Reflecting on the Church’s role in society

By: Taylor Fulkerson

In Illinois last week, Bishop Paprocki of the Springfield Diocese announced that he plans to offer prayers for “exorcism in reparation for the sin of same-sex marriage” on Nov. 20 as Governor Patrick Quinn signs into law an act that legalizes marriage equality. Besides the fact that this is insensitive to the LGBTQ community, I find this political stunt to be deeply problematic.

This week is an appropriate time to reflect on the role of the Catholic Church in society: scripture readings for the mass this time of year flirt more with apocalyptic themes, quotes from Pope Francis are an ever-abundant source for reflection, but this week is also an anniversary. Twenty-four years ago, six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered in San Salvador at the end of the Salvadoran civil war.

These six Jesuits, living in the midst of social turmoil and terror, were committed to educating students and the nation at large about the national reality. By being scholars, they also defended those who were victims of oppression. They employed the talk of human rights in their quest to defend the Salvadoran Church and her suffering people.

These men were part of what I call the courageous Church. They spoke out not to secure their position or the Church’s position in society but rather to defend the people of the Church. They privileged the human person over an institution.

I find it disconcerting how some American bishops have acted in the past few years. I do not mean to say that they are wrong. Frankly, on some of the issues they highlight, I prefer to remain silent. But I do want to point out who is harmed by their discourse. In the case of Paprocki, he seems to be doing more harm than good. A same-sex marriage does me no moral injury. Really, Catholics have heard about the moral implications of homosexual acts plenty of times; we know the Church’s stance.

In the meantime, Paprocki offends the American populace. He knows that we live in a pluralistic society and that his attempt to make a political statement implicates non-Catholics, including many who do not share his view on the constitution of the human person. I do not desire to see more criticism of bishops. In fact, I am often perturbed by how split our Church seems to be.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics. That is not the meaning of Church. Our faith should inform our politics, not the other way around. Nor should we paint this as a difference between the hierarchy and the laity, with parish pastors caught somewhere in between. That would be a patently false distinction.

I do desire, however, to see a more courageous Church, both in how bishops and laity attempt to live a genuine, public Catholic faith.

I acknowledge that Church leadership has attempted some realistic goals, such as pushing immigration reform through Congress, even though it is an imperfect solution. On the other hand, as Pope Francis has pointed out, the bishops remained fixated on tired issues like abortion when abolishing the death penalty might be a more realistic goal. I do not mean to say that abortion is an unimportant issue, but could we not try to be more pragmatic? And does it not get mired down in the same problem that Paprocki faces now — that his political ideas affect non-Catholics as well?

Indeed, I think we need to draw inspiration from history and focus on being a more courageous Church — one that attempts to lift up all of those who are marginalized instead of fighting in excess to defend the institution. If we respect all members of the body, it will be healthy.

Perhaps, even, this would mean that bishops would govern more in the style of Pope Francis, though I cannot say for sure. This, however, is for sure: many U.S. Catholics seem to be in need of hope in a time when government does not take care of us and political progress seems stagnant. Maybe the community that is the Church can offer that, but not with offensive political stunts that fail to respect everyone.

Taylor Fulkerson is a junior from Lanesville, Ind., majoring in philosophy. He is the Opinions & Editorials editor at the Newswire.