Diocese: Pastors Can Deny Funerals to Married Lesbian and Gay Catholics

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.

Bishop Robert Morlino

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

31 replies
  1. Chester G Thompson
    Chester G Thompson says:

    When I first saw the picture, I thought that was Cardinal Raymond Burke in all his regalia, who would support such a move for sure!!! May GOD have mercy on their souls, because for many of us, if we were in charge they would be left in Purgatory!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Once again, I am stunned and feel a sense of outrage that men in such positions can say such hurtful things. In their zeal to avoid ‘scandal’ they create their own.

    Reply
  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    I’m sorry, but these punitive situations are getting ridiculous to the point of becoming obnoxious. Unless the Church can accommodate itself to the fact that the vast majority of professing Catholics today live in a very different social, cultural and political world than the one occupied by these men, then the future of the Church must stand in grave doubt, if not downright peril.

    Reply
  4. Timothy MacGeorge
    Timothy MacGeorge says:

    This grieves and angers me terribly. Frank’s and Marianne’s comments are spot on. This bishop and those who hold this view are lacking in the most basic level of Christian charity or kindness. They are blinded by a fundamentalism, driven by a desire for power and control, that is anathema to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Avoiding scandal” is usually the go-to rationalization in such instances, which itself is a paternalistic insult to the ability of “the Faithful” to understand and embrace their/our Faith at its deepest levels.

    It is up to the parish clergy — priests and deacons — as well as other pastoral leaders to stand up and say, “No.” It is on their consciences if they implement such spiteful and hateful practices. I pray they will have the courage to do what I hope most of them know is truly “what Jesus would do.”

    Reply
    • Miriam
      Miriam says:

      Yes. I believe we need a prayerful, stand-up revolution in the church in order to effect changes from this narrow-minded hatred. If the lay people do this, the clergy will feel forced.

      Reply
  5. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    Most of those directives are in conflict with the teachings of the Christ. I wonder what is the meaning of a “notorious” relationship? Anyway, as I am Catholic but not Roman, I probably should just shut up and pray. I must add that the present statements were very painful to read. Pax et bonum

    Reply
    • Miriam
      Miriam says:

      I’m glad you understand. Do you mean you are Catholic not of the Latin Rite, but of the Byzantine Rite or other “Eastern” Rite?

      Reply
  6. Tom Gaudet
    Tom Gaudet says:

    I can just feel the Spirit beckoning some who follow Jesus, Love Incarnate, away from the RC Church. The Spirit is groaning to birth something new; something more wonderful than could be imagined. In the meantime, let the cardinals and bishops have their little ego-feeding tantrums. They will be left to commiserate in a church that consists of no one but them, unless, of course, they let their hearts of stone be replaced by hearts of flesh.

    Reply
  7. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    As well as not condemning homosexuals or those in active same sex relationships, Christ never worried about creating scandal. In fact he seems to have regularly placed himself in situations which others considered a scandal, but which He used as teaching moments about His grace and love. Since Catholic bishops have done such a wonderful job in resolving the clergy sex abuse scandal and there are no longer any poor, it is nice they have time to deal with civil regulations which don’t involve them. Jesus wept.

    Reply
  8. Deacon Joseph Maurer (ret.)
    Deacon Joseph Maurer (ret.) says:

    Re; Today’s Robert Shine’s post. (And delete this if New Ways thinks this is “out of line”.) But:
    Oh, my! Call me a shallow, cynical fool but while reading today’s post I couldn’t help chuckling. I think the bishop’s and their minions statements could be an excellent basis for a feature on SNL.
    They are absolutely outrageous. Scandal to the faithful? These guys are playing to their BASE a la Trump.

    Reply
      • Miriam
        Miriam says:

        I didn’t “retire” from lay public ministry at my parish but was forbidden from all public ministry for just wearing shoes that were too feminine and singing alto in the choir. To this day I am deeply wounded. No more choir. No more K of C honor guard. No more K of C anything. No more Extraordinary Eucharistic ministry. The pastor agreed with the deacon and deacon’s wife that I was a scandal. The deacon’s wife wife was fine with singing tenor! I’m attending different parishes and identifying female not attracted one iota to men, only to women. So to the church, I’m a man attracted to women.

        Reply
    • (Rev.) James F. Moran
      (Rev.) James F. Moran says:

      “Scandal to the faithful?” It woiuld seem to the normal person that the bishops making these crazy and hurtful statments and “rulings” are the ones causing scandal. “Let you who are without sin cast the first stone.”

      Reply
      • Miriam
        Miriam says:

        I suspect I will be denied a Catholic funeral because I have been openly transgender a few years, always a man attracted to women but now officially a woman attracted to women (lesbian? a term with which I am not comfortable). Two years ago my pastor removed me from all public ministry, when I was a tiny bit openly trans.

        Reply
  9. Mike Clarke
    Mike Clarke says:

    No wonder people are leaving the RC church .. this is NOT being spiritual or compassionate these men of the cloth should bow their heads in deep shame .. you’re supposed to show love … NOT bigotry and hate

    Reply
    • Miriam
      Miriam says:

      Right. I have 5 children and only my (former) wife and I still claim to be Catholic Christians. They are young adults sick of “religious” leaders.

      Reply
  10. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I couldn’t help but remember some things while reading about these directives.

    I recall a man I first met in 1974. He was the only child in his family. When he came out to his parents, they disowned him, and denied they had any children when people asked them about their children. They wrote him out of their will, and acted as though he never existed.

    Another story is that of the first man for whom one of the first AIDS Quilt panels was made in St. Louis. Two of us met with the man in the hospital. He was close to death from AIDS, and asked us to make a panel for him, to show to him before he died. He had recently come out as gay to his mother, and she didn’t want anyone to know he was gay, much less that he had AIDS. We got to work on his panel as a group, and showed him the panel the day of his death. After we left, his mother having heard a panel was going to be made for him, showed up at the hospital bound and determined to rip it to shreds if we showed up. But she missed us by an hour. And the panel is in the Quilt today, and the first name of Rob (along with his story) will be remembered on the Quilt and in the NAMES Project archives for time to come.

    Then I recall a story on PBS about a lesbian couple who had been together for decades. When one of the couple (the one in whose name their house and possessions were listed for tax purposes) died, the parents of the deceased (who had not been involved in her life for years) swept in and claimed the couple’s property and house, and evicted the survivor from the home she and her partner had lived in for years).

    And then there is the story of Sharon Kowalski and her partner Karen Thompson. When Sharon was disabled in an accident, her parents took her away from Karen, and kept her away from her for years, until Karen finally won custody from them, so she could care for her lover and partner.

    And of course there is the story of the deceased Judith Kasen and her married survivor Edith Windsor that led to a landmark decision in the US Supreme Court about marriage and tax rights of a lesbian couple.

    The parallel between these stories and the directives of this diocese, of course, is the treatment given to lesbian and gay people, some in relationships. The bishop and his minions would make the partners and even the deceased unnamable. They would divide the couples in death, demeaning their love and their relationships, and ascribing such hateful actions to the demands of the welcoming Jesus.

    But the bishop and his minions are actually following the example not of Jesus, but of the parents who disown and deny the reality of their own children. They are following the example of the families who would swoop in and deny their children access to their lovers, or would rob their children’s lover of her rights, and the government that would levy a heavy tax on a married partner’s survivor.

    Reply
    • Bishop Ioanna Lightoller
      Bishop Ioanna Lightoller says:

      The situations you’ve mentioned, especially the latter two, show very clearly why legal marriage is so important. As an attendant for Visiting Nurses and Hospice in San Francisco, I saw several similar situations. Same sex couples simply cannot depend on families to do the right thing if the couple is not legally married, even though many will.

      The attitude of these two bishops are why I left the Roman Catholic Church and will not return. To deprive someone of the comforts of anointing/Communion and a Catholic funeral simply because the person is gay or lesbian and married is reprehensible. I cannot imagine how someone could do something so cruel. I am now in one of the Independent Sacramental Eastern Rite groups and couldn’t be happier, having married a lovely lady a decade or so ago in Canada.

      I really hope the Roman Catholic Church changes its mind about this policy which is, to me, very bad pastoral policy. I don’t see that happening until the current crop of bishops have passed on. Let’s hope future bishops appointed to the various dioceses in the U.S. don’t support such barbarism.

      Reply
      • Deacon Tom Smith
        Deacon Tom Smith says:

        It seems a bit harsh to lump the entire “crop” of current bishops into a homophobic category. Many are Francis appointees who are supportive of GLBT Catholics and would fiercely defend their right to all the sacraments.

        Reply
  11. Deacon Thomas Smith
    Deacon Thomas Smith says:

    Ironically, bishops like this one are creating the very “scandal” they supposedly seek to avoid! (“Scandal” being basically defined as any action that seriously threatens one’s faith). Oh, and how dare ANYONE (esp. Church scholars) unequivocally label ANYONE a “manifest sinner”. Scandalous!

    Reply
  12. Lillian Moskeland
    Lillian Moskeland says:

    The bishop says his act is to prevent scandal? I am a 76 year old cradle Catholic and I am only scandalized by this bishop’s immoral offer to Madison priests. I hope and pray that those religious ignore his “offer”. The sorrow I feel for my LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ has damaged my own attitudes toward a church I truly weep for.

    Reply
  13. Steven L. Macy
    Steven L. Macy says:

    It is those bishops such as Morlino and Poprocki who are seriously scandalizing the church with such mean spirited and unchristian edicts. Why would anyone want to return to a church that discriminates so cruelly against those who have been created in God’s image as wonderously as anyone else?

    Reply
  14. Vernon Smith
    Vernon Smith says:

    Another statement from another bishop demonstrating yet more ignorance and prejudice. Every comment about who is really creating scandal here is right on point. Madison and Springfield are just a couple hours’ drive from Chicago. I know it’s not PC in the ranks of bishops to comment on their fellow bishop’s policies in another diocese. But I wish the fine pastor of Chicago would do some behind the scenes communications with his brothers down the road to get them to stop the unnecessary, nasty pronouncements. “Knock it off, guys!”

    Reply
  15. Jeanne Goessling
    Jeanne Goessling says:

    Only of late in my 65 years have I come to really understand the role of the pharisees and the sadducees and their place in scripture. Jesus always was able to challenge their assumptions.

    Reply
  16. Connie
    Connie says:

    Rules only apply to its flock not the clerics.
    RCC is solely focused on money power and control not it’s flock.
    Sooner you realise this the better so it will self implode. Hopefully soon! Jesus Christ weeps at its discrimination of women and marginalised.

    Reply
  17. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    It’s disgraceful and astonishing that in this age of greater emphasis on accompaniment, discernment conscience and pastoral support advocated in “Amoris Laetitia”, this exclusion continues – in flagrant disregard of not only common decency, but also standard Catholic practice not to deny funerals to anyone.
    Even four years ago, before the new era ushered in by Pope Francis, Cardinal Wuerl stated very clearly that married lesbian or gay Catholics are “not a problem” for the Church. http://queerchurch.com/?p=49652

    Reply

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