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Bishop Paprocki pens essay imagining ‘heretical’ cardinals, quoting San Diego’s McElroy

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., center, arrives in procession for Pope Francis' celebration of Mass marking the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 12, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 1, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, on Tuesday published an essay in which he quotes the words of Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego as one of two “examples” of views contrary to a “truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith,” and thus heretical.

In the Feb. 28 essay published in First Things, Paprocki, a canon and civil lawyer, criticized the words of McElroy pertaining to worthiness to receive Holy Communion, and also obliquely referred to “a cardinal of the Catholic Church [stating] publicly that homosexual acts are not sinful and same-sex unions should be blessed by the Church.”

“Until recently, it would be hard to imagine any successor of the apostles making such heterodox statements. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon today to hear Catholic leaders affirm unorthodox views that, not too long ago, would have been espoused only by heretics,” wrote the bishop, who is chairman-elect of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.

While Paprocki did not name McElroy directly, he quoted in his opening paragraph a recent essay McElroy authored in America magazine on the “radical inclusion” of those identifying as LGBT, women, and others in the Church.

In that essay, McElroy called for “a eucharistic theology that effectively invites all of the baptized to the table of the Lord, rather than a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the Eucharist.” McElroy later, in a podcast interview, clarified that by “the baptized” he was referring to all baptized Catholics, and said that his view stemmed from Pope Francis’ description of the Eucharist as “not as a prize for the perfect, but as a source of healing for us all.”

At issue, Paprocki wrote, is McElroy’s apparent rejection of the Church’s teaching, contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that “Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance” (No. 1415). In Paprocki’s view, McElroy’s statements on the Eucharist are “contrary to a ‘truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.’”

“The truth about eucharistic coherence that must be believed by divine and Catholic faith was articulated by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians: ‘Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord … For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself’ (1 Cor 11:27–29). This has been the constant teaching of the Church for the past two thousand years,” Paprocki wrote.

“[I]t is deeply troubling to consider the possibility that prelates holding the office of diocesan bishop in the Catholic Church may be separated or not in full communion because of heresy. Yet both the cases mentioned above would in fact involve heresy, since heresy is defined as ‘the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith’ (canon 751 of the Code of Canon Law),” he wrote.

In a Wednesday statement to CNA, Paprocki said his essay was not intended to be an accusation of any cardinal in particular.

“I intentionally did not mention names because I do not want this to be about the personalities involved but about the Catholic teachings that are being denied,” Paprocki said.

“Is it not contrary to the Catholic faith and therefore heresy to say that sexual sins are not a grave matter? Is it not contrary to the Catholic faith and therefore heresy to say that one may receive holy Communion despite having committed grave sin without repenting? If so, what are the canonical implications of such heresies?” he told CNA. “That is why the essay is titled, ‘Imagine a Heretical Cardinal’ not ‘Accusing a Heretical Cardinal.’”

In the case of a person holding heretical views, that person has “de facto separated themselves ontologically — that is, in reality — from the communion of the Church,” Paprocki wrote in his essay.

“Thus heretics, apostates, and schismatics inflict the penalty of excommunication upon themselves,” he wrote. “[A] cardinal of the Catholic Church, like any other Catholic who denies settled Catholic teaching, embraces heresy, the result of which is automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church.”

“Only the pope can remove a cardinal from office or dismiss him from the clerical state in the case of heresy or other grave crimes. If he does not do so, the unseemly prospect arises of a cardinal, excommunicated latae sententiae due to heresy, voting in a papal conclave,” Paprocki continued.

The Diocese of San Diego did not respond by press time to CNA’s request for a response from Cardinal McElroy to Paprocki’s assessment of his views on the Eucharist.

• Related at Catholic World Report: “A better way forward: A response to Cardinal Robert McElroy” (Feb 20, 2023) by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

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  1. The essay of Bishop Poprocki disingenously and indirectly accuses Cardinal McElroy is just imprudent of him. He should have wise and prudent people read his essay before he published it. Paprocki’s public display of episcopal animosity in this essay spotlights deep divisions in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy marked by open disagreement and strident rhetoric among bishops that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI would not have tolerated. There wouldn’t have been this kind of discussion under John Paul II because the Vatican would have shut it down. Pope Francis has encouraged open discussion on sensitive issues such as figuring out new ways to accompany LGBTQ Catholics and same-sex couples. Cardinal McElroy was carrying this out and anti-Pope Francis bishops like Poprocki just don’t like it. They’re trying to shut it down by using this kind of inflammatory rhetoric, even against cardinals. Paprocki should know better as a canon lawyer than to accuse someone of heresy is a formal charge. Canon 751 specifically defines heresy as the “obstinate denial or obstinate doubt… of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith. What Paprocki has done is running together statements and teachings of different levels of authority in the church, and claiming that any disagreement with any of them amounts to heresy is just false. As for the Cardinal’s essay in America, McElroy’s point is not that that homosexual acts are not sinful, rather he’s saying that they don’t automatically rise to the level of a mortal sin, which is the kind of development in our tradition that could take place. The underlying question in all of this is whether development in church doctrine can take place. Bishop Poprocki should read John Henry Newman on this, and look at the history of the church’s teachings, like on usury, which evolved over time as the church grew deeper in its understanding of matters in the light of scripture and tradition.

    • Taylor, with all due respect, you’re wrong.

      You wrote: “McElroy’s point is not that that homosexual acts are not sinful, rather he’s saying that they don’t automatically rise to the level of a mortal sin…”

      McElroy specifically called for the blessing of “same-sex unions” by the Church.

      I’m sure you will agree that the Church does not — can not — bless sin, whether deadly or not.

      McElroy’s position — that there’s a conflict between God’s “radically inclusive” love and the “judgementalism” of traditional Catholic teaching — is a false dichotomy.

      Yes, God’s love for humanity is infinite.

      But it is precisely because of that fact that God does not accept sin, encouraging us to love one another instead of sinning.

      Because sin causes pain, suffering, disorder and death.

      While loving others leads to a joyful, fulfilled, meaningful life.

      The McElroys and Hollerichs who preach about “radical inclusiveness” — i.e., the acceptance of sinful acts as natural and acceptable — are advocating for the acceptance of evil by the Church.

      They are sowers of pain, suffering, disorder and death.

      Which is why I agree that the term, “heretic,” seems most apropos when applied to them.

    • The shoe is on the other foot…
      The distinction between “grave” and “mortal” sin (grave matter plus knowledge plus free will) applies to individual cases, not entire categories of (politicized) persons. See CCC 2352 addressing the individual “subject’s (!) moral responsibility” and taking “into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that can lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.”

      Rather than a predisposing gay gene, genome research points instead to non-genetic factors— such as environment, getting locked in by early sexual experimentation, upbringing, absentee or abusive fathers, sexual abuse, personality, nurture – which are far more significant in influencing a person’s choice (!) of sexual partner, just as with most other personality, behavioral and physical human traits.

      Evangelizing and healing the current culture back onto the track of human flourishing and even holiness–and serving its victims truly–calls for something better and surely less expedient than simply redefining “marriage” and sexual morality, or the endorsing/blessing of non-binary/non-complementary liaisons, as with Batzing, Hollerich, McElroy & Co.

      Individuals for whom the millstone scenario in Luke 17:2 seems to loom unmitigated—but who am I to judge?

    • Heterodox bishops like McElroy and his ilk can make the most outrageously heterodox statements and get a definite pass from those in the protestant wing of the Catholic Church. The Vicar of Christ in Rome can even venerate a false idol of Pachamama in the Vatican Gardens but when two Austrian men threw the idol into the Tiber, some in our Church went after them for doing so. But let one bishop stand up for the faith and he’ll soon be be having coals heaped on his head by a few.

      One thing for certain: the Father of Lies is never timid nor does he ever relax his efforts to sow lies.

      • Deacon: I think the slander first spread by Taylor Marshall should be stopped. In cahoots with those Austrians they staged and stole the image from the church before throwing it to the Tiber. That image was presented by the indigenous people attending the Synod representing their own Our Lady of the Amazon. That was displayed in Church as a cultural artifact and was not worshipped to (which would be idolatry). It was the leading papal slanderer ex-Protestant (who somehow still thinks and behaves like one) Marshall who first named it Pachamama and the anti-Pope Francis social media world quickly spread it such that even the Pope used the term when he later talked to the press about the incident as the false narrative was already in full swing. Stop repeating this lie and falsehood.

        • The bishops and the pope called the statue Pachamama. If the bishops leading the Amazon synod wished to honour our Lady then a statue of our Lady of Guadalupe would have been the obvious choice. Unfortunately, that was not their intention.

    • Plagiarism from a National Catholic Reporter opinion piece. Please acknowledge your sources when you cite them.

    • Taylor Gordon:

      Unity with Jesus and his apostles, which includes faithful obedience to Jesus’ commands about sexual morality, and the teaching of his apostles, are essential Catholic and Christian beliefs.

      Unity with apostate Bishops and Cardinals is not essential, nor is it desirable, because they do not abide in Jesus. “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

      Bishop Paprocki is a good shepherd. “Eminence” McElroy is a false shepherd, and such men are condemned by the very words of Jesus.

    • McElroy’s recent comment that the synod would mark the final chapter in the revolution of the church started by the liberals at Vatican 2 is more than enough to discredit both. Period.

    • It is imprudent of someone to add words to an essay to make a point that deviates from the author’s original intention. I read Bishop Paprocki’s essay. Perhaps you should do the same. If you had read it before your comment you should consider a more careful reading.

  2. Why doesn’t Paprocki follow his analysis to its logical conclusion? If McElroy, Hollerich, Marx, and Cupich, to name only several cardinals, are heretics (as indeed they are), how can one avoid the logical conclusion that the one who identified, selected, and appointed them as cardinals from all the tens of thousands of priests and bishops in the world because they embody and exemplify his own faithlessness is also a heretic? As Paprocki himself has said, the time for polite private conversations is over.

    To this same point, why is it that Bergoglio has never had the question directly put to him: “Are you a homosexual? Have you, or do you now, engage in homosexual acts?” No normal heterosexual male, much less a practicing and orthodox Catholic, and beyond question no priest or bishop striving for holiness in his personal life would ever associate himself routinely, invariably, and even daily with active sodomites, catamites, effeminates, and, most incredibly, transgendered prostitutes. When is the elephant in the room finally going to be recognized and Bergoglio asked face-to-face about his apparent homosexuality?

  3. As for the Cardinal’s essay in America, McElroy’s point is not that that homosexual acts are not sinful, rather he’s saying that they don’t automatically rise to the level of a mortal sin, which is the kind of development in our tradition that could take place.

    Nonsense. Perennial Church teaching holds that there are three ingredients in a mortal sin: (1) grave matter, (2) full knowledge, and (3) deliberate consent. No amount of “development” can change that, and to suggest otherwise is to put oneself beyond the doctrines of the Church.

    • George, the documents of Vatican II are readily available.

      Please cite the passages that advocate in favor of same-sex “marriage” or female priests or any of the rest of it.

      You can’t, because they’re not there.

      I challenge you to read the documents. Many solid Catholics who have found them to be inspiring and true.

      Until you do, you should stop bearing false witness.

  4. Pertinax, the Latin word applied in canon 751 is translated into English as obstinate, which means persevering, a word that encompasses a belief or position that is held with consistency. As such Bishop Paprocki may have a case against a cardinal who can be proved obstinate in his heretical position.
    CNA safely assumes Paprocki refers to Card McElroy and his essay published by America Mag. If the Cardinal were to continue without ambiguity in the alleged position regarding homosexual acts as sinless, the unrestricted access to the Holy Eucharist over a sufficient period, and remained unrelenting after taken to task he should be censured as a heretic, if unrepentant excommunicated. That’s a drastic action that may apply to growing numbers of clergy.
    CNA notes the clandestine nature of the bishop’s complaint and his unwillingness to name McElroy. Nevertheless everyone understands who the accused is. Furthermore, Paprocki acknowledges a dilemma, that only a pope can censure a cardinal. And if, nevertheless someone, presumably McElroy were excommunicated Latae sententiae due to heresy, voting in a papal conclave is “an unseemly prospect”. How might this be responded to?
    Bishop Paprocki’s concern is hypothetical, and ignites myriad speculation since there are myriad ifs. John Paul and Benedict both considered such a papal election scenario in which, if there were doubt of canonical lawfulness. Both, despite Pascendi Dominici gregis Pius X 1907 Universi Dominici gregis John Paul II 1996 opined that the result remain valid if not lawful.
    Similar to 2013 when Austen Ivereigh, an intimate of Westminster Card Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, an alleged key player and informant, revealed in his 1st edition of The Great Reformer that Murphy-O’Connor said cardinals were canvassed prior to the election [Ivereigh when aware of his blunder redacted and reissued the 2nd edition]. Many still argue Francis is therefore not the true pope, that issue never confirmed, nor its unlikely adjudication now moot.
    Underlining this issue raised by Bishop Paprocki is the final say of the bishop of Rome. There’s no indication he will intervene if heresy became evident as pertinax or persistent since he indicates by his own words his own, if not as consistent, nevertheless coherence with McElroy.
    Our prelates who remain faithful to Christ and what he revealed cannot remain silent, even if canonical options are limited. As such Bishop Paprocki raising the issue whether hypothetical nevertheless identifies the major moral dysfunction afflicting the Church. That alone has value.

  5. Obedience, chastity, poverty.

    When Christ is first in our lives we want to be obedient to His word. Marriage to the church is a noble calling, we must honour those who have chosen that route. When we are in Christ, we are never impoverished.

    To lift up in prayer and encourage the leaders in the church is our responsibility. Let us not overburden these special servants of Christ, but to walk in peace with them.

    John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

    1 Peter 1:14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,

    Acts 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

    1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

    Proverbs 22:2 The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all.

    2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

    Blessings to God’s faithful servants

  6. As a cradle Catholic, raised in the post Vatican II church and philosophy who is gay, I find the entire discussion on homosexuality ignorant and annoying. That I am a sinner, through no fault of my own, makes all of the arguments proposed here useless. The pervasive ignorance of gender and sexuality, promulgated on the philosophical basis of natural law, that identifies only males and females as designated at birth, sex for reproduction, and negation of a reality that homosexuality could also be created by the same Creator who made heterosexuality is basically fear,ignorance, need for control, bigotry, misogyny, and who knows how many other despicable human conditions. Rather than arguing why it’s so damn wrong, why don’t you put your heads together and read a book not written by a Catholic theologian, perhaps one that accepts human psychology, and that allows all humans to be their authentic human self. The choice a gay person has is the choice of finding another partner to love. The ongoing ignorance based in premises that are so archaic and designed to only consider what’s only ever been considered is malignant. Read some new material! Actually, learn something new about being human! Revisit where your arguments at the point of premise are WRONG! The argument that heterosexual is better than homosexual is wrong! They are equal. When you figure out how to support this equality as your premise, you actually might get somewhere. Until then, all this blustering is ridiculous! I have no use for the narrow mindedness of those who fail to allow me to be created in the image and likeness of God. And because of that, you have lost this former church musician, former parish liturgical director, and potential donor… Keep your pews empty with this stupidity!

    • Sexual desire and love are neither the same nor are they functionally related. Any sex worker can tell you that. Sexual desire is not an inherently good thing that needs to find full expression in order for a person to be whole, any more than the desire for food is inherently good, even for those of us whom God has apparently given a good appetite. And unfortunately for us but fortunate for the advertising business, a lot of sexual desire is not invariably directed to the one loved. Love, on the other hand, is not a desire at all. Love is an attitude, an attitude of wanting the very best for the one loved, which means wanting them to become what God calls them to become, not what they think they are or what they think they want to be. We do not get to decide what kind of “authentic” person God made us to be, nor did God intended us to stay the way we were “made.” If we were intended to stay the way we were made, we wouldn’t teach children to say “thank you,” to share with others, to wait their turn, to not hit. The reality is that from the standpoint of behavior we aren’t “made” very nice.

      From the standpoint of biology, organs have purpose. God did not create man with a recreation center between his legs, nor is its use his own business. We are “made” with complete circulatory systems, complete skeletal systems, complete nervous systems. But we’re only made with half a reproductive system, and there isn’t another person of the same sex on the planet who can make it complete. No reproductive biologist, looking at two persons of the same sex copulating, would say, “Yeah, that makes sense, that’ll work just fine.” Persuading yourself that God wants for you what you want for yourself is idolatry. God’s call is to be more than a biological organism, more than a high-functioning animal. God’s call is to be holy even as God is holy.

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