Priests advised they can deny funerals for those in same-sex relationships

Catholic priests can deny funeral rights for those in same-sex partnerships, according to  an email sent to priests in the Catholic Diocese of Madison this week from Vicar General James Bartylla, 

The private email, confirmed by WKOW, was first published by the Pray Tell blog and provides priest with guidance on how to handle requests for funeral services for families in same-sex partnerships.

(Read the email here)

"My short answer to pastors and parochial vicars in these cases," Bartylla writes, "is to think through the issue thoroughly and prudently." 

He goes on the write, however, that there are occasions when funeral rights may be denied.

A statement released by the Diocese of Madison after the email was published said that the guidance wasn't official diocesan policy, though it does conform with the mind of the bishop and meet his approval.

"No such policy could adequately cover every case, and it has always been the “policy” of the Diocese of Madison, on the matter of public funerals in general, that pastors are charged with addressing the particular situations of their people – whom they ideally know well and whom they have accompanied, even until their death," the statement read.

"The communication, which took the form of a weekly e-mail to priests from the vicar general of the diocese, was a result of pastoral questions asked by the priests themselves, and was to serve as a tool to provide some framework and considerations, in this confidential setting.

"Without a policy, and as the communication itself states, the priests are asked to “think through the issue thoroughly and prudently,” and this was a response to those who asked for assistance in their task – as well as other priests who might have similar situations and questions.

"It is lamentable that some who have willfully and flippantly spread gossip, rumor, and sadly even calumny, in recent days on this subject, have done so without asking the diocese for any clarification whatsoever.

"Likewise, those who place at risk the ability of the bishop to communicate with his priests confidentially do a grave harm to the Church and perform, indeed, what Sacred Scripture calls “a work of darkness.”

In a statement on the DignityUSA website, Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke, called the directives “outrageous and shameful.”

DignityUSA is the organization of Catholics committed to equality for LGBTQI people in the Church and society.

“This document is the very antithesis of pastoral care,” Duddy-Burke wrote. “It shows that this bishop believes that lesbian and gay people who have lived a deep commitment to a spouse or partner should be demeaned even in death. Our families could be refused the sacraments of our faith at the moment of their greatest grief. This is heartless. It is cruel. It is unchristian in the extreme.”

Duddy-Burke noted that in June 2017 Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois banned Catholics in same-sex marriages from Communion and from receiving Catholic funerals. Bishop Paprocki was later forced to state that these bans applied to others in relationships not affirmed by the Church, such as those divorced and remarried without an annulment.

“It seems there are a number of bishops in the U.S. who are intent on penalizing the LGBTQI community as harshly as possible,” said Duddy-Burke. “Some tried this shameful tactic during the height of the AIDS crisis, denying Catholic funerals to those who died of the disease. It only served to devastate families in need of comfort. Now, Church officials see they have lost in the civic arena, on the issues of marriage equality, military service, and adoption, so they are lashing out again. But we and the vast majority of Catholics now know there is no conflict between loving someone of the same gender and loving our faith. Masking attempts to separate LGBTQI Catholics from the rest of the Church under the guise of pastoral instructions breaks the Body of Christ. It shows that these bishops are unwilling to do the real work of pastoral leadership, which is to engage their flocks in honest dialogue.”

According to the Pray Tell blog, the guidance sent to Diocese of Madison priests gave these suggestions:

Was the deceased or the “partner” a promoter of the “gay” lifestyle?  What is the attitude of the deceased’s family members, especially towards the Church?

Did the deceased give some signs of repentance before death?

If ecclesiastical funeral rites are allowed, should they occur without a Mass?

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).

For more go to WKOW:

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