SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and state Senate President John Cullerton have been barred from receiving Holy Communion at Catholic churches in the Diocese of Springfield.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki issued the ban in response to The Reproductive Health Act, a sweeping abortion rights bill that repeals decades-old restrictions on abortions in Illinois. The bill, which is awaiting Gov. JB Pritzker's signature, also removes waiting periods, spousal consent and criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions.
Paprocki said lawmakers who voted for the bill are promoting a position that is "inconsistent with being a good Catholic, a faithful Catholic."
Madigan, Cullerton and many rank-and-file politicians are affected by the ban. Paprocki said there is a Catholic rule that states if someone has committed a private sin, he or she should not receive communion.
Madigan said he was warned about the ban before he voted. He called the bill "a recognition that women across Illinois deserve access to health care without intrusion from government."
The bishop said his decision was meant to protect the integrity of the church.
"This is not intended to be punitive," Paprocki said. "I'm not interested in punishing people. I'm interested in their change of heart, and I would love for them to see and recognize that what they did was wrong."
The Rev. Michael Pfleger said the church's stance on abortion is clear — but he does not believe priests can decide who should or should not take communion.
"You are entering a really dangerous area because if you're starting to say anybody who supports this is a sinner and therefore should not go to communion — well, then nobody should go to the communion, including the priest, because we're all sinners," Pfleger said. "The scriptures are very clear: 'None that are righteous, no not one.'"
The Rev. Thomas Hurley of Old St. Patrick's Church said the situation is sad.
"The whole thing is unfortunate," he said. "Abortion is unfortunate. When it comes to using Holy Communion as a weapon, that's unfortunate, too."
Colleen Connell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the ACLU was sad to read the report of the legislative leaders targeted.
"The Speaker and Senator Cullerton deserve deep appreciation for advocating for the fundamental rights of individuals to make their own health care decisions," Connell said.
Cardinal Blase Cupich was not available for an interview. The Archdiocese of Chicago said Paprocki's edict applies only to Springfield and that "the Eucharist is an opportunity of grace and conversion to bring people to the truth."