Diocese Defends Guidelines on Denying Funerals to Married Lesbian/Gay Catholics

Bishop Robert Morlino

LGBT advocates have sharply criticized guidelines from the Diocese of Madison that would bar married lesbian/gay Catholics from receiving funerals in the church, criticisms which prompted a defense from Bishop Robert Morlino and the Diocese.

One critics is Maddie Raffel, a high school senior in Madison who was confirmed by Morlino last year. Suggesting Pope Francis himself would be “disgusted” by the funeral guidelines, Raffel wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal:

“I do not think most members of the Catholic church appreciate Bishop Morlino’s view on this, and it makes me sick to think about the way we are being represented. His views contradict the core values of the Catholic church, love being the most important.

“This is no act of love, it is an act of hatred. Bishop Morlino’s actions have turned me away from the church, and it will do the same for many young Catholics out there. This is not the way I want to be represented because this is not what I believe.”

Jim Green, a gay Catholic who is in a same-gender relationship, also wrote an op-ed against the guidelines in the Wisconsin State Journal. Green said, “most gay Catholics have not left the church, but the institutional church has left us.” He continued:

“The scandal spelled out with these ‘considerations’ lies totally with the hierarchy. It is clear there is complete lack of understanding of sexual orientation or identity on the part of the local bishop. We are all created in God’s image, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics. The lack of pastoral care from this diocese is sad. . .Further in the so-called ‘guidelines’ to the diocesan priests, one of questions to be asked was, is the gay Catholic repentant before death? Repentant for what? For being made in God’s image.”

Two petitions have been launched relating to the guidelines. DignityUSA hosted one petition on Change.org that asks Bishop Morlino to withdraw the funeral guidelines because they are discriminatory. The petition, which has gained more than 3,500 signatures so far, reads in part:

“All Catholic families deserve to know that their loved ones will be treated as a loved, respected member of the Church at the time of their death. Telling people in same-sex relationships that they may not be given the full funeral rites of our Church makes us second-class members of the Church. This will increase the pain and grief that our families will experience while dealing with the loss of someone they love.”

A second petition with some 7,100 signatures so far calls for the resignation of Bishop Morlino due to a “14 year pattern and practice of abusing his power through hateful behavior [that] has no place in Madison, WI let alone the Catholic church.”

Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge which focuses on LGBT issues in the church, offered his own critical statement on Facebook:

“The problem, as I point out in ‘Building a Bridge,’ 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?). . .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).”

Against this criticism, the Diocese of Madison is defending what Msgr. James Bartylla, the vicar general, called a “a private and confidential communication.” He wrote a clarification about the guidelines that was posted by the diocesan newspaper the Catholic Herald. Elsewhere, the Diocese confirmed in a statement that the guidelines both were not official policy and were approved by the bishop. Spokesperson Brent King added that no “faithful” Catholics would join the protests.

The Catholic Herald also published a column by Morlino who, rather than addressing the guidelines directly, made the claim that in his diocese (where he has publicly criticized the song “All Are Welcome” for being too permissive) all people are welcome to “come as you are.”

The guidelines, titled “Consideration of Funeral Rites for a Person in a Homosexual Civil or Notorious Union,” identified people in same-gender civil marriages or those in “an otherwise notorious homosexual relationship” as being potential sources of public scandal if the church were to offer them funerals. Proposals for dealing with such situations included limiting the involvement of clergy, hosting a Mass for the Dead where the deceased’s name goes unmentioned, and in all cases refusing to acknowledge the deceased’s spouse or partner.

The voices of Maddie Raffel, Jim Green, and thousands of Catholics are sufficient evidence that not all feel welcome in the Diocese of Madison. Indeed, many people feel there is harsh discrimination at work there. Rather than continuing to defend pastorally harmful guidelines, Bishop Morlino and his clergy should be guided by Pope Francis’ call for pastors to listen to their flock and respect people’s consciences. To choose to do otherwise is the real scandal in Madison.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 7, 2017

10 replies
  1. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    These funeral guidelines in Madison Diocese are too disgusting for words. We are all shaking the dust from our sandals…

  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Why not just dig up any gay person already buried in a Catholic cemetery ? This bishop is lacking not only in understanding of his pastoral role , but also in compassion and decency. Keep at it at and watch your churches empty and then close. What nonsense !

    K J GEORGE says:

    What a SHAME! is it the Christian way taught by Jesus Christ?Pope Francis had said”Who am I to Judge” about same sex/homosexual/gay people. Last year we celebrated “Year of Mercy” is it the mercy Catholics show?All human beings are destined to get married and lead a married life. Each one’s destiny is decided by God and he/she will lead the life accordingly. Whoever was behind framing these guidelines done a very very bad job and need to ask the forgiveness of God for this. These are the people about who Jesus said “they will not enter themselves. They prevent those who come to enter.” We are about to enter year 2018 and the Catholic Church frame this type of rules and regulations.

  4. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Why is there no official challenge from the hierarchy from this hateful bishop’s repugnant actions? What is the papal nuncio doing if he is supposed to represent the Pope? I know it is “scandal” for one bishop to challenge another, but if they don’t , they imply consent. Shouldn’t every straight person who used birth control also be denied a funeral? Please someone point out to me where is Christ among the leadership of the church?

  5. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I see the spokespeople are digging in on their policy which was sent in a “private and confidential (read “secret”) communication.” I wonder why it is a spokesperson, not the bishop himself, who has publicly defended his policy against the criticisms leveled against it.

    There is a scandal here, and it is not from coupled gay and lesbian people who die or survive the death of a partner. It is from the mean spirited policy propagated in the dark, to exclude openly gay people from funeral rites. It’s not enough to fire partnered gay people. They must be pursued and drummed out even in death. Their very names and relationships must be erased from memory.

    The bishop, of course, can say or order whatever he wants. But it is ironic that he would issue such orders while dressed in lace and vestments embroidered in gold.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Yes indeed, John. This man is doing such damage to the public mission and pastoral outreach of the Catholic Church that something needs to be said about the suitability and the credibility of the person who is making such scathing criticisms of his fellow Christians.

  6. Gerard Zabik
    Gerard Zabik says:

    I am sickened by this man’s lack of understanding and the commitment to the Gospels of Christ Jesus. I am surprised that the Vatican is not stepping into this bigotry . The folks of the diocese ought to go around the National Conference of American Bishops and go to the Pope himself. He needs to see the abuse of pastoral care first hand and not have it filtered through some committee.

  7. Mi
    Mi says:

    Thank you for informing me continually of these sad dynamics. I am a praying Catholic Christian mtf attracted to women (if I must use a label).

  8. David Talbot
    David Talbot says:

    If you take a little time and read Canon Law on this subject you will discover that the Bishop and dioceses are simply being obedient. All the accusations you are making are false. The Bishop is just doing his job. Who are you to judge?


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