Founder’s QuoteFebruary 26, 2018
What It Really Means that God Is InfiniteFebruary 26, 2018
By John Zmirak, a Senior Editor, The Stream, Feb. 26, 2018
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, John 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 DoSo 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.
Paprocki Stands Alone, For NowThe 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:
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.
John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, and author of the new Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He received his B.A. from Yale University in 1986, then his M.F.A. in screenwriting and fiction and his Ph.D. in English in 1996 from Louisiana State University. His focus was the English Renaissance, and the novels of Walker Percy. He taught composition at LSU and screenwriting at Tulane University, and has written screenplays for and with director Ronald Maxwell (Gods & Generals and Gettysburg). He was elected alternate delegate to the 1996 Republican Convention, representing Pat Buchanan.
He has been Press Secretary to pro-life Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, and a reporter and editor at Success magazine and Investor’s Business Daily, among other publications. His essays, poems, and other works have appeared in First Things, The Weekly Standard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, FrontPage Magazine, The American Conservative, The South Carolina Review, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, Commonweal, and The National Catholic Register, among other venues. He has contributed to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought. From 2000-2004 he served as Senior Editor of Faith & Family magazine and a reporter at The National Catholic Register. During 2012 he was editor of Crisis.
He is author, co-author, or editor of eleven books, including Wilhelm Ropke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist, The Grand Inquisitor (graphic novel) and The Race to Save Our Century. He was editor of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s guide to higher education, Choosing the Right College and Collegeguide.org, for ten years, and is also editor of Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.