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CATHOLIC TIMES

July 9, 2017

Lex Cordis Caritas


The Law of the Heart is Love

Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki


Bishop of Springfield in Illinois

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:


There has been quite a bit of consternation since I sent an internal communication to my
clergy and staff last month that was unfortunately leaked to the public concerning my Decree
Regarding Same-sex Marriage and Related Pastoral Issues. While the underlying doctrinal
issues are not new, these norms were necessary to address situations in the pastoral context
arising from the new reality in the law and in our culture, given that same-sex marriage is now
recognized by legislative action and judicial decision as legal throughout the United States of
America. This decree prohibits same-sex weddings to be performed by our diocesan personnel or
to take place in Catholic facilities, restricts persons in such unions from receiving the sacraments
or serving in a public liturgical role unless they have repented, and says that deceased persons
who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be
deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites unless they have given some signs of repentance before
their death.
At the same time, the decree says that a child with a Catholic parent or parents living in a
same-sex marriage may be baptized if there is a well-founded hope that he or she will be brought
up in the Catholic faith and that such a child who is otherwise qualified and properly disposed
may receive First Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confirmation. Moreover, the decree states that
children living with persons in a same-sex marriage are not to be denied admission to Catholic
schools and catechetical and formational programs on those grounds alone. However, parents
and those who legally take the place of parents are to be advised that their children will be
instructed according to the Churchs teachings on marriage and sexuality in their fullness and
they must agree to abide by the Family School Agreement.
In the decree I also remind all who exercise a ministry within the Church that, while
being clear and direct about what the Church teaches, our pastoral ministry must always be
respectful, compassionate and sensitive to all our brothers and sisters in faith, as was the ministry
of Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd and our everlasting model for ministry. People with same-sex
attraction are welcome in our parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois as we
repent our sins and pray for God to keep us in His grace.
All of this is totally consistent with Catholic teaching about the sacraments and the
understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman that has prevailed for millennia
in all of society, not just in the Church. The fact that there would be such an outcry against this
decree is quite astounding and shows how strong the LGBT lobby is both in the secular world as
well as within the Church. People have been quick to quote the famous in-flight statement of
Pope Francis in 2013 when he said, If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has
good will, then who am I to judge him? But the Pope quickly added, The problem is not
having this [homosexual] tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there
is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of
misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater
problem. So while we certainly leave the eternal judgment of ones soul to God, we still must
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deal with objective realities here on earth and even Pope Francis recognized that the gay lobby is
a great problem.
Critics have been urging me to rescind my Decree Regarding Same-sex Marriage and
Related Pastoral Issues. However, this decree is a rather straightforward application of existing
Catholic doctrine and canon law to the new situation of legal marital status being granted in civil
law to same-sex couples, which is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. All clergy
before they are ordained take an Oath of Fidelity which includes the statement, In fulfilling the
charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its
entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.
I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the
observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.
Pastors and bishops repeat this oath upon assuming their office to be exercised in the name of the
Church. Thus, deacons, priests and bishops cannot contradict Church teachings or refuse to
observe ecclesiastical laws without violating their oath, which is a promise made to God.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest who lives in New York, posted my decree on Twitter
and said in a series of tweets, If bishops ban members of same-sex couples from funeral rites,
they must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics without annulments . . . women who have
children out of wedlock, members of straight couples living together before marriage, anyone
using birth control . . . members of straight couples living together before marriage, anyone using
birth control. . . . To focus only on LGBT people, even those in same-sex marriages, without a
similar focus on the sexual or moral behavior of straight people is in the words of the
Catechism a sign of unjust discrimination. Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those tweets,
since canon law prohibits ecclesiastical funeral rites only in cases of manifest sinners which
gives public scandal, and something such as using birth control is a private matter that is
usually not manifest or made public. Moreover, my decree does not focus on LGBT people,
but on so-called same-sex marriage, which is a public legal status. No one is ever denied the
sacraments or Christian burial for simply having a homosexual orientation. Even someone who
had entered into a same-sex marriage can receive the sacraments and be given ecclesiastical
funeral rites if they repent and renounce their marriage.
Father Martin also misses the key phrase in the decree that ecclesiastical funeral rites are
to be denied to persons in same-sex marriages unless they have given some signs of repentance
before their death. This is a direct quote from canon 1184 of the Code of Canon Law, which is
intended as a call to repentance. Jesus began his public ministry proclaiming the Gospel of God
with these words: This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and
believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). In other words, those living openly in same-sex marriage,
like other manifest sinners who give public scandal, can receive ecclesiastical funeral rites if they
gave some sign of repentance. This does not mean that unrepentant manifest sinners will simply
be refused or turned away. Even in those cases where a public Mass of Christian Burial in church
cannot be celebrated because the deceased person was unrepentant and there would be public
scandal, the priest or deacon may conduct a private funeral service, for example, at the funeral
home.
Father Martins tweets do raise an important point with regard to other situations of grave
sin and the reception of Holy Communion. He is right that the Churchs teaching does not apply
only to people in same-sex marriages. According to canon 916, all those who are conscious of
grave sin are not to receive Holy Communion without previous sacramental confession. This is
normally not a question of denying Holy Communion, but of people themselves refraining from
Holy Communion if they are conscious of grave sin. While no one can know ones subjective
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sinfulness before God, the Church can and must teach about the objective realities of grave sin.
Speaking objectively, then, one can say the following:
Those who have sexual relations outside of a valid marriage, whether they are
heterosexual or homosexual, should not receive Holy Communion unless they repent, go to
confession and amend their lives. This includes the divorced and remarried without an
annulment. An exception would be where the couple agrees to live as brother and sister, as long
as there is no public scandal. Similarly, if there is no public scandal, two men who live chastely
with each other as friends or as brother and brother, or two women who live chastely with each
other as friends or as sister and sister, may receive Holy Communion if there is no public
scandal.
Those who have had an abortion or have assisted in performing or procuring an abortion
should not receive Holy Communion unless they repent, go to confession and amend their lives.
Those politicians and judges who helped to make same-sex marriage legal and who aid
and abet abortion, for example, by voting for taxpayer funding for abortion, should not receive
Holy Communion unless they repent, go to confession and amend their lives.
Those who use artificial contraception should not receive Holy Communion unless they
repent, go to confession and amend their lives.
Those who miss Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, unless it would be
impossible due to a grave cause such as serious illness, should not receive Holy Communion
unless they repent, go to confession and amend their lives.
These are just a few examples, but in fact all those who are conscious of any grave sin
should not receive Holy Communion unless they repent, go to confession and amend their lives.
Those who do receive Holy Communion while conscious of grave sin compound the moral
offense by committing the sin of sacrilege.
My recent decree did not address all these various other situations because they have long
been part of Church teaching. The decree was needed to add the novel concept of same-sex
marriage to those instances considered to be objectively grave sins.
The truths of the faith revealed by our Lord in Scripture and Tradition are not always
easy to accept, especially in a world that seeks to make all truth subjective. The fact is that some
truths are objective and unalterable. Jesus said, Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see
God (Matthew 5:8). There is no greater happiness than to see God. Saint Paul reminds us that
we are all in need of daily conversion in that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God
(Romans 3:23). Let us pray for each other, that each of us may come to an ever deeper
understanding of Gods call to discipleship in our lives, the same God who wills everyone to be
saved and come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2: 4).
May God give us this grace. Amen.