Bishop Paprocki pens essay imagining ‘heretical’ cardinals, quoting San Diego’s McElroy

paprocki Bishop Thomas Paprocki consecrates the host during Mass. | Diocese of Springfield in Illinois

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, on Tuesday published an essay in which he quotes the words of Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego as one of two “examples” of views contrary to a “truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith,” and thus heretical.

In the Feb. 28 essay published in First Things, Paprocki, a canon and civil lawyer, criticized the words of McElroy pertaining to worthiness to receive Holy Communion, and also obliquely referred to “a cardinal of the Catholic Church [stating] publicly that homosexual acts are not sinful and same-sex unions should be blessed by the Church.”

“Until recently, it would be hard to imagine any successor of the apostles making such heterodox statements. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon today to hear Catholic leaders affirm unorthodox views that, not too long ago, would have been espoused only by heretics,” wrote the bishop, who is chairman-elect of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.

While Paprocki did not name McElroy directly, he quoted in his opening paragraph a recent essay McElroy authored in America magazine on the “radical inclusion” of those identifying as LGBT, women, and others in the Church.

In that essay, McElroy called for “a eucharistic theology that effectively invites all of the baptized to the table of the Lord, rather than a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the Eucharist.” McElroy later, in a podcast interview, clarified that by “the baptized” he was referring to all baptized Catholics, and said that his view stemmed from Pope Francis’ description of the Eucharist as “not as a prize for the perfect, but as a source of healing for us all.”

At issue, Paprocki wrote, is McElroy’s apparent rejection of the Church’s teaching, contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that “Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance” (No. 1415). In Paprocki’s view, McElroy’s statements on the Eucharist are “contrary to a ‘truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.’”

“The truth about eucharistic coherence that must be believed by divine and Catholic faith was articulated by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians: ‘Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord … For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself’ (1 Cor 11:27–29). This has been the constant teaching of the Church for the past two thousand years,” Paprocki wrote.

“[I]t is deeply troubling to consider the possibility that prelates holding the office of diocesan bishop in the Catholic Church may be separated or not in full communion because of heresy. Yet both the cases mentioned above would in fact involve heresy, since heresy is defined as ‘the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith’ (canon 751 of the Code of Canon Law),” he wrote.

In a Wednesday statement to CNA, Paprocki said his essay was not intended to be an accusation of any cardinal in particular.

“I intentionally did not mention names because I do not want this to be about the personalities involved but about the Catholic teachings that are being denied,” Paprocki said.

“Is it not contrary to the Catholic faith and therefore heresy to say that sexual sins are not a grave matter? Is it not contrary to the Catholic faith and therefore heresy to say that one may receive holy Communion despite having committed grave sin without repenting? If so, what are the canonical implications of such heresies?" he told CNA. "That is why the essay is titled, ‘Imagine a Heretical Cardinal’ not ‘Accusing a Heretical Cardinal.’”

In the case of a person holding heretical views, that person has “de facto separated themselves ontologically — that is, in reality — from the communion of the Church,” Paprocki wrote in his essay.

“Thus heretics, apostates, and schismatics inflict the penalty of excommunication upon themselves,” he wrote. “[A] cardinal of the Catholic Church, like any other Catholic who denies settled Catholic teaching, embraces heresy, the result of which is automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church.”

“Only the pope can remove a cardinal from office or dismiss him from the clerical state in the case of heresy or other grave crimes. If he does not do so, the unseemly prospect arises of a cardinal, excommunicated latae sententiae due to heresy, voting in a papal conclave,” Paprocki continued.

The Diocese of San Diego did not respond by press time to CNA’s request for a response from Cardinal McElroy to Paprocki’s assessment of his views on the Eucharist.

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