Friday, December 3, 2010

Lessons for the Church: Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki and Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn

I like it! I like what Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois had to say about Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn. It is a father’s love at its best and it may come with some sacrifice.

On December 2, 2010, the Catholic News Agency reported that “Illinois legislature passed a bill on Dec. 1 that will establish same-sex civil unions in state law. While the state's Catholic governor Pat Quinn said his faith prompted him to support the bill, his bishop has warned that the governor's actions clearly contradict Church teaching.”

Above all else, a bishop’s duty is to prepare souls for eternity. Generally, this comes in the form of celebrating the Sacraments, preaching the Gospel and shepherding the flock etc. However, when his spiritual children stray, it is incumbent on him, in imitation of the Good Shepherd, to his raise his voice and call out that one lost sheep. As Pope St. Gregory the Great said, public sins need public correction. And this is what Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki did. Indeed, the love of Christ propels him and every bishop to take these courageous stands and make these kinds of sacrifices for the good of souls, the Church and society at large. Among the fatherly duties of a bishop, chief among them is to discipline his spiritual children. “…God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards. (Hebrews 12:7-8)

Bishop Paprocki, in fulfilling his duty as a father, said the following about the wayward governor of Illinois: “If the Governor wishes to pursue a secular agenda for political purposes, that is his prerogative, for which he is accountable to the voters. But if he wishes to speak as a Catholic, then he is accountable to Catholic authority.” “And the Catholic Church,” he continued, “does not support civil unions or other measures that are contrary to the natural moral law.”

The Springfield Journal-Register reported that the governor said, “My religious faith animates me to support this bill.” But the Bishop of Springfield countered, “He did not say what religious faith that would be, but it certainly is not the Catholic faith!”

This the kind of clarity and public correction by Bishop Paprocki reflects a long-standing pastoral tradition of the Church. Courage is contagious. And if these acts of courage among our bishops multiply, the Catholic Church will be on a quick path to renewal.

With that said, over the last fifty years such pastoral practices have been relaxed and in many cases, dismissed by our spiritual leaders. In those instances where a bishop does take a public stand against a so-called "Catholic" politician whose policies are contrary to divine and natural law, they have, at least in recent decades, limited themselves to persuasion; that is, they publicly “ask” these politicians not to approach the altar to receive the Eucharist.

Allow me to propose an alternative. My proposal builds on the good work Bishop Paprocki has already done in dealing with Governor Patrick Quinn. It is something that our Lord Jesus commanded the Apostles to do. St. Paul not only acted accordingly but he elaborated on the pastoral principles to be observed when faced with an unruly son or daughter of the Church. From his time until the 1960's, illustrious pastors from the Fathers of the Church to our last canonized pope, St. Pius X, used this form of discipline for the salvation of the most hardened of sinners.

More on the next blog.