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Understanding Bishop Paprocki’s norms on ‘same-sex marriage’

New Ways Ministry has attacked Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s diocesan norms regarding ministry toward persons who had entered a ‘same-sex marriage’ with predictable language and arguments and by hosting a combox replete with personal attacks on the bishop.

A few days ago, doubtless in response to pastoral questions he had been receiving from ministers in his local Church, Springfield IL Bp Thomas Paprocki issued diocesan norms regarding ministry toward persons who had entered a ‘same-sex marriage’. These norms, hardly remarkable for what they say, are nevertheless noteworthy for being necessary and for Paprocki’s willingness to state them clearly while knowing what kind of vilification he would suffer in their wake.

Predictably New Ways Ministry attacked Paprocki’s norms using equally predictable language and arguments and by hosting a combox replete with personal attacks on the bishop. All of this is sad, but none of it is newsworthy. Worth underscoring, though, is the glibness with which Robert Shine, an editor at New Ways, attempts to school Paprocki, of all people, on canon law, of all things. A little background.

Paprocki has, besides the master’s degree in theology that Shine claims, a further licentiate degree in theology and, even more, a licentiate and doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. While I can’t quite say that Paprocki “wrote the book” on the defense of rights in the Church, he certainly wrote abook on it, his 580 page doctoral dissertation, Vindication and Defense of the Rights of the Christian Faithful through Administrative Recourse in the Local Church (1993), which tome I can spy from my desk right now. And before his canon law studies, Paprocki had already earned a civil law degree from DePaul University and had centered his legal practice around services to the poor.

And now Shine (sporting zero legal credentials) is going to tellPaprocki how canon law should be understood? Okay …

According to Shine, among the “other things wrong with Paprocki’s new guidelines” is their use of Canon 1184 which, as Shine correctly notes, restricts ecclesiastical funeral rites for, among others, “manifest sinners” whose funerals would provoke scandal. But then Shine attempts to explain what Canon 1184 means by the phrase “manifest sinners”.

Per Shine, “It is discrimination to target LGBT people when, in a certain sense, all Catholics could be deemed ‘manifest sinners.’” Channeling Fr. James Martin’s outrageous claim that “Pretty much everyone’s lifestyle is sinful”, Shine apparently thinks that, because it is manifest that everyone sins, everyone’s sins must be “manifest”. But Paprocki, having actually studied canon law, knows what canon law means by the phrase “manifest sinners”.

Paprocki knows, for example, that the CLSA New Commentary (2001) discussing Canon 1184 at p. 1412, understands one in “manifest sin” as one “publicly known to be living in a state of grave sin”. That’s a far cry from Shine’s rhetorical jab, delivered as if it were the coup de grace to Paprocki’s position, “Who among us, including Bishop Paprocki, does not publicly sin at different moments?” Hardly anyone, I would venture, and so would Paprocki. But the law is not directed at those who, from time to time, commit sin, even a public sin; it is concerned about those who make an objectively sinful state their way of life. Fumble that distinction, as Shine does, and one’s chances of correctly reading Canon 1184 drop to, well, zero.

Yet Shine goes on, thinking that offering some examples of supposedly-sinning Catholics who yet are not refused funeral rites should shame Paprocki into changing his policy, citing, among other debatables, “Catholics who … deny climate change.” Yes. Shine actually said that. And this sort of silliness is supposed to give a prelate like Paprocki pause?

There are several other problems with Shine’s sorry attempts to explain the canon law of ecclesiastical funerals, but I want to end these remarks by highlighting a much more important point: Paprocki’s decree is not aimed at a category of persons (homosexuals, lesbians, LGBT, etc., words that do not even appear in his document) but rather, it is concerned with an act, a public act, an act that creates a civilly-recognized status, namely, the act of entering into a ‘same-sex marriage’. That public act most certainly has public consequences, some civil and some canonical.

Bp Paprocki, by long training and awesome office, understands what the consequences of ‘same-sex marriage’ are and are not and he is much more likely to be thinking clearly about them than is Mr Shine.

(This essay originally appeared on the “In the Light of the Law” blog and is posted at CWR with kind permission of Dr. Peters.)

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


  1. Thank you for the interesting article. I agree completely with Bp Paprocki’s stance as related here, but I do have some questions. I can see from your quote from the Commentary that manifest sin means,“publicly known to be living in a state of grave sin”. Now I agree of course that having a carbon-footprint is not the same thing, but what about say: committing domestic violence against one’s spouse, or financially exploiting one’s mother, or neglecting the basic needs of one’s children. Do such situations also contraindicate a Catholic funeral and if so are there diocesan norms about these (or should there be)? That is, how distinct are these from the norm? And if so, how “public” do these need to be (e.g. printed in the newspaper or known in the neighborhood); i.e. how much of the emphasis is on the “grave” sin in connection to the “public” nature of the sin. SSM, of course, is extremely public since it is a moral evil sanctioned by the public (the State).

    • “But the law is not directed at those who, from time to time, commit sin, even a public sin; it is concerned about those who make an objectively sinful state their way of life.”

      So the answer is, Yes, a funeral would be denied if the guy beating his wife said, “Yes, I beat my wife, I think it is OK to beat my wife and I will continue to beat my wife, because that is the lifestyle I have chosen”. Same for your other examples. Now, there are not many people who are like that.

      • I understand what you are saying, but this would appear to make the criteria “publicly professed” rather than “publicly known”. “Publicly known” would appear to denote only that others are aware of the lifestyle, as opposed to publicly professed which means a clear admission and pride in the act. You seem to be saying the the person needs to declare the goodness of an evil lifestyle and that others have a knowledge of that declaration. Fair enough if that is the criteria for refusing a funeral. My point is only that the “publicly known to be living in a state of grave sin” needs greater clarification for the Catholic laity so they will not be confused by the Shines of the world.

        • I don’t think the standard is “publicly professed”. The quotations in my examples above were not to indicate that the person MUST speak against church teaching. It simply was to indicate that “This is what their acts are saying”. There is no need to incorpoate a need to speak about the matter. As we say, actions speak louder than words. It is enough that the Mafia gang member continues to kill and be a member of the mob. It is enough that the person get gay married and live a life of continuing sin. It is enough that the wife beater demonstrates by his actions his complete disregard for the injunctions against wife beating.

        • It would not be publicly known UNLESS it was publicly professed. Yes? Marrying in a public ceremony, sending out invitations, etc, is a pretty “in your face” sin it seems to me. This compounds the sin by creating scandal. Most wife beaters, while certainly committing a grave sin, almost never do their beating in public. Is taking pens from the office stealing? Yes it is . But it is again unlikely enough to deny a person a Christian burial. Not every sin is of equal weight. Hence the public scandal question currently regarding Bidens abortion stand while professing to be a Catholic. Claiming membership in the church requires adherence to the standards. If you do not wish to meet the standards, nobody is forcing anyone to remain a member.

    • There is a difference between admitting one has sinned, and seeking reconciliation through Salvational Love, God’s Gift Of Grace And Mercy poured out Through Christ’s Sacrifice On The Cross, The Sacrifice Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, and denying sin is sin. If it were true that it is Loving and Merciful to desire that we or our beloved remain in our sins and not desire to overcome our disordered inclination to sin, we would not need Our Savior, Jesus The Christ. Christ Has Revealed Through His Life, His Passion, And His Death On The Cross, that No Greater Love Is There Than This- To Desire Salvation For One’s Beloved.
      “ A New Commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

  2. The good Bishop, it is certain, will never become a Cardinal or Pope; but he shall definitely have his reward in Heaven. Before I read this article, I was just sitting here trying to decide where I could find a church home after I leave the Catholic church—-still considering it, since I think Bishop Paprocki is a vanishing breed—a priest and bishop who will stand up and be counted for righteousness sake.

    • “The good Bishop, it is certain, will never become a Cardinal or Pope; but he shall definitely have his reward in Heaven.”

      I suspect that, if Cardinal Cupich gets his way, Bishop Paprocki’s tenure as Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois will be foreshortened, too. I hope that I am wrong – but I have read enough about and know enough about Cardinal Cupich’s vindictive streak to expect the worst from him.

      • I waa forced to move my daughters from Chicago to Springfield 12 years ago and couldn’t wait to come home. Now I’m looking at apartments in Springfield. The disgusting climate here, headed by Cupich, is just too much.

    • Don’t leave us. We need you, and you need us. Fast, pray, and follow the saints who stood firm through worse times than these.

      • Thank you, Richard Ashton for those kind and compassionate words. I will try and put your suggestions into practice. But this is the question: who is leaving whom. Would I be leaving the church or is the church leaving me?

        • St. Francis heard God telling him to “Rebuild my church.” Do you not hear God telling you the same? Francis, Cupich, Batzing, McCarrick are passing away while God’s words will never pass away. The Gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church. The Church, our Mother, is suffering and looking to us for succor, support, and love. Would we abandon our mother in her passion? Please God, no.

    • Please don’t leave the Catholic Church. We need people to defend her teaching and stay. Others are staying to change Church teaching.

      Look at the saints. They stook around. And their reward is great in heaven.

      God bless.

  3. It is sad to say, but, Shine’s position is probably closer to mainstream in most churches than the bishop’s. And even though the bishop’s norms are not unusual or severe, he is powerfully undermined by “Who am I to judge?”*

    *There is no telling how many people gave up the fight against sin when they heard that.

  4. A good distinction regarding canon 1181 and a given sinful state of life as compared to instances of sin. Some may argue they are equivalent. That is true only if it can be shown that a person’s sinful behavior surpasses instances of sin and is willfully consistent. For example several NY gangsters have been refused a Catholic funeral. There was evidence that their sin or sins were consistent. However, if one is a criminal as such and attends Mass perhaps other sacraments and is a known as persistent murderer [and their are such cases] the Church would be justified in refusing a Funeral Mass. The reason as I perceive it is that habitual serious crime like murder indicates an unwillingness to sincerely repent. In the instance of gay marriage the state itself is seriously sinful.

  5. Shine obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he’s talking to people who know even less, so it’s not really a big deal. I’ve probably oversimplified the matter, but that’s how it seems to me.

  6. I Googled up the New Ways Ministry web site. One can immediately see that New Ways Ministry blatantly attempts to legitimize gravely sinful sexual activity and aggressively promotes heresy – and that some Catholic bishops are openly involved in this effort. We can expect utter silence regarding this clerical involvement in the promotion of grave sin and heresy from Bergoglio.

    Is Bergoglio simply incapable of bluntly and firmly dealing with clerical heretics when the issue is a departure from traditional morality regarding human sexuality? It would seem so, although he is quite capable of being very heavy-handed when he wants to be. For example, here is an excerpt from a June 11th Breitbart story headlined “In Major Smackdown, Pope Francis Threatens Renegade African Priests, Demanding ‘Total Obedience’”:

    “In what is perhaps the most strongly worded address of the Francis pontificate, the Pope blasted a group of Nigerian priests who have rejected the papal appointment of their bishop to the diocese of Ahiara, comparing them to the ‘murderous tenants’ spoken of by Jesus in the gospel. The Pope goes on to describe the priests’ offense against the Church as a ‘mortal sin,’ demanding that each one write a personal letter of apology manifesting ‘total obedience to the Pope.’”

    What is a Catholic to make of this? Bergoglio angrily and forcefully deals with the rejection of a papal appointment of a bishop, yet has nothing to say about bishops openly involved with New Ways Ministry, and other blatantly heterodox bishops? What are we to do if he assigns such a bishop to our diocese, one who will obviously promote heterodoxy? Will it be a ‘mortal sin’ for us to object?

    • Pope “Who am I to judge” is not likely to get into this. It’s not really in the spirit of Amoris Laetitiae to acknowledge sin. except for clericalism, rigorism etc. And aren’t global warming and borders more improtant?

      But then, realistically, it’s not like a whole lot was being done before either.

      • Pat, Global warming is one of the most egregious scientific frauds of all time. It’s fake science. Global warming has been going on since a mature planet Earth came on the scene hundreds of thousands of years ago. Let’s not confuse global warming with ecology. They’re two different things. We’re all for ecology, but not for the global warming theory. The Church should stay out of the scientific debate going on vis-a-vis global warming. Didn’t we learned anything from the Galileo Galilei fiasco?

      • I suppose if we fail to turn the light off and use air conditioning, we should say 100 Hail Mary’s and self-flagellate.

  7. How nice and how typical that Fr Paprocki can have his own “norms,” like most Catholics in a smorgasbord religion where members choose which “norms” to follow” and not follow. I too have mine.

    • “Norms” are based on long standing Catholic teaching. It is NOT the same as “do your own thing.” Cafeteria Catholics may be endangering their immortal souls much more than they imagine.

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