America Has at Least One Catholic Bishop: Thomas Paprocki.
Back in 1784, American Catholics had just one bishop. In response to U.S independence, the Holy See gave the new country its very own diocese and bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore. His cousin, Charles Carroll, had signed the Declaration of Independence. Bishop Carroll went on to found Georgetown University. (For this family’s story, see Samuel Gregg’s fascinating book on American freedom and Catholic principles, Tea Party Catholic.)
Scandal is the theological term for how movie stars now cringe when you turn up pictures of them kissing Harvey Weinstein.
Now in 2018, with 70.4 million Catholics listed as living in America, one thing is certain. We still have at least one bishop. His name is Thomas Paprocki. The Bishop of Springfield, Illinois just did what any Catholic bishop would have done in the past. That is, in the 19th century. Or the Middle Ages. Or even the age of the apostles. He saw that a secular leader who belonged to the Church was advocating grave evil. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois lives in Paprocki’s diocese. He voted against protecting the lives of unborn children — even those who might be viable outside the womb.
In answer, Paprocki called on him to repent. Till he does, Durbin may not receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. As Catholic News Agency reports:
“Sen. Durbin was once pro-life. I sincerely pray that he will repent and return to being pro-life,” Bishop Paprocki said Thursday. “Because his voting record in support of abortion over many years constitutes ‘obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin,’ the determination continues that Sen. Durbin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion until he repents of this sin. This provision is intended not to punish, but to bring about a change of heart.”
Excommunication: It’s What Bishops Do
So Augustine’s mentor Ambrose told the Roman emperor Theodosius, after he organized a massacre. So Pope Gregory VII told the German emperor Henry IV, when he tried to appoint his cronies as bishops. And so Bishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans told Catholic racists when they kept black kids out of school.
That’s the sort of thing Catholic bishops are supposed do. As heirs of the Apostles, they’re duty-bound to speak prophetically to power, in defense of the innocent. As shepherds, they owe it to sinners to protect them from receiving Communion unworthily. And as teachers, they have to step in when really, really public sinners keep on marching up to the altar, expecting Communion like a participation trophy. That causes scandal, a theological term which describe the way movie stars now cringe when you turn up pictures of them kissing Harvey Weinstein. The actors who kissed (and covered up for) Harvey Weinstein, and haven’t repented, can’t march in the #MeToo parade. And senators who vote to kill babies shouldn’t come to Holy Communion.
That’s Catholic doctrine. And in Illinois, now, it’s Catholic practice. Because Thomas Paprocki is a Catholic bishop.
The actors who kissed (and covered up for) Harvey Weinstein, and haven’t repented, can’t march in the #MeToo parade. And senators who vote to kill babies shouldn’t come to Holy Communion.
Paprocki Stands Alone, For Now
The question is: Do we still have any others? Because not one other Catholic bishop in America has followed Paprocki’s example. Nor did the U.S. Bishops conference swing into action, as it has in defense of “DREAMERs,” with a major campaign to get Catholics to call their congressmen. Catholic columnist Chris Manion noted the contrast:
Alas, a lapse of faith caused bishops to be silent regarding 14 Catholic Senators who support torturing and killing children in the womb.
They get no gov’t money defending life, but get $$100 millions “caring for” illegals and refugees.
Your Excellencies: Have you no decency? https://t.co/AnKIDDXNzW
— Christopher Manion (@realchrismanion) February 20, 2018
On paper, immigration is an issue utterly unlike abortion. The Church has never taught (and so cannot now teach) that everyone in the world has the right to go live wherever he likes. In fact, the Catholic Catechism’s statement on immigration sounds like the 2016 GOP platform on the subject. That’s no accident; conservative Catholics took part in drafting that platform. Abortion, on the other hand, is an evil so grave that Christians were denouncing it while the apostles were still alive. (See the first-century Didache.) Attempts to smoosh together abortion, immigration, gun rights, Medicaid funding and other unrelated topics as “life issues” in a “Seamless Garment” are an intellectual fraud.
Innocent Life, or the Bottom Line?
But in cold, hard fact, immigration plays out very differently. Dozens of Catholic social service agencies get hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government to spend on immigrants. Groups like Catholic Charities keep the lights on by serving as federal contractors.
Of course, it’s not just about the money. Minus the massive transfer of Catholics from Latin America to the U.S., the church here would be shrinking. As I wrote here back in September:
According to Pew, some 40% of native-born Catholics leave the Church. If it weren’t for large-scale immigration from countries where bishops are better at preaching the faith, the American Catholic church would be shrinking at a rate comparable to Mainline Protestant denominations. One in four American Catholics today is himself an immigrant, most of them from Latin America. And a disturbingly high percentage of immigrant Catholics leave the Church too, after a few years of life in tepid U.S. parishes.
Since we’ve only got one bishop so far on record as acting like a bishop, I wonder: Is the U.S. again a mission territory, with a few chapels here and there served by circuit-riding priests? If by “Catholic” you mean someone who adheres fully to all the teachings of the church, that might in fact be true. The vast, hollow carapace of Catholic™ universities like DePaul and Georgetown, the multimillion dollar budget of a bishops’ conference that puts out more than 200 political policy statements per year, the apparently steady numbers of churchgoers (supplemented, always, by imports), the “welcoming” parishes hosting Mardi Gras parties with drag queens. …
All of that masks a deeply unsettling fact: There just aren’t all that many of us in America. Maybe we don’t need so many bishops.