Springfield Diocese Sets Restrictive Expectations for Parents of Catholic School Children

A same-gender couple’s attempt to register their child in a Catholic school in the diocese of Springfield, Illinois, has resulted in a new diocesan policy which, according to a local newspaper account “could call into question parents’ lifestyles, especially if they go against Catholic teaching, and takes a new approach toward a more Protestant tradition of tithing.”

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported this past weekend that Bishop Thomas Paprocki sent a letter to local pastors and principals on July 20th, informing them of the new “Family School Agreement” which would require non-Catholic families to attend Sunday Mass and contribute financially.  According to the news report, the Agreement also stipulates the following for all parents, Catholic and non-Catholic:

“. . . the expectation that parents, adoptive parents or legal guardians of children enrolled in Catholic schools meet with their parish pastor if they are ‘not living in accord with church teaching.’

“That would take in persons who are divorced and remarried but haven’t been granted an annulment, unmarried couples living together, and people who are in same-sex marriages or partnerships.”

The newspaper said it obtained a copy of Paprocki’s letter, which mentioned that it was the case of a same-sex couple attempting to register their child in the spring was one of the reasons for instituting this policy.  In 2013, Paprocki made headlines for conducting an exorcism on the same day that the governor of Illionois signed marriage equality into law.

In terms of tithing, the newspaper reported the following details about the Agreement:

“The discipleship and stewardship components of the Family School Agreement mandate that the entire family, even if some members aren’t Catholic, participate in weekly Mass and on holy days of obligation, and it ‘obliges’ families to try to tithe at least 8 percent of their income to the parish church in addition to paying school tuition.”

Jonathan Sullivan, the diocesan director of catechetical services, which is responsible for overseeing the schools, acknowledged that 8% is an “aspirational” figure.  He also said that the Agreement might be revised for the following year.  The agreeement was modeled on a similar one in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.

An anonymous source who attended an August 7th diocesan meeting of pastors and principals said that objections were raised to the tone and substance of the Agreement.  Some schools have not required parents to sign the Agreement.  No pastor or principal was willing to speak with the reporter, however.

The penalty for not adhering to the Agreement can be severe, according to the newspaper:

“Parents and students who actively promote ‘a moral or doctrinal position contrary to Catholic teaching’— supporting ordination of women priests, for instance — would be considered in violation of the Family School Agreement. The agreement says that could lead to the expulsion of the student.”

John Freml

John Freml, who is a graduate of Springfield Catholic schools and serves as the coordinator for the Equally Blessed coalition and a local Call To Action chapter, offered a pastoral critique of the new policies:

” ‘What parents in their right minds would idly sit by while a religion teacher is forced to tell their children that something is wrong with their family?’ . . . This is not the kind of church that Pope Francis has called for, and Paprocki should reread what the pope has said about how the church should treat children of same-sex parents.”

Though Sullivan said that the diocese “isn’t trying to coerce people” to convert to Catholicism, the new policy will most likely be felt that way by many parents.  It will encourage the saddest and lowest form of “religious” behavior: going through the motions without an internal assent.

The new policy seems in line with a philosophy that Paprocki expressed in defending his exorcism, referenced above. In an interview in 2014 he stated:

“. . . [S]ometimes, like any good parent will tell you, that sometimes you have to discipline your child, sometimes you have to say no. And sometimes, you even have to punish.

“And when a parent does those things, they’re not being hateful towards their children, they’re actually being very loving by correcting them and showing them the right way to do things.”

In a sense, the new policy is setting up requirements for what people have to do to receive the Church’s ministry. That is not a Catholic thing to do.  Catholic schools around the nation and the globe educate millions of non-Catholic students, as well as millions of Catholic students whose parents may disagree with the magisterium of the Church. Setting up a requirement for what people have to do to receive services from the Church goes counter to what millions of Catholics around the world are doing.  Catholic education should be an expression of the Church’s desire to serve the world, not a reward for going through pro forma steps.

According to the Springfield diocese, school enrollment there has been decreasing.  This new policy will surely speed up that decrease, as parents will choose other alternatives that respect their human dignity and individual consciences–two principles of Catholic teaching which the schools should be demonstrating.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



13 replies
  1. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    I know of pastors who have cut the parish school free from the parish and made them sink or swim on their own! It has always spelled disaster! This kind of move will also cause disaster! The fact that non-Catholics attend Catholic schools has never been an issue! I taught 15 years in an inner city high school in Detroit where 80% of the students were not Catholic. When they heard the school was running a deficit they would do fund raisers on their own! They believed in Catholic education – but would their marriages all have passed the tests of this “bishop”? We never asked! Why? Because we let them live out being a Christian as they saw fit! No judging – no requiring attendance at Sunday Mass and no tithing! This “shepherd” is urging his flock to hit the road! Sadly – many more will leave than will step up to the plate with these standards. I hate the idea that Catholic education becomes a pawn of a bishop’s witch hunt!

  2. Don E Siegal
    Don E Siegal says:

    The parents of children enrolled in these schools should write a complaint to the North Central Association which is the accrediting body for these schools. They might consider disciplinary measures or even withdrawal of accreditation.

  3. Fr Anthony
    Fr Anthony says:

    Not the first time he has shown he shouldn’t have been ordained. The Bishops need to read and implement the Vatican II documents.

  4. Larry
    Larry says:

    This is just ecclesiastical blackmail. As long as the divorced catholic or the catholic using birth control or the person who supports female priests does not do anything publicly, then their kid is safe in Catholic school. It harks back to the Church’s position of the gay folk can come to church but just don’t say anything or mention you are gay. Paprocki should be ashamed that he is using kids as pawns in his warped power play to “protect” church doctrine.

  5. Adam James
    Adam James says:

    How can bigots like this remain in their positions without emulating Our Lord Jesus Christ. Did they never learn of Christ’s inclusion, not disclusion teaching?

  6. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    This is what happens with a hierarchy and no checks and balances. It is insidious that this man is allowed to speak for Catholics. He does not speak for me! I am a lifelong Catholic. I have taught in Catholic schools. This draconian approach is worse than offensive, it is destructive to Catholic schools and Catholicism in general. The fact that Paprocki is following the “letter of the law” shows that the doctrine must be changed so priests and bishops know beyond a doubt that it is their job to be loving and pastoral, not Peeping Toms, obsessed with the intimate lives and significant relationships in their parishes. It should not be Paprocki’s job to control people, and as he says, “punish” them as “children.” I am an adult Catholic who has engaged in lifelong conscience formation. This is an outrage! Catholics must speak out and refuse to accept this abuse in the guise of doctrine.

  7. Friends
    Friends says:

    Good Lord…one horror story after another, these past few weeks. I’m now reminded of the prophesy of Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB — one of the great contemplative writers (and one of the true saints) of the Catholic Church in the 20th Century. A few years before his death, Fr. Bede predicted: “The Catholic Church has become like a great wounded dinosaur, lashing about with its tail, and inflicting great damage in its wake — but it will eventually collapse under its own unsupportable bulk, and it will be replaced by a new understanding of the true nature of the Church that Christ Himself has bequeathed to us”. I now believe that we are living to see those days — and Fr. Bede’s prophecy — coming to fulfillment. Please Google his name for a great trove of information about his life and work. He’s one of my true heroes — and one of the instrumental causes of my own ability still to call myself a professing Catholic.

  8. Jerry Baumeister, PhD
    Jerry Baumeister, PhD says:

    First there was the pedophile priest scandal, now we have bishops abusing adults with these unbelievable actions. What is going on here, is the Church having a nervous breakdown? God save us…now please.

  9. tvleavitt
    tvleavitt says:

    Reblogged this on Thomas Leavitt and commented:
    “Parents and students who actively promote ‘a moral or doctrinal position contrary to Catholic teaching’— supporting ordination of women priests, for instance — would be considered in violation of the Family School Agreement. The agreement says that could lead to the expulsion of the student.”

    Don’t Catholic schools face enough enrollment challenges as it is, without effectively throwing out all students with non-Catholic parents, as well as all students whose parents publicly disagree with various points of Catholic doctrine (such as advocacy for the ordination of women to the priesthood)? Are they going to expell every student whose parents somehow violate doctrine (get divorced, get an abortion, permit a sibling to use birth control, have an affair)? Who is going to be left to attend school?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Pastors are further instructed to accept children whose parents are in a same-gender marriage for the Sacraments of Initiation, though pastors must use “due discretion in determining the appropriateness of the public celebration of the baptism.” Likewise, such children are to be admitted to Catholic schools and religious education, but the family “must agree to abide by the Family School Agreement.” To read more about that Agreement, which is LGBT-negative, click here. […]

  2. […] Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who once held an exorcism against marriage equality, recently announced a restrictive new policy of Catholic school admission which casts a supsicious eye on lesbian and gay parents,  and where […]

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