Priest: No Communion for R.I. lawmakers who supported abortion law
By Katherine Gregg
February 01, 2020
The Rev. Richard Bucci distributed fliers at West Warwick’s Sacred Heart Church listing all the legislators who voted to enshrine abortion protections in R.I. law, saying they would not be permitted to receive Holy Communion or to serve as marriage witnesses, godparents or lectors at church functions.
PROVIDENCE — The Rev. Richard Bucci, pastor of the West Warwick church where a lawmaker’s sister has said she was sexually molested repeatedly as a child by a now-dead priest, marked the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by issuing a flier listing the names of every Rhode Island legislator who voted last year to enshrine the right to an abortion in state law.
Father Bucci’s flier was handed out to his parishioners at Sacred Heart Church last Sunday. The lawmakers’ names appeared below this message:
“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 officers of the state of Rhode Island, as well as Rhode Island’s members of Congress. In addition, they will not be allowed to act as witnesses to marriage, godparents, or lectors at weddings, funerals or any other church function.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese tacitly condoned the flier, which Father Bucci also mailed to the homes of several legislators.
Father Bucci, 72, readily took responsibility for the flier.
“If they are proud of what they have done, why do they want to keep it a secret? We all hear about responsibility. Let them take responsibility. If they think this is a good and wholesome and holy thing ... they should be proud of it, and why should I hide that from my parishioners?” he asked rhetorically, in an interview with The Journal.
“They call me ‘Father’ so that I may have an influence in their lives, and this is a serious issue of life and death,” he said.
But Rep. Carol McEntee angrily denounced the action by a current priest at “the parish where my sister, Dr. Ann Hagan Webb, endured years of sexual abuse as a child ... where I was asked to leave a family member’s funeral by Father Bucci in a most disturbing way in December 2019 (in the middle of the funeral Mass),” she said. (His version: he told her she could not deliver a eulogy — which she said she did not intend — because it was not allowed.)
“This is nothing more than another vicious outburst by Father Bucci,” said McEntee, who received the flier at her home in South Kingstown. “He is unfit to be a priest, and I call on him to resign immediately. ... I also call on Bishop [Thomas] Tobin to withdraw and disown this notice and issue a full apology to all individuals who are listed in this notice.
“Both Father Bucci and Bishop Tobin need to be reminded that the U.S. Constitution requires the separation of church and state. We as legislators have an obligation to the people of Rhode Island to vote for legislation that reflects the opinion of the majority of Rhode Islanders, and not allow our religious beliefs to get in the way of our civic obligation as elected officials.”
She continued, “He uses last year’s vote to codify Roe v. Wade as the excuse to send this notice. I believe that the underlying problem for Father Bucci and the Catholic Church is last year’s passage of the legislation spearheaded by me and my sister to extend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. They refuse to own up to the crisis that they have created and the lives they have destroyed.”
(In his own defense, Father Bucci told The Journal that he anonymously sent the state police photographs of teenagers in lewd poses that he found in the room of the onetime pastor, with whom he once served at St. Mary’s Church, in Bristol, after telling a top official at the diocese “three times” and seeing nothing done about it. The accused priest, William C. O’Connell, was ultimately sentenced to serve 10 years in a New Jersey sex-offender treatment center for admitted sexual misconduct involving young boys.)
State Rep. Justine Caldwell, D-East Greenwich, also received a copy of the flier, at her home in East Greenwich, with nothing on it to indicate where it came from except the return address on the envelope. Her reaction: “The idea that they would be sending that out rather than taking care of their own house is just baffling to me.”
Added Rep. Julie Casimiro, D-North Kingstown, on Facebook: “I think the General Assembly should post a list of pedophile priests not welcome at the State House. That is a much longer list.” As the controversy heated up, she added: “Being pro-choice doesn’t mean you are pro-abortion.”
“Wow,” Rep. Liana Cassar, D-Barrington, posted. “But I am a godparent. Does this mean I have to tell my goddaughter that I’m not the Godmother anymore? Just asking. ...”
Asked if Bishop Tobin approved of or condoned Father Bucci’s action — or knew of any other pastor in Rhode island who has done something similar — diocesan spokeswoman Carolyn Cronin emailed this response on Thursday:
“For every sacrament, the Church provides detailed norms for preparation and reception. It is the pastor’s duty to apply them within his parish, in accord with Church law. This includes the proper reception of Holy Communion as outlined by the Code of Canon Law. Because the Church entrusts to each pastor the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and governing his parish, the daily pastoral and administrative decisions are made at the local parish level.”
Former Warwick Councilman Joseph Gallucci, 84, was one of the Sacred Heart parishioners who received the flier at church on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Having once lived in the public spotlight, he said: “Personally, if it was me and my name appeared [in any list that showed] the way I voted, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. That’s me.”
How legislators vote is not a secret — their votes, on any issue, are listed on the General Assembly’s website. But, Gallucci said, “We are an aging population. ... Many of us older people are not into computers.”
He added, “I think this should really come from the Diocese.”