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Thursday, July 6, 2017 12:21 am

On not doing wrong

Bishop Paprocki stands guard against corruption

A new set of guidelines issued by Springfield’s Bishop Thomas Paprocki bans people in same-sex marriages from receiving funeral rites in local Roman Catholic churches, receiving communion or serving in parish ministries. Paprocki has even decreed that such parents may not sponsor their own children for baptism. These strictures owe to the bishop’s conviction, echoing if not rooted in church doctrine that holds that homosexuality is a sin, that allowing homosexuals to wed is an affront and that secular laws that proscribe discriminating against gays and lesbians in public places violate believers’ freedom to practice their religion.

A case in point is the legal case now before the U.S. Supreme Court of the Denver baker fined because he refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The plaintiff is a specialty baker named Jack Phillips. Phillips is not averse to selling cakes to gay marrieds, only to decorating them in ways that (his word) “celebrate” such unions.  As he has put it, “I’ll sell anyone any cake I’ve got. But I won’t design a cake that promotes something that conflicts with the Bible’s teachings.” He also refuses to use his talents – presumably God-given, although I’ve not seen any of his cakes – to celebrate “Halloween, anti-American or anti-family themes, atheism, racism or indecency.” Phillips is content to be a baker in conflict with the Bible’s teachings, in short, but he will not be a propagandist.

Paprocki’s rationale for denying ecclesiastical funeral rites to unrepentant congregants who lived openly in same-sex marriage is much the same. He complains that such people give “public scandal to the faithful.” Which faithful, I wonder? Catholics who actually take church doctrine seriously are vanishingly rare in the U.S., even among those who wear the cassock, as Paprocki by now does not need reminding; recent surveys consistently show that a majority of U.S. Catholics support the right of gay citizens to marry and, presumably, to live openly as married people. Paprocki perhaps believes that such people are not truly faithful. In any event, church teaching is thus flouted, which seems to be the real sin being committed. At this point we begin to stray into authoritarianism, but that is familiar ground in the Roman church.

I have some sympathy for Phillips’ dilemma. Neil Gorsuch (who now occupies what hereafter should be known as the Merrick Garland seat on the nation’s high bench) has observed, “All of us face the problem of complicity. All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others.” Those of us whose conduct is guided by moral, ethnical or social convictions not rooted in the Christian tradition also recognize that daily life makes one complicit in wrongdoing of all kinds. To take just one example of many, I pay federal taxes that pay for the bombs that kill civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria and whatever other place Trump decides to bomb tomorrow. Old folks must reconcile themselves to the fact that their retirement funds are plumped up by profits from companies that exploit child labor. While filling up, some people fret that their purchases of gasoline prop up Middle Eastern regimes that oppress women. And sophisticated consumers realize that it is not “China” that has devastated America’s factory towns but shoppers like themselves, every time they buy at Walmart.

Perhaps wisdom lies in some accommodation to the accommodation laws. Phillips, for example, might be left free to not decorate his cakes, keeping in mind that gays and their sympathizers are free to deprive his shop of their business for his doing so. Or perhaps privately do a penance for each gay-themed cake he sells. If that is not enough, he might do as the fervently faithful have always done and retreat (at least from the world of commerce) rather than commit sin as a result of his traffic with a corrupt world.

Phillips, apparently, will have none of this. He and his church are claiming an exemption from the realities of social life that the rest of us do not enjoy. (This privileging of religious beliefs over ethical, moral and social convictions of equal sincerity is one of the things I and other nonbelievers have had to learn to tolerate.) As I said, life offers no end of such dilemmas. In my occasional traffic with believers, for example, I am (generally) willing to censor my speech and comportment, and when invited to a worship service or asked to join in a prayer I stand in silence, not out of respect for the doctrine but respect for the company. Bishop Paprocki would have us respect doctrine more than persons, and that strikes me as doing wrong.

Mr. Krohe is the author of  Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves: A Plain-Spoken History of Mid-Illinois from Southern Illinois University Press. In the bookstores after July 26, it is available online at https://www.amazon.com/Corn-Kings-One-Horse-Thieves-Plain-Spoken/dp/0809336022 and other dealers.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at CaptBogue@outlook.com.

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