Exorcism, chasm, connection

Dave McKinney, reporting for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote Wednesday:

SPRINGFIELD — Before a mostly full cathedral, the head of the capital city’s Roman Catholic flock looked both to the heavens and to Gov. Pat Quinn’s bill-signing ceremony for same-sex marriage Wednesday and uttered three words in Latin: “I exorcise you.”

With that, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki staged an unusual — and in Illinois, unprecedented — exorcism that asked God to “deliver us from evil” of a Quinn-led change in state law that will permit gay and lesbian couples to wed in Illinois despite the Catholic Church’s objections.

The service, held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, was entitled: “Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage.” Paprocki, a former Chicago auxiliary bishop and a protege of Francis Cardinal George–who also stridently opposes the marriage legislation–wore penitential violet. Five hundred people attended.

Paprocki said he did not believe Illinois officials were possessed by the devil. He did believe they were “morally complicit” in the work of the devil, which had been accomplished by the law Gov. Quinn was signing. He said God told him to lead this prayer service. He prayed in Latin, though an English order of service was provided.

A much-shared, politely-pointed Nov. 15 tweet from Jesuit Jim Martin wondered if there should have been similar exorcism rites to combat clergy sexual abuse as well. Well-said. Very. But in this moment, it is not so much Paprocki, or any other bishops, who interest me.

It is the five hundred people who showed up.


In high school, gayness was a whisper. It was not prudent to be LGBTQ, and out, if you went to a Catholic high school on Chicago’s greater South Side.

Personally, I believed the official teachings about what was “intrinsically disordered.” It was easy. I had no experience with anyone who could challenge my worldview, and no one was going to volunteer for the job. “They” were “they.” And “they” were “there,” not “here.” Or so I assumed. Several acquaintances later came out, as I discovered upon joining the social media whirl.

College was different. The far North Side was different. Participating in campus ministry was different. People were still discreet, for this was still the Catholic Church.

But you also knew who was who. “They” were not few. And there was no safe bubble to retreat into anymore. If I wanted to do ministry, I had to connect with the people in front of me. Conservative I was, but pragmatic, too.

And intuitive. Somewhere along the way, after making enough friends and doing enough closemouthed listening, I realized that what I felt when I fell in love (“there is no way,” Thomas Merton wrote, “of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun”) was what everyone felt.

I did wonder, for a little while, if my quiet, matter-of-fact realization meant I’d lost my moral compass. Such is Catholic guilt amid the miasma of the culture wars. But it was too late. I had been changed by encounter, at a non-rational level. I had leaped over a chasm. Ever since, I have refused to deny anyone their own moments of realizing, in an epiphany from on high, that the person next to them is shining like the sun.

I do not pretend this is any sort of dispassionate evaluation of natural law arguments. I do not pretend to dialogue with the proponents of such arguments. I’ve kept moving on.


Many still live on the other side of the chasm.

It is a different world there. This isn’t just about disagreement, or sin, or the family, or natural and unnatural things. Those who congregated at the cathedral service in Springfield were indeed seeking exorcism. To exorcise is to cast out an utter, malevolent alien: “he has a demon”; “you are of your father the devil.”

Some truly perceive a demon afoot in Illinois, slyly embodying itself in lots of pleasant, insidious words about love and equality. Here, for them, is not Merton’s sunlight but hell. So they backed Paprocki up as he, a called and ordained “other Christ,” a successor of the apostles, inhabiting the full capacity of his roles, besought God to expel the enemy. Ab hoste maligno defende me.

I came, basically, from where they are now, though it seems more paranoid there than it was in the old days. At any rate, I no longer know how to speak across the abyss. I’ve forgotten how to translate into the half-remembered language of an alternate reality. I wish I could, instead of just shrugging helplessly when confronted by the people I used to be. But then, I’m not sure it’s about translating, or convincing. I wasn’t convinced. I was encountered.

All I can say is I hope some folks have more encounters, encounters with real life and its friction, encounters that trigger the alchemy that changes us, encounters with grace. “Only connect,” E.M. Forster wrote. Only connect.

3 thoughts on “Exorcism, chasm, connection

  1. Pingback: Friday Round-Up: 11/29/13 | Catholic Majority

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