A priest in Rhode Island, Reverend Richard Bucci, made national headlines last week by banning lawmakers who supported the state's abortion rights bill from receiving communion at his parish. Now, he is doubling down on that decision with a statement that's sending shockwaves through social media.
The 72-year-old priest recently passed out fliers to parishioners listing the names of all 44 members of the legislature who voted for the Reproductive Privacy Act, which was signed into law last spring. The flier stated that those individuals would also be banned from acting as witnesses to marriage, serving as godparents, and performing readings at weddings and funerals, citing "2,000 years" of Catholic teachings.
— Ian Donnis (@IanDon) January 31, 2020
Then, in an interview Sunday, Bucci's rhetoric went further.
"Pedophilia doesn't kill anyone and this does," he told local station WJAR, claiming that more children have been killed by abortion than have been abused.
This statement didn't sit well with State Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, a Democrat who championed Rhode Island's law to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse survivors.
"When he says that pedophilia doesn't kill people, well, he clearly doesn't understand," she told CBS News. "He should've come to the statehouse and listened to the testimonies because there are lot of victims who are no longer with us. The injured voices that I heard — they've stolen their childhoods. They've practically destroyed their lives. And the ones we still hear from are the lucky ones because they're the ones who are still alive; they didn't die of an overdose or suicide. You know, there's plenty of those that never made it long enough to come forward."
Her colleague, State Representative Julie Casimiro, whose name was also published in the flier, agrees.
"The Catholic Church needs to take a look at themselves and ask why they are closing churches and losing worshipers," Casimiro wrote in a statement to CBS News. "Could it be because Fr. Bucci's most recent statement was that 'no one has ever died from pedophilia?' Fr. Bucci and the diocese need to take a look from within. They need to get their own house in order. The Pope should make a visit to Rhode Island!"
CBS News has reached out the Diocese of Providence for comment, but has not yet heard back.
In the immediate aftermath of distributing the flier, Bucci told the Providence Journal that local lawmakers were upset because their names and votes were made public: "If they are proud of what they have done, why do they want to keep it a secret?"
The issue, however, is not that the votes were made public. In fact, one Democratic state representative called that "laughable," because their votes on every issue are already listed on the General Assembly's website as soon as they are tallied.
Rather, for some, it's about the separation of church and state.
They have a problem with the lack of respect for the separation of church and state, and for our votes on behalf of our constituents being punished by a church who protected child abusers.
— Justine Caldwell (@Justine4RI) February 1, 2020
For others, it has to do with the Catholic Church's handling of its own pedophilia scandal and the hypocrisy they perceive in the discrepancy.
McEntee has had a long and fraught relationship with Sacred Heart Church in West Warwick, Rhode Island, where Bucci now presides. She and her older sister, Ann Hagan Web, attended Sacred Heart School from kindergarten through the eighth grade. And Ann alleges that she was repeatedly sexually molested by a priest there, who is now deceased, for approximately seven years, beginning when she was just 5 years old.
McEntee tells CBS News that she believes Bucci's letter is less a response to the Reproductive Privacy Act than it is a reaction to her work with child sex abuse survivors.
"I just think it's concerning that this is the church that is taking issue with this, out of all the churches in Rhode Island," she told CBS News. "Personally, I feel this is a continued attack by him on me and my family because of what happened to my sister. And he's come up with this latest way."
Her colleague Julie Casimiro points to the time lag between the final vote on the bill last June and Father Bucci's letter in January as proof of that point.
"Fr. Bucci would love to have you all think this is about the codification of Roe V Wade," she wrote to CBS News. "If it was, why wasn't the list published last year when we took the vote? Why did only a few lawmakers receive the mailing at home? This is retribution to the Hagen-McEntee family for shining the light on sexual assault within the Catholic Church and Sacred Heart, in particular."
In a fiery Facebook post after the flier was made public, Casimiro went a step further, suggesting that the General Assembly should respond to Father Bucci's list of lawmakers not welcome in his parish by posting "a list of pedophile priests not welcome at the State House. That is a much longer list."