Chicago, IL (May 12, 2010) – I am grateful for the warm welcome and words of congratulations on my appointment as the ninth Bishop of Springfield. I look forward to my installation on June 22 and to serving in our state capital as shepherd of the Catholic community of central Illinois.
At the same time, I would like to address some of the points that have been raised in recent media reports about remarks that I made in a homily three years ago. These reports assert that I am “seeking to revive an ancient and now-rare legal doctrine that would protect church officials who willfully or negligently put kids in harm’s way.” That is not true. My reference in that homily to charitable immunity, which formerly in Illinois shielded charitable institutions from liability, was only to show how the pendulum has swung from charitable immunity to charitable bankruptcy. Far from being “extremist,” in fact I was calling for a middle ground.
In the homily that I gave at the “Red Mass” for Catholic lawyers and judges in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Oct. 15, 2007, I said, “While a full return to the complete charitable immunity of the past is neither likely nor desirable, the civil law of our land needs to reflect a more rational and reasonable balance between equitable remuneration for those who have been harmed by agents of charitable and religious institutions and protecting the charitable contributions that have been given in trust to be used for charitable and religious purposes.” Moreover, I am not trying to “protect church officials”; I am trying to safeguard works of charity and religion while compensating victims fairly.
My words have been understood by some to suggest that I was blaming victims. My homily was directed to lawyers and judges who shape the legal system, not to victims. While in the context of a homily I did say that the devil is the force behind the attack “particularly directed against bishops and priests,” apparently I did not make myself clear that it is the sins of priests and bishops who succumbed to the temptations of the devil that have put their victims and the Catholic community in this horrible situation in the first place. I did say in my 2007 homily that “the sexual abuse of minors is a sin that must be addressed by the church and a crime that must be punished by the criminal justice system.” I repeated those views in my news conference April 20th in Springfield. I have given these matters a great deal of thought based on my experiences for 10 years as the Cardinal's Delegate to the Professional Review Board in the Archdiocese of Chicago. I think these views are quite reasonable.
Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki
Bishop-designate of Springfield in Illinois