Women-Church bypasses Paprocki, appeals directly to Springfield Catholics

by Kristen Whitney Daniels

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While many lay organizations are voicing disdain directly to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, over his recent decree denying church services to Catholics in same-sex marriages, the feminist coalition Women-Church Convergence is reaching out to the people of the diocese.

Women-Church Convergence, which "is a coalition of autonomous Catholic-rooted groups working to build just social and ecclesial structures with shared power for everyone, especially women and those whom church and society marginalize," issued the letter July 5 to "friends in faith" in the Diocese of Springfield.

The letter is in response to Paprocki's diocesan decree released June 12 that bars Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving Communion, receiving funeral rites, and participating in liturgical ministries — unless the person shows "signs of repentance."

Related: Lay groups lament Paprocki's decree denying same-sex spouses Eucharist (Jul. 11, 2017)

Women-Church Convergence's "Pastoral Letter to the People of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois" addresses the people of the diocese, saying, "You deserve better because our Catholic faith teaches us to embrace everyone." The letter states that they "politely but firmly reject scandalous teachings of exclusion."​

Although response to the decree has been muted from the Catholic clergy, several Catholic lay organizations have been vocal.

Signatories of the Women-Church Convergence letter are: 8th Day Center for Justice — Women in Church and Society Committee; A Critical Mass: Women Celebrating Eucharist; Catholics for Choice; Catholics for Choice Canada; Chicago Women-Church; DignityUSA; Greater Cincinnati Women-Church; Loretto Women's Network; Mary's Pence; National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN); Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA Action Network; Sisters Against Sexism (SAS); Southeastern PA Women's Ordination Conference (SEPA-WOC); Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER); Women's Ordination Conference (WOC); Women-Church of the Wabash Valley.

The text of the letter appears below.

Dear Friends in Faith,

Our hearts go out to you who have been subjected to pastorally inadequate and insensitive theology in the recent DECREE "Regarding Same-Sex ‘Marriage' and Related Pastoral Issues" given by your bishop the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki. You deserve better because our Catholic faith teaches us to embrace everyone.

We who join in sending you this letter rejoice in the many Catholic groups that are living proof of the inclusive, welcoming message of the Gospel.

Please let our words of comfort, solidarity, and encouragement be balm for your souls and strength for your actions at this trying time.

We offer words of comfort to those of you who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and their allies and family members. It is simply counter to our Catholic faith to single out any group for exclusion. It is especially egregious to use our sacramental system as a basis for rewards and punishments.

The Decree misses the signal importance of public, joyfully celebrated baptisms of babies, young people, and adults as they become part of our community. It ignores the welcome table that is the Eucharist. And, it dishonors the dead who are denied church funerals not because of sin but because of love. Let especially your young people hear us sing atop our voices, "All are welcome."

We offer you our solidarity as you create your own pastoral practices in spite of this negative Decree. Many of us belong to Intentional Eucharistic Communities, women-church groups, Dignity chapters, and the like. We are learning alongside our many religious colleagues what it means to incorporate new understandings of gender and sexuality, new constellations of family, new models of holiness into our midst. For example, we take strength from the "extravagant welcome" of the United Church of Christ and the Welcoming Synagogues Project. We applaud the many religious groups, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Pagans that bring the best of their traditions to bear on the reality of same-sex love because it is healthy, good, natural, and holy.

As Catholics, we do the same. We have been blessed for decades by the work of DignityUSA, New Ways Ministry, Fortunate Families, the Conference of Catholic Lesbians, and many supportive social justice groups in networks like Women-Church Convergence and the Catholic Organizations for Renewal. Some religious congregations have provided warmth and welcome to those who are marginalized by the kyriarchal church. Those Catholic groups stand with you in solidarity as you find your way as a Diocese despite this countersign that you have been given in this Decree.

Please accept our encouragement to consult widely with one another, pray and reflect on how, in your well-formed Catholic consciences, same-sex loving people can be incorporated faithfully, respectfully, fully into your communities. Marriage is a sacrament that eventually will be available officially to same-sex loving persons. It is already celebrated by some groups among us so do not lose heart.

We send you strength and courage to do what we have had to do with similarly wanting letters from church officials before this one: we politely but firmly reject scandalous teachings of exclusion. Instead, we urge you to study the biological, psychological, and theological data accepted by courts, governments, and many faithful Catholics. It is clear that same-sex love is simply love. Catholics believe that love is of God. Please accept our commitment to join you in this struggle.

We wish you every blessing as you, the people of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, develop your own important views and practices on loving relationships.

With respect and care.

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