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Bishop Paprocki defends his heresy essay

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Bishop Paprocki defends his heresy essay

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, said he and Cardinal Robert McElroy “exchanged some emails” after the publication of Paprocki’s controversial Feb. 28 essay in First Things magazine, in which he appeared to accuse the cardinal of heresy.

“We hope to continue the conversation with each other,” Paprocki told NCR in a recent phone interview.

Paprocki declined to elaborate on that conversation or say whether he had contacted McElroy before writing the essay. A spokesman for McElroy said he was not available for comment.

“I don’t want this to focus on my personality or anyone else’s personality,” Paprocki said.

In the 1,400-word essay, published under the title “Imagining a Cardinal Heretic,” Paprocki directly quotes a Jan. 24 article McElroy wrote in America magazine in which he called for the “radical inclusion” of everyone, including those whose personal situations may not conform strictly to church doctrine.

Referring to the cardinal’s criticism of “a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the Eucharist,” Paprocki suggested in his essay that until recently it would have been “difficult to imagine any successor to the apostles making such non-Christian statements.”

Paprocki also cited canon law, papal documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to justify how a bishop can be automatically excommunicated for heresy, while suggesting that the pope must remove a cardinal from office or else risk “indecent” prospect of a heretical cardinal voting in a papal conclave.

Paprocki told NCR that he intended the scenario of a heretical cardinal voting in conclave to be theoretical, while adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if it happened in the church’s long history.

“The Holy Spirit can still guide a heretic in some sense in terms of how their vote goes,” said Paprocki, who dismissed concerns that his essay could further deepen the kind of polarization in the church that McElroy has also written about in America .

“If there had been no pushback against the Arian heresy, we would all be Arians today,” Paprocki said, referring to a fourth-century dispute over the divinity of Christ.

Paprocki also told NCR that bishops, theologians and lay Catholics have privately voiced their concerns to him about statements by church leaders in Europe and the United States that they believe may be heretical.

“While it may be painful, I think it’s healthy in the long run to have these debates and bring some of these discussions out into the open,” he said.

In a March 2 essay in America, McElroy responded to his critics, arguing that pastoral care for LGBTQ people or Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried “cannot be overshadowed by doctrine.”

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