‘If you don’t like those teachings, leave’: West Warwick priest speaks out amid communion controversy

West Bay

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A West Warwick priest has created quite a stir after publicly declaring he would deny Holy Communion to all lawmakers who supported an abortion rights bill last year.

Fr. Richard Bucci of Sacred Heart Church argued that he’s simply following the teachings of the Catholic religion.

“Those are the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Bucci said. “If you don’t like those teachings, leave.”

Bucci sent out a flyer earlier this year urging churches to deny communion to all lawmakers who signed legislation codifying Roe v. Wade into Rhode Island law.

The flyer also encouraged churches not to allow the lawmakers to have any role within the parish, including being named a godmother or godfather.

The flyer left many lawmakers frustrated, especially those listed. Some are even calling for Bucci to retire, resign or be removed from his position.

“They keep pushing more and more parishioners away,” Rep. Julie Casimiro, D-North Kingstown, said. “They pushed me away a long time ago.”

Casimiro, who is on the list of lawmakers to be denied communion, argued a law providing women the right to choose doesn’t mean anyone is in favor of abortions. But Bucci feels otherwise.

“You know what that’s like? ‘I sell slaves at the market, but I’m against slavery,'” Bucci said.

Story continues below video.

Casimiro said Bucci’s decision is becoming personal, saying he kicked Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee out of a funeral in December.

“He told her to shut up and get out,” Casimiro said.

Bucci defended his actions and said while he does have personal problems with McEntee, that’s not why he’s speaking out against her and the abortion legislation.

“She certainly is an agent of this change, she and the story of her sister, I think influence people and they sort of lost her reason, and I think a lot of the people do not know how extreme this bill is,” he said.

McEntee’s sister has said she was a victim of clergy sex abuse, and her story helped McEntee pass a new law extending the civil statute of limitations for child molestation. 

While previously defending his stance of withholding communion to pro-choice lawmakers, Bucci used an inflammatory analogy, saying pedophilia isn’t as bad as abortion because no one dies from sexual abuse.

On Wednesday night, McEntee and her sister, Ann Hagan Webb, stood united with lawmakers at the Rhode Island State House, denouncing Bucci’s comparison of pedophilia and abortion.

Story continues below video.

“I say if the only response from the Catholic Church is that pedophilia doesn’t kill anybody, and that’s the official stance from the church, then I say god save the Catholic church,” McEntee said. 

Clergy abuse survivor Jim Scanlan also responded to Bucci’s comment Wednesday, saying, “Bucci’s comments were so offensive…I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve been able to survive, but not everyone does.”

Bucci told WPRI 12 that while he stands by what he said, he wanted to clarify what he meant.

“I should have phrased it: every child who is aborted dies, whereas a person who is abused can be vindicated,” Bucci explained.

Casimiro said Bucci made it clear he will not budge, so she’s calling upon the Catholic Church to do something about it.

Bucci said he believes abortion should be illegal, although he left open room for compromise.

“In my perfect world, it ends with making abortion legal in the case of rape, incest and indirect threat to a mother’s life,” he said.

Bishop Thomas Tobin appeared to allude to the controversy in a tweet Wednesday evening, saying “no one has the absolute right to receive Holy Communion.”

Tobin also released a statement Thursday saying in part: “It is important to affirm that both the sexual abuse of minors and abortion are horrific, immoral actions that have very serious, harmful consequences.”

He also added that the Catholic Church has been clear and consistent in explaining the “evil” in abortion and that those who support and approve of abortion have committed a “grave evil” in the eyes of God.

“In the current public discussion, I urge all parties to refrain from unhelpful, inflammatory rhetoric, and to reflect personally and prayerfully on the consequences of these grave matters,” Tobin said. “May we renew our efforts to protect life and promote the common good, especially for children and youth, and may God bless our commitment with wisdom, prudence, humility and charity.”

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