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