A second U.S. diocese has suggested Catholic funerals be denied to people in same-gender civil marriages, going so far as to suggest the deceased person be remembered without being named at all.
Msgr. James Bartylla, Vicar General of the Diocese of Madison which is headed by Bishop Robert Morlino, offered diocesan priests this new guidance in a communication which was then reported on by the blog Pray Tell. In a section titled “Consideration of Funeral Rites for a Person in a Homosexual Civil or Notorious Union,” Bartylla addressed people in same-gender civil marriages or, what he described as, “an otherwise notorious homosexual relationship gravely contrary to the natural law. . .” He urged pastors to “think through the issue thoroughly and prudently” in consultation with the local Ordinary (currently Morlino) when confronted with the death of such a person. The guidance continued:
“The main issue centers around scandal and confusion. . .and thereby the pastoral task is to minimize the risk of scandal and confusion to others amidst the solicitude for the deceased and family.
“If the situation warrants (see canon 1184 – specifically canon 1184.1.3), ecclesiastical funeral rites may be denied for manifest sinners in which public scandal of the faithful can’t be avoided. If there is a doubt, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment is to be followed (canon 1184.2).”
Bartylla then listed a series of questions for pastors to consider when deciding whether to deny a funeral, including, “Was the deceased or the ‘partner’ a promoter of the ‘gay’ lifestyle?. . .Did the deceased give some signs of repentance before death?” The vicar listed some “preliminary considerations” for pastors:
- “To minimize scandal, should there merely be a short scripture service at the funeral home? Or maybe merely a graveside service? Maybe a later ‘Mass for the Dead’ with or without explicit mention of the name of the deceased or ‘partner’ could alternatively or in addition be offered at the parish or even at another parish (to avoid scandal), with or without family members present.
- “Any surviving ‘partner’ should not have any public or prominent role at any ecclesiastical funeral rite or service.
- “A great risk for scandal and confusion is for the name of the celebrating priest and/or the parish to be listed in any public (e.g., newspaper) or semi-public obituary or notice that also lists the predeceased or surviving ‘partner’ in some manner. This can’t happen for obvious reasons.
- “There should be no mention of the ‘partner’ either by name or by other reference (nor reference to the unnatural union) in any liturgical booklet, prayer card, homily, sermon, talk by the priest, deacon, etc…
- “It may be wise to keep the priest or deacon involvement to the minimum (i.e., limited to one priest or deacon and at merely essential times of a service or rite, if one occurs).”
These guidelines issued by the Diocese follow another attempt earlier this year to deny pastoral care, to Catholic in same-gender civil marriages. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield issued pastoral guidelines that said such Catholics should not be given ecclesiastical funeral rites unless they show “some signs of repentance before their death.” Paprocki’s guidelines, released on the anniversary of the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, also barred people in same-gender civil marriages from being received into the church or participating in any liturgical ministries.
Several bishops have introduced pastoral restrictions as marriage equality has spread in recent years. Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput’s attempted to bar LGBT people from both Communion and liturgical ministries, and Archbishops Allen Vigneron of Detroit and John Myers, formerly of Newark, both told LGBT Catholics and their allies not receive Communion.
Commenting on both the Diocese of Madison’s actions and the firing of a church worker because of her same-gender engagement, news which Bondings 2.0 broke yesterday, Fr. James Martin, SJ, offered his thoughts on Facebook:
“The problem, as I point out in ‘Building a Bridge,’ [Martin’s new book on LGBT issues in the church] is that these teachings are almost always applied selectively. That is, there is no equivalent focus on the sexual morality of straight Catholics at the time of their funerals. (E.g., Was he or she divorced and remarried without an annulment? Was he or she living together before marriage?)
“Nor is the sexual morality of straight Catholic school teachers placed under such a microscope. (E.g., Is he or she living with a partner before marriage?).
“The focus solely on LGBT people and their sexual morality, without an equivalent focus on the sexual morality (or morality in general) of straight Catholics, constitutes what the Catechism calls ‘unjust discrimination’ (#2358).”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said the guidelines are “directly opposed to the example that Pope Francis has been giving.” He continued in a statement:
“These suggestions are blatantly discriminatory and seemed designed more to push peopleaway from the church than to receive them in a loving embrace at one of their most sensitive times of need.
“While the church leaders of the Madison diocese may think that they are preserving the Church, they are, in fact, harming it by so callously refusing to provide any sort of solace to Catholic families who are grieving. What do these leaders think about how people, gay and straight, will respond to such a gesture? Clearly, many will find comfort and solace in other places of faith. Even if not enacted, this decision’s announcement alone will already cause people to flee.”
DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement that the Diocese’s guidance is “the very antithesis of pastoral care” which suggests lesbian and gay people “should be demeaned even in death.” It is “heartless. . .cruel. . .unchristian in the extreme,” she added.
Celebrating the sacraments, especially in people’s most pained moments, is central to the church’s mission. While canon law may protect the right of bishops to deny sacraments as heads of dioceses, the divine law interrogates them as to why church officials seek to do so in such an aggressive manner against LGBT people. It is dehumanizing to suggest a Catholic be remembered without being named and without have their most intimate relationship valued, or at least acknowledged.
The Diocese of Madison’s guidelines are a tragedy for LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, parish communities which may be affected, and the church as a whole. It is my hope pastors will have the courage to follow God’s law and celebrate the lives and love of LGBT people whom God has called home.
To contact Bishop Robert Morlino and the Diocese of Madison, you can use New Ways Ministry’s new “Contact Your Bishop” feature on our website by clicking here. When you arrive at the page, you simply selection Wisconsin (WI) from the drop-down menu and find Madison from the list of diocese which will appear.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 24, 2017