Over 11,000 people have signed a petition urging the priest of a West Warwick church to stop denying Communion, and other important Christian rituals, to state lawmakers who voted in favor of protecting reproductive rights. It’s not about coming out against the church or the priest says Sister Mary Pendergast, “It’s about coming out for love.”
Reverend Richard Bucci of Sacred Heart Church in West Warwick recently sent out a flyer listing state legislators who will not be permitted to receive communion or “act as witnesses to marriage, godparents, or lectors at weddings, funerals or any other church function,” due to their votes in favor of the Reproductive Privacy Act, which codified Roe v Wade in Rhode Island.
During a Sunday interview with NBC10, Bucci added that “some may make it a comparison between pedophilia and abortion. Pedophilia doesn’t kill anyone and this does,” seemingly in response to Representative Carol McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett). She recently stated to the Providence Journal that she believes Bucci’s actions are a direct response to a bill which extended the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. McEntee was motivated to propose this bill by her sister, a victim of abuse by a former priest at this same church.
“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,” said McEntee to CBS News on Monday.
Some online considered Reverend Bucci’s flyer to be a personal attack due to the manner by which he sent it, through the mail directly to legislators’ homes, and with considerable anonymity. To the Providence Journal, Representative Justine Caldwell (Democrat, District 30, East Greenwich) noted that there was no information regarding who had sent the flyer besides the return address on the front of the envelope. Former Warwick Town Councilmember Joseph Galluci provided what may be some context, again to the Providence Journal, stating that “We are an aging population… Many of us older people are not into computers.” I was made aware of this petition through a Facebook friend and so I reached out to that someone, an activist nun and older person who does use computers, Sister Mary Pendergast.
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“It stirs up a pain in the heart,” said Pendergast, “We’ll never attract people by laws and condemnation, there’s supposed to be a joy in being Christian.”
In 2017, Rhode Island was again identified as the most Catholic state in America. At the same time, the state population has fallen to the point where there are now questions as to whether the state will lose a seat in the United States House of Representatives, which is calculated after each census. A report on the state economy titled Rhode Island Innovates 2.0 may shed some light on this situation, identifying that state demographics are “on a path toward being majority minority,” but also that “competition with neighboring states is undermined by unreliable public school quality and a lack of adequate housing options for workers, particularly those with families.” The population is diverse and younger in Providence, but skews towards older and white state-wide.
Pendergast is an advocate for solutions to issues of social justice and climate, and was optimistic about the ability of young and old people, and Christians specifically, to come together in pursuit of a better state and society: “I appreciate their openness and inclusivity… and I absolutely appreciate that they’ve grown up in an absolutely different environment… I wasn’t brought up that way, we do grow, we don’t just learn our faith at 15, 16 and never grow it.”
The signatures are being gathered on Faithful America, an “online community of Christians putting faith into action for social justice… [whose] members are sick of sitting by quietly while Jesus’ message of good news is hijacked by the religious right to serve a hateful political agenda.” This online community has played in a role in opposing Hobby Lobby in their denial of providing contraceptive insurance coverage, convincing MSNBC to stop inviting the SPLC-identified hate group Family Research Council to speak on air, and fighting fracking organizations who intended to build a pipeline through land owned by the Sisters of Loretto.
The petition aims “to show Bucci and Bishop Thomas Tobin that Catholics and other Christians are outraged whenever worship is hijacked for political purposes!” Bishop Tobin has not condemned the flyer or comments made by Reverend Richard Bucci. The original goal of the petition was 5,000 signatures, which was broken and replaced with 10,000 only for it to be broken again and replaced with a goal of 15,000. Faithful America calls on Bucci to “honor the separation of church and state and stop denying the sacraments to lawmakers with whom he disagrees.”
Interestingly, there appears to be little discussion regarding the latter part of Reverend Bucci’s flyer where he also denies the Sacraments to “the general officers of the state… [and] …members of congress,” which includes Governor Gina Raimondo, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, and Attorney General Peter Neronha.
In recent months, West Warwick has been a site of concerning political actions and behavior. Steve Ahlquist, editor-in-chief of Uprise RI, reported last week that a recruitment flyer for the fascist organization Patriot Front was placed outside of the Thundermist Health Equity Center, which is known to promote trans-inclusive healthcare. A commenter on Steve’s Facebook post also noted this, suggesting that the fascist organization may be “trying to intimidate trans folks [from] accessing healthcare services.” Five months ago, following a leak of user information from the white supremacist forum Iron March, a geolocated database created by the news publication Jewish Worker revealed that at least three of the forums’ users are from Rhode Island, with two having IP addresses registered in the West Warwick area.