SPRINGFIELD — Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield has banned House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton from receiving communion due to their support of legislation that would expand access to abortion. Catholic lawmakers who voted in favor also are barred from taking the sacrament.
Paprocki said in the decree that he imposed the sanction on Madigan and Cullerton because of their role in facilitating the passage of the proposed Reproductive Health Act. The two Catholic Democrats from Chicago are the state’s highest-ranking lawmakers.
The legislation, if signed into law by Democrat J.B. Pritzker, would establish that a pregnant woman has a fundamental right to have an abortion and that a "fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have independent rights." The measure also does away with past provisions such as spousal consent and waiting periods.
Madigan through a spokesman on Thursday said Paprocki had notified him about not being able to take sacrament if he allowed the measure to proceed.
"After much deliberation and reflection, I made the decision to allow debate and a vote on the legislation. I believe it is more important to protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, including women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest," he said. "With women’s rights under attack in an increasing number of states across the country, Illinois is now a leader in making sure women are protected and their rights are upheld.”
The decree says: "They have obstinately persisted in promoting the abominable crime and very grave sin of abortion as evidenced by the influence they exerted in their leadership roles and their repeated votes and obdurate public support for abortion rights over an extended period of time.”
It also cites House Bill 40, which passed in 2017 and was signed into law by GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, that provides state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions.
Paprocki's decree also advises any Catholic state lawmaker who backed the two pieces of legislation not to present themselves for Holy Communion because they "cooperated in evil and committed grave sin" by voting in favor of the measure.
The ACLU of Illinois in a statement said the move went against religious liberty.
"We know the passage of the Reproductive Health Act — at a time when other states are criminalizing reproductive health care — was possible because of the leadership and vision of Speaker Madigan, in particular, to move this legislation forward in the House. The Speaker and Senator Cullerton deserve deep appreciation for advocating for the fundamental rights of individuals to make their own health care decisions,” it said.
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Paprocki said he felt a sense of duty to take action following the passage of the bill, particularly because of the proximity of the state Capitol in Springfield to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
"I have a responsibility, I believe, to be clear that this is not acceptable to be taking these pro-abortion positions — not only taking the position but voting for them and facilitating this legislation that is not compatible with being a Catholic in good standing," Paprocki said.
Similarly, when same-sex marriage was legalized in Illinois, the Springfield bishop announced he would offer prayers for "exorcism in reparation for the sin" of gay marriage.
The practice of church leaders withholding communion from lawmakers who support abortion-related measures is not new. Michael Budde, DePaul University professor of Catholic studies and political science, said the issue is rooted in the interpretation by some bishops of canon law — the rules and procedures that govern the church.
For more than a decade, the Springfield Diocese has also refused to give U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., communion because of his voting history on abortion measures.
Discussions on whether a politician should be banned from communion because of his or her voting record tend to surface around election cycles, Budde said. When John Kerry, a Catholic, was running for president in 2004, the debate gained national traction as some bishops called for sanctions against Kerry.
Budde said the question often highlights how the church, like much of the country, is polarized on social issues. The use of church sanctions against lawmakers because of how they vote on abortion-related bills has become a bit of a "political football" in recent years, Budde said.
"It's a very serious sanction that, when overused, becomes trivialized," Budde said. "It could lose whatever ... edge it's meant to have by using it poorly or too often."
Paprocki in a statement released Thursday also acknowledged that “in issuing this decree, I anticipate that some will point out the church’s own failings with regard to the abuse of children.
“The same justifiable anger we feel toward the abuse of innocent children, however, should prompt an outcry of resistance against legalizing the murder of innocent children,” he said. “The failings of the church do not change the objective reality that the murder of a defenseless baby is an utterly evil act.”
Valerie Wells, of the Herald & Review, contributed to this report.
Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter