If there's anything essential to being a leader in a religious organization, surely it is that with such leadership comes responsibility for promoting the doctrines of said organization.
Generally, if one does this, it's a sign of compliance with the house rules or, more properly, doctrines. But "generally," these days, doesn't seem to cover Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, who for seven years has led the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, which city happens to be the state capitol.
While a supporter of Pope Francis, it appears that the bishop is not willing to embrace the media's interpretation of the "Who am I to judge" statement of the current pontiff that has commanded so much ink in recent years. Indeed, Paprocki, who offered prayers of exorcism when Illinois enacted legislation sanctioning same-sex marriage, must have known his most recent pronouncements on the subject of marriage would raise hackles.
They did, and in turn the reporting on Paprocki's statement raises some interesting journalism questions. For example, when reading these stories try to find two crucial words -- "Catechism" and "Confession."
The Washington Post, aggregating other reports, summarizes the issue:
The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.
The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.
Wading into the story is a Rome-based writer for The Daily Beast, who noted Paprocki's decree affects not only the adults in a given household, but also:
... a child living in a family with same-sex parents “may be baptized if there is a well-founded hope that he or she will be brought up in the Catholic faith,” which is assumed to mean not accepting the same-sex unions that their parents have. “The pastor should use due discretion in determining the appropriateness of the public celebration of the baptism.”
NPR also jumped into the news, finding a Paprocki critic to voice his reaction:
Observers note that Paprocki's decree contradicts the more welcoming direction that Pope Francis has set for the Catholic Church. "I can't imagine a cruder thing more at cross purposes with what the Holy Father is trying to do," says Michael Sean Winters, a columnist at National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper. ...
Winters says Paprocki's decree is at odds with the message and tone of Francis' document on family life, titled Amoris Laetitia, or "The Joy of Love." In that 2016 paper, Francis rejected same-sex marriage, but also instructed priests to be inclusive: "I would also point out that the Eucharist 'is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.'"
Folks at NPR apparently couldn't resist tossing a soupçon of Kellerism into the mix, quoting a Catholic voice more in line with "settled" thinking on the matter:
Christopher Hale, who co-edits an online journal for young Catholics called Millennial, says the decree is out of touch with the church's leadership and its teachings.
"Let's be clear: Francis would give a funeral to someone in a same-sex relationship," Hale says. "A church that excludes the LGBT community is a church without a future. ..."
A question: Has Pope Francis ever addressed that issue in his own writings or is this simply Hale's opinion? There might be facts out there one could quote.
Let me stipulate that I am not a Roman Catholic, nor do I understand every twist and turn of how the Church operates. But I have to imagine, after all I've seen and read, that ecclesiastical leaders have certain prerogatives. One of these, it would appear, is to instruct the clergy under their leadership on who may or may not receive certain sacraments of the church.
The Diocese of Springfield does not present itself as a democracy, with decisions made by popular vote or by duly elected representatives. (There's a different, and elected, body in Springfield that is supposed to represent the will of the people.)
All of the news reports I've read barely pay lip service to the notion that Paprocki was within his rights to issue the decree. It may be, as National Catholic Reporter columnist Winters asserted, "crude" and "at cross purposes" with the media's interpretations of the thoughts of the Supreme Pontiff, but Paprocki's rulings were and are permissible under the way the Roman Catholic Church works.
If Papa Francisco has a problem with what Paprocki did, I'm fairly certain we'll hear about it, either directly or via a media leak of some kind. (Britain's Tablet magazine, aimed at a Catholic audience, explains exactly the media-related kerfuffle over a challenge to some of Francis' thinking on sexuality by four cardinals. It's instructive reading, I believe.)
But since the pope isn't generally known as a media critic, I'll jump in: If journalists report Catholic Church actions without explaining the context in which the church operates, they are, in my view, sinning against their readers. Maybe they needed to let voices on both sides of this issue debate the facts in this pope's own published works?