By William J. Kelly -
CHICAGO - Bishop Thomas Paprocki is not the kind of Catholic leader who minces words. The prelate, who presides over the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, warns that anti-Christian bigotry in the U.S. is on the rise and that the media is to blame.
In this exclusive interview, Paprocki shared his concerns about the growing hate and hostility for Judeo-Christian values in the U.S. and the attacks on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in general.
“We [Christians] have to mentally adjust. I know it is an adjustment for me because – and I assume for many other people as well - because I grew up in this country at a time when the values in our secular world mirrored the values of the religious world,” Bishop Paprocki said. “And I think what’s happening now is that relationship – that symbiosis between our culture and the church -has been ruptured.
Paprocki compares today’s situation in the U.S. to Christians being persecuted under Communist regimes and even in ancient times.
“We [Christians] find ourselves now – just in this short period of time - where the early Christians found themselves in the Roman Empire. So the church in 2,000 years, we started out as being a persecuted faith, with Constantine being an accepted established faith, then for centuries, kind of moving in that direction that had this close relationship between the secular world’s values and Judeo-Christian values,” Bishop Paprocki said. “And now I think we are moving in a direction that – not only is it more than secular – it’s a rejection. It’s an outright rejection [of Judeo-Christian values]. It’s a pagan kind of a culture.”
“The reality is that – ironically, it is becoming more like the Church was in the time of John Paul II in Poland under Communism where you [Christians] lived in a very hostile environment. We still have the First Amendment of our Constitution but that is being sorely tested. “
Under Communist rule in Poland, Catholic schools were closed and children were forced to enlist in Communist Youth organizations. Crosses were confiscated from hospitals and classrooms. Social organizations with church ties were dissolved. The brutal government regime targeted parishes and monasteries and members of the clergy were recruited, arrested, or murdered by the Communist secret police.
But the terror-filled reign had the opposite of its intended effect on Catholic laity and clergy; thirteen million turned out in the streets to greet the new Pope John Paul II in 1979, who defiantly said, “Today, here in Victory Square, in the capital of Poland, I am asking with all of you, through the great Eucharistic prayer, that Christ will not cease to be for us an open book of life for the future, for our Polish future.”
Paprocki also had some choice words for late night comedian David Letterman, who has used the Catholic Church as his nightly punching bag,
So, in Paprocki’s opinion, are media and entertainment industries actively promoting hate and bigotry against the Church?
“I think it is more acting out of ignorance. They think they [the media and celebrities] are being funny perhaps. They think this is where our culture is at. I don’t know if it is overt hatred for the Church but it is probably an unconscious hatred for the faith,” Paprocki said.
No stranger to controversy, Bishop Paprocki has been outspoken on a range of controversial issues, including same sex marriage and Obamacare. Last fall, he criticized portions of the Democrat party platform that “explicitly endorse intrinsic evils” and warned Catholics against supporting political candidates who promote those evils.
“A vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy,” said Paprocki in September.
Bishop Paprocki was appointed as the bishop of Springfield by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 and is the author of the new book, “Holy Goals for Body & Soul: 8 Steps to Connect Sports with God and Faith.”
A partial transcript of the exclusive interview with Bishop Paprocki is below:
BISHOP PAPROCKI ON ANTI-CATHOLIC BIGOTRY:
WILLIAM J. KELLY: Same sex marriage, abortion - whenever these issues are discussed in the media or entertainment industry – you typically hear people suggesting that the Catholic position or the conservative position on these issues is a bigoted position.
How would you recommend that Catholics respond to that characterization of a traditional Catholic teaching? Because, of course, in America today, the greatest sin that someone can accuse you of is being a bigot and that is precisely the way the media is labeling Catholics who hold these traditional views.
BISHOP PAPROCKI: We have to continue to offer a very articulate, reasoned approach to our understanding, particularly in the area of marriage. Those that talk about this as an issue of equality and discrimination and if you don’t agree with that it’s a bigoted point-of-view – that that’s simply an erroneous viewpoint. And not let them box us into that by painting us as bigots. But I think we have to do the best we can to refute that.
I think some of the people that have been very articulate in refuting this have been members of the black community, African Americans who resent, frankly, depicting this as a civil rights issue. They say, “I have no choice over the color of my skin.” Whereas the way we live our lives - in terms of our sexual activity – we do have choices over that.
BISHOP PAPROCKI ON SAME SEX MARRIAGE:
WILLIAM J. KELLY: As you just stated, you have been a vocal defender of natural marriage. What kind of responses have you received that have surprised you? Who support or disagree with your positions?
BISHOP PAPROCKI: There was a mother who was very angry and very vocal. [She] confronted me as Bishop of the church, saying that church teaching is somehow injurious to her son, who is gay. Her point-of-view was that she knows her son and that there is nothing wrong with her son. And how do you a Bishop or any of you men in the church who don’t have any children - how do you know about children?
Well, my answer to that is that they do call priest, “father” for a reason. Because we don’t have biological children but the community of faith is our children in the Church and we do care about them.
But our caring, our compassion is ultimately about their salvation and eternal life. To be compassionate and loving does not simply mean, “Oh, you can do whatever you want.” That wasn’t Christ’s approach to us. He calls us out of our sinfulness. He died for us. He opens the gates of heaven for us.
Homosexuality and same sex relationships have been around for centuries. There is nothing new in that. What is new is argument that somehow that it is a good thing and that it somehow should be celebrated rather than it being seen as somehow sinful.
BISHOP PAPROCKI ON DAVID LETTERMAN’S ANTI-CATHOLIC STATEMENTS
WILLIAM J. KELLY: And because the Catholic Church is one of the primary obstacles in this redefining of marriage if not the primary obstacle, I’ve sensed a real ramping up of anti-Catholic bigotry - if I may use that word - in the media.
A late night favorite comedian of mine David Letterman has been on, almost a nightly basis, making comments that I don’t think could be interpreted as anything other than anti-Catholic bigotry. And if I may, I’d like to read one of them to you and get your reaction to it.
FROM LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN:
At the end of July, he [LETTERMAN] made a comment on Pope Francis, quote:
“I am telling you if there is anything kids can’t get enough of it’s a 76-year old virgin. Come on, world youth day, or as the Vatican calls it, a salute to altar boys.”
WILLIAM J. KELLY: Can that comment be viewed as anything other than anti-Catholic bigotry and an attack on the Church? And what should the Catholic response be to something like that? Should Catholics just accept this as the new comedy? The new entertainment? The new standard?
BISHOP PAPROCKI: You ask what else could it be other than anti-Catholic bigotry – well, it certainly is that. What else could it be? It certainly is ignorance. Profound ignorance for anyone to make comments like that. For one thing it shows the ignorance of someone who identifies the Catholic Church and, particularly the priesthood, with sexual abuse. Certainly, we have had our unfortunate share of scandals and sin and the church is dealing with that.
I would venture to say that of any institution in the country – perhaps in the world – I don’t think anyone is dealing with it as responsibly as the Catholic Church has. So public figures like that continue to point their finger at the Catholic Church and say you have a problem with sexual abuse and people are ignoring where most sexual abuse is taking place. It’s occurring in families. It’s occurring in schools.
There is a lot of sexual abuse that is taking place and needs to be addressed. This lets people too easily off the hook to say that, oh, that’s a Catholic problem…. If people are really serious about sexual abuse, I think they need to be looking at some other places as well.
BISHOP PAPROCKI ON THE CULTURE’S NEW REJECTION OF CHRISTIANITY
BISHOP PAPROCKI: In terms of how we, as Catholics, respond to that [the media’s attacks on the Church]. We have to mentally adjust. I know it is an adjustment for me because – and I assume for many other people as well - because I grew up in this country at a time when the values of our country and our media – as you watched movies – biblical movies being made like the Ten Commandments and the King of Kings. So many of the values in our secular world mirrored the values of the religious world. And I think what’s happening now is that relationship – that symbiosis between our culture and the church has been ruptured.
WILLIAM J. KELLY: To continue with our example here - although we could use almost any celebrity - Letterman’s own sexual misconduct with members of his own staff. Clearly, he [Letterman] did have his own scandal, sexual misconduct or what have you. Perhaps it is an attempt on the part of people who are ignorant of the effects of their own conduct to somehow lash out at the church because the church is almost a painful reminder of how far they have fallen and what a wrong path they are on.
Would you go so far as to say that the media and entertainment industry today is actively promoting bigotry and hatred against the Church?
BISHOP PAPROCKI: I think it is more acting out of ignorance. They think they are being funny perhaps. They think this is where our culture is. I don’t know if it is overt hatred for the church but it is probably an unconscious hatred for the faith.