Friday, December 3, 2010

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

“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.”

- Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki;s statement regarding the Illinois Governor, Patrick Quinn.

Natural fatherhood has its parallel with spiritual fatherhood. It is no exaggeration to say that a bishop of a diocese and a father of a family have much in common. As a matter of fact, natural or biological fatherhood takes its origin from the supernatural order; that is, from the Fatherhood of God. The priesthood is not a man-made imitation of natural fatherhood. To the contrary, a father of five children, such as myself, mirrors and borrows, not only directly from God, but also indirectly from the spiritual fatherhood of Holy Orders.

Now, if I handicap myself as a father of five by using mere persuasion or if I simply “ask” my children to cease from inappropriate or disorderly activity, an unruly household is sure to follow. Persuasion is certainly the first option a parent should use. Nevertheless, when persuasion is ineffective, my love as a father moves me to take disciplinary action for the sake of my child and for the good of the family.

What is a matter of instinct with regard to natural fatherhood i.e. fatherly love and discipline as being inseparable, comes with training and example with spiritual fatherhood. However, discipline as an expression of fatherly love has been undervalued and dismissed as lacking compassion in the priesthood. This is largely due to the omission of teaching and preaching about sin. No sin, no hell; no hell, no need to discipline or punish. With this series of pastoral dereliction comes a decreasing relevance to call upon Jesus as Savior; hence, the reason why there has been a precipitous drop in Sunday Mass attendance. Why bother getting up on Sunday if I am not a sinner.

This brings us to my proposal to our spiritual elders: Why not do as Jesus commanded his Apostles and Bishops to do? Why not do what St. Paul said to do? Jesus said to the Apostles, the first Bishops of the Church, that if a sinner refuses to listen to the private counsel of a brother, and then if he refuses a second time, then “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17) Keep in mind that a Gentile or tax collector was publicly excluded from the Jewish assembly in the first century.

This pastoral mandate by our Lord was not intended to be vindictive, but rather remedial. It is an act of fatherly love in order to save the sinner from spiritual ruin. It is in this context that St. Paul gave the following admonition the Thessalonians: “If anyone does not obey our word as expressed in this letter, take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame.” (II Thessalonians 3:14)

To exclude the unrepentant sinner from the Church, or, to excommunicate, if you will, is a precedent established by Jesus Christ himself and then practiced by the Apostles, followed by the Fathers of the Church, and finally by saintly Popes and saintly Bishops throughout the centuries. But with the 1960’s, the pastoral practice of exclusion and public correction became unintelligible. It no longer made sense; it even seemed cruel by a good number of Catholics. Nevertheless, and this is important, the divorce between fatherly love and fatherly discipline has left the House of God in disorder and confusion. It has been forgotten that fatherly discipline always has for its objective the salvation of the sinner.

Next blog: the conclusion