Bishop of Springfield comments on synodality and the Catholic university

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, the sixth bishop of Springfield, Illinois spoke with the Irish Rover regarding the Synod on Synodality and the proper relation of the Catholic university to Church teaching.

Bp. Paprocki is a former adjunct professor in canon law at Notre Dame Law School, and a graduate of the Mendoza College of Business. He recently made headlines for his public criticism of a strain in the Church which entertains and promotes changing long-standing Catholic teaching on issues such as marriage, sin, and the Eucharist. 

Asked what the Synod on Synodality is, Bp. Paprocki responded, “A very good question—a lot of people are trying to figure out ‘exactly what does it mean?’” He then clarified that as Pope Francis has repeatedly said, it’s about listening and accompanying people on their journey.

The bishop continued, “It’s not a ‘free for all’ in terms of just throwing everything up for grabs. I think there should be very focused questions—what specifically is the bishop looking for in terms of some advice in a particular matter?”

Bp. Paprocki also noted the danger that some of the faithful might misunderstand the Synod to be fundamentally characterized by democratic principles, disregarding the fixed character of Catholic doctrine, stating: “The deposit of faith has been handed on to us for the last 2000 years. Revelation basically closed with the era of the apostles. We do talk about development of doctrine, but we have to understand what development of doctrine means.”

“[St. John Henry Newman] was always very clear that development of doctrine means we grow in a deeper understanding of the doctrine. It does not mean that we overrule things that we believed in before.”

Bp. Paprocki emphasized that the synod should properly be understood in terms of consultation: “St. John Henry Newman talks about two different ways of understanding the word ‘consult.’ One is when a person is sick and goes to the doctor: he consults the doctor. The doctor will tell you what to do—what medication to take, etc.”  

“And then the doctor also consults—he will consult your temperature, blood pressure, and various gauges to see the status of your health. And in that sense, the doctor is just getting a read on the situation. St. John Henry Newman says that consultation of the faithful is really in the second sense.”

Giving the example of the widespread rejection of the Church’s teaching on cohabitation before marriage, the bishop continued, “Now when we consult with the faithful, what we’re hearing is that a lot of people are not following that teaching. The answer should not be, ‘Well, let’s change the teaching.’ … That’s not what consultation is.”

Turning to the common trope of welcoming and inclusion found in synod reports worldwide, Bp. Paprocki emphasized that true welcoming must encompass the Gospel demand of Christ to repentance and conversion of life: “The first word in [Jesus’] public ministry was repentance … Jesus talked to all kinds of people and welcomed them. But when he welcomed them, he called them to repentance; he called them to a change of life.” He continued, “not everybody was able to do that. There were people who walked away from Jesus … particularly over his teaching on the Eucharist.”

Bp. Paprocki then said, “Did Jesus run after [them] and say, ‘Well, wait a minute, maybe that was a little bit too demanding’? … The challenge is to help that person to break that pattern [of sin].”

At the end of the discussion, Bp. Paprocki elaborated on the proper relationship between a Catholic university and Church teaching, especially in light of the Notre Dame Synod Report’s note that some students “expressed a desire for the University to publicly object to certain aspects of Catholic teaching.”

The bishop said, “I don’t see how a Catholic university could formally object to Church teaching. If a university in some official way were to do that … I think it brings into question its Catholic identity.”

“So for those [of another or no faith] who come to a Catholic university like Notre Dame, I think it’s unreasonable for them to expect Notre Dame or any other Catholic University to change or challenge the teachings of the Catholic Church because they don’t like them. People are free to attend the university and nobody’s forcing them to go there. If they don’t like the Catholic identity … they’re free to go elsewhere.”

Bishop Paprocki concluded by appealing to the fundamental place of truth in the organization of the university: “Whatever is taught in the university has to be the truth. We believe that what the Catholic Church teaches is the truth that leads us to Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

“So if you had someone, for example, who was teaching some discipline—whether that be chemistry, accounting, or any one of the sciences—and started proposing ideas that were contrary to the established science of chemistry or mathematics, their own peers would say, ‘This person is incompetent and should not be allowed to teach this because what they’re teaching is false.’

“I don’t think [academic freedom]—even within the university setting—allows for people to teach things that are false. That’s true in the sciences. I think that’s also true in terms of theology. You have things that are being taught in the university—even in theological disciplines—that are simply contrary to the truth as we understand it: the Catholic faith. I think it would be the responsibility of the administration of the university as well as the responsibility of the proper ecclesiastical authority—in the case of University of Notre Dame, Bishop Kevin Rhoades—to have vigilance over the Catholic identity of the institution.”

Paul Howard is a junior majoring in medieval studies and classics. He is presently preparing an article on the upcoming council on conciliarity. He can be reached at

Photo Credit: Bishop Thomas John Paprocki Facebook

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