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Free Exorcise

Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, the latest insanity from the Bishop of Springfield:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield said he will offer prayers for "exorcism in reparation for the sin of same-sex marriage" at the same time Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the same-sex marriage bill into law next week.

Paprocki said he will offer the prayers intended to cast out evil at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the state's capital Wednesday. . . .

An exorcism, which often refers to a rite performed on a person, is applicable in the case of same-sex marriage because the devil can appear "in various forms of opposition to and persecution of the church," the Diocese of Springfield said in a statement.

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But there is no denying that many people see the Church as a hostile and retrograde force in the world and in their own lives, and would like to see its reach (further) diminished. Nor are mockery and cruelty all on one side. When Church leaders keep blasting certain folks as inherently disordered, for example, they are adopting a rhetoric that has often led and still leads to pogroms and death squads, and the having-it-both-ways of "love the sinner but hate the sin" doesn't absolve it. 

John P - I agree with at least part of what you're saying.  The Catholic Church has done a very poor job in the "love the sinner" part of the formula.  It hasn't done nearly as much as it could or should to stand up for gay persons who are discriminated against, and hasn't done nearly enough to distance itself from other Christians and denominations who really do hate the sinner.

At the same time, though, if a prevalent and (for many people) tempting act is sinful, the church can't speak or act as though it's not sinful.  For the church to say that what is sinful is not sinful, would be for the church to fail in its mission and minsitry.  Even to maintain a seemingly-prudent silence on the question would be a sin of omission.  The church has to speak the truth, and if the truth is that an act is sinful, then the church should say so.  But it must find a way of saying so that doesn't encourage or enable people who hate or would harm gay persons.  That is not easy in this time and place.  But the church needs to find a way.

 

If gay people are the objects of the exorcise - which I don't think is established; like Tom Blackburn, I truly don't know who or what is being exorcised - then Paprocki would seem to be quite literally un-demonizing them.

Jim, I do not think that you are a simpleton, so I am just going to go with the assumption that you know very well why this sentiment simply supports what I was saying.

Of course, exorcism is deeply rooted in the biblical material, and of course it is a "Catholic way." But is this particular way of doing it much in accord with biblical exorcism, and is it reflective of Catholic ways of doing exorcism? "Idiosyncratic" strikes me as an understatement; I'm still wondering what precedents there are for this sort of thing.

I know that Paprocki is kind of the "exorcism guy" among bishops. He makes me think of my 3-year old. When he gets a toy, no matter its nature, he wants to play with it in every possible context: bus, tub, sandbox, bed--you name it. I kind of get the sense that the bishop has this toy--exorcism--and he really wants to play with it more often than its function calls for.

Jim Pauwells wrote:

Jack - in most/all of the circumstances I can imagine, a single consensual homosexual sex act would (as the church judges these things) be a grave sin.  A gay marriage would erect legal protections around a stable household arrangement that would enable many consensual homosexual sex acts.  On that basis alone, a gay marriage would seem to be gravely sinful.

You're certainly right that gay people are entitled to respect, compassion and sensitivity.  A supporter of the church's position on gay marriage, though, would note that gay marriage is not actually necessary to eradicate the instances of disrespect and insensitivity that had been institutionalized into laws and societal customs and practices: inheritance laws, entitlement to healthcare coverage, hospital visitation rights, apartment rental discrimination, employment discrimination and so on.  All of these are addressable on their own, without introducing a notion of gay marriage.

I'm going to resist the jokes about marriage enabling sex.  I can,however,  imagine Stephen Colbert having a field day with that!! 

The modern day legal rights and responsibilities granted through civil marriage have almost nothing to with sexual activity.  The only exception I can think of is marriage, in some jurisdictions, is a defense to statutory rape.  So yeah -- because that 20 year old is married to a 15 year old -- in some jurisdictions he/she has a defense to a sex act which without the license is on its face statutory rape.  Sex in all its forms between unmarried consenting adults is almost universally legal (and where outdated laws are still on the books, no one is enforcing them) .  Getting married, legally speaking, enables no sexual acts.

You mention stable household arrangements enabling sex acts. Really?  (Again, Colbert's comedic genius could have a field day) While sex acts are, in most instances, part of married life (I hesitate to say all instances because there are happily married couples who do not engage in sex acts),  sexual activity is in no way enabled by the rights and responsibilities granted through civil marriage.  If people want sex --civil marriage is largely superfulous in our modern day.  Legally speaking marriage is about everything else, like the things you list (the list is much longer, of course.  1,138 Federal rights and benefits alone!)  I take from your posting you agree with me that part of living out the catechism's call for respect, and removing discrimination can and should include protecting these rights for gay couples. Attempts to grant these rights outside of civil marriage have, not surprising failed.  Separate but equal has repeatedly proved to be unworkable in our legal system.  But even if it were workable -- why bother?  Simply to avoid using the word marriage for something that is exactly the same?

Jim P,  why of all the "grave sins" that take place every single day in our society, including in the Catholic church, is this bishop going to the extreme of "exorcism" for only one of them? 

Why didn't he perform an exorcism to cleanse the church of bishops who protected (and some who continue to protect) pedophiles, or an exorcism to rid the church of priests who are pedophiles? Why doesn't he perform an exorcism because divorce and remariage are legal in the civil system? Or abortion on demand throughout the entire pregnancy, something that far more people see as "evil" than permitting gays to marry in the civil realm.  Why doesn't he perform an exorcism because of the 90+% of Catholic married couples who use birth control methods other than NFP (also considered a "grave sin")?  Why doesn't he perform an exorcism when legislators (including Catholic legislators) cut benefits to the poor, or support war and capital punishment, why is he not doing an exorcism because of the ever growing numbers of couples who co-habit and don't get married at all?

Denying gays the right to civil marriage will do nothing to stop gays from expressing their love physically. It will not stop consensual sexual acts between gay lovers.  Right now, they live together without marriage, they adopt children without being legally married, and without the legal protections of marriage, this could also place the children at some risk if one of their parents dies, and the other is not eligible for social security and other pension benefits as a widow.. If gays can marry in the civil sector, they receive certain legal rights that are denied them as two singles who are co-habiting.

Why is it only gay CIVIL marriage that has him so agitated that he will go to extreme lengths to protest? This is a form of street protest - it will seem to many that he is misusing the church for political purposes, and perhaps that he is grandstanding because he just loves headlines and to be in the news.

For the church to say that what is sinful is not sinful, would be for the church to fail in its mission and minsitry.  Even to maintain a seemingly-prudent silence on the question would be a sin of omission.  The church has to speak the truth, and if the truth is that an act is sinful, then the church should say so.

Jim P.,

That sounds reasonable. Still, the Church might cast a cautious eye on its own history of speaking or failing to speak the truth about marginalized groups. For centuries the Church winked at and encouraged, if it did not declare infallibly, the horrendous calumny that the Jews—a huge lineage of people—were collectively responsible for the death of Christ. In the Middle Ages, when its authority was highest, it did not raise its voice against punitive restrictions and mass deportations. It was only after the slaughter of millions in our own bloody times that the Church offered a belated "Sorry."

With a record like that, a little forbearance toward another beset group might not be a failure of mission but an act of contrition, or at least the beginnings of a saving modesty. In the diverse, wayward, and insistent realm of human sexuality, the Church might at last confess that it is as baffled as the rest of us, and that the natural philosophy on which it relies describes a world that we do not live in.

If that reflection proves fruitful, a good next step would be to examine the self-assured belief that the Church has a unique competence to decide what is right and what is wrong for all humanity, as well as a mandate to declare and, when it can, enforce the decision.

I wish someone would proclaim a Year of Reflection, in which we would all, bishops included, go into our rooms, close the doors, take a deep breath, and pray in secret for forgiveness and better wisdom. Or maybe we could do it together.

 

 

some of this would seem to be gravely homophobic

Is it not clear that the Church needs to be exorcized of its homophobia, as it has been exorcized of its judeophobia?

Consideration of other's feelings seems more than enough reason to attempt to debate in a way both civil and reasonable.  But not always.  A broad prayer for world peace is a fine thing.  A broad prayer to rid our world of evil is a fine thing.  If we wish to call the latter an "exorcism", who cares? 

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki's efforts are unquestionably aimed at specific individuals whom he is convinced are the personification of evil.  Nothing "broad" about it.  The fellow is either experiencing a rather serious and tragic bout of lunacy or, well, actually I don't have another useful explanation.  I strongly suggest this fellow be reassigned to assisting the folks in the Philippines permanently.

Since the love of money is the root of all evil, perhaps the Peoria bishop ought to go to Wall Street and exorcise all the demonic fiscal forces there. Or stand outside a bakery while praying Eucharistic Prayer IV. Afterward he can declare perpetual adoration in the public square by his sanctifying power to consecrate qua high priest.

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.