But on Jan. 26, days after the 47th anniversary of that landmark legal case, one Rhode Island priest has issued a damning rebuke: Any lawmakers who voted in favor of the law, he said, would be barred from receiving Communion or taking on special roles at church functions.
“If they are proud of what they have done, why do they want to keep it a secret?” the Rev. Richard Bucci told the Providence Journal on Saturday. “We all hear about responsibility. Let them take responsibility.”
Last month, he passed out fliers to his parishioners at Sacred Heart Church in West Warwick, R.I., listing all state legislators who voted for the Reproductive Privacy Act of 2019 and issuing that directive. Copies were also mailed to the homes of the 66 lawmakers, all but one of whom is a Democrat.
“In accord with the teaching of the Catholic Church for 2000 years, the following members of the legislature may NOT receive Holy Communion, as are all the general officers of the state of Rhode Island, as well as Rhode Island’s members of Congress,” the note said. “In addition, they will not be allowed to act as witnesses to marriage, godparents, or lectors at weddings, funerals, or any other church function.”
Carolyn Cronin, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Providence, did not say whether the diocese supports the ban or if it would apply to other churches in the state besides Sacred Heart.
But in a statement to The Washington Post, Cronin did point out that while the church provides “detailed norms for preparation and reception” of every sacrament, including Communion, priests are the ones who decide how to apply these norms to their respective parishes.
“Because the Church entrusts to each pastor the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and governing his parish,” Cronin said, “the daily pastoral and administrative decisions are made at the local parish level.”
His flier nonetheless provoked a strong and immediate reaction from those lawmakers named on it.
State Rep. Julie Casimiro (D), who voted in favor of the bill, said that the Rhode Island General Assembly should take a page out of Bucci’s book and distribute a flier naming priests accused of sexual assault and telling them they are “not welcome at the State House,” she wrote on Facebook, according to the Journal.
“Being pro-choice doesn’t mean you are pro-abortion,” she added.
State Rep. Carol McEntee (D), who also voted in favor of the bill, told Rhode Island Public Radio that the notice was “harsh and retaliatory,” especially toward her. She has a long and fraught family history with Sacred Heart.
“This is nothing more than another vicious outburst by Father Bucci,” McEntee said, adding that she called on both Bucci and Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin to resign.
In December 2019, McEntee was asked to leave a family member’s funeral at Sacred Heart during mass. (Bucci has disputed that version of events, instead claiming that he merely told her she was not allowed to deliver a eulogy.)
Two years ago, McEntee’s older sister, Ann Hagan Webb, testified before state lawmakers that she was repeatedly abused by a former parish priest starting when she was 5. Webb has since become a face for child victims of sexual assault in Rhode Island, and last year, McEntee led a push in the statehouse to give those victims more time to file civil suits against their abusers.
“Although I have long ago left the Catholic Church, they continue to berate and diminish the reality of what my sister and my family have endured,” McEntee told the Journal, “because of their criminal behavior and lack of remorse or contrition.”
McEntee charged that the letter is not a response to the Reproductive Privacy Act, she said, but rather a covert response to her law on child sex abuse survivors.
Bucci has been a loud voice on both matters in Rhode Island.
Last year, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Journal, in which he said Mary Ann Sorrentino, the former director of the state’s Planned Parenthood chapter, was “the woman who will not go away, so much like the Clintons.”