki […]

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