A friend posed the question many are asking: Why on earth did Cardinal Law receive the funeral that he did? She was looking for someone to justify that decision in a way that didn’t make her seethingly angry.
I am not the person for that task, since I don’t know the man and have nothing to say in his favor. Nor do I have information on how the funeral rated in comparison to what other men holding similar office are typically given.
Canon Law Made Easy has a post here that lays out when and whether Catholics may be denied a funeral Mass, and also when non-Catholics may be given one. The Church basically allows just what your instincts dictate in both situations.
The difficulty is in the application. Funerals concern not just the deceased but the bereaved, and the fact that we wish to honor our dead with a funeral doesn’t mean we necessarily approve of everything they ever did.
Before we armchair rectors consider Cardinal Law’s case, though, I think it’s helpful to back-up and think through the issue more broadly:
What is your overall approach to funeral masses for notorious sinners?
Which sins do you think are serious enough that some kind of penalty should be imposed even concerning the funeral, and for which do you think one should give the benefit of the doubt and let God do the sorting?
Grabbing some examples from today’s news, what would you suggest would make a fitting funeral for these murderers? How about this thief? How about these people who neglect the care of the vulnerable? This murderer? This rapist? These corrupt officials? This mentally-ill person? The dealers facilitating these overdose deaths? The officials whose policies are starving these children?
The world is full of guilty people. How would you personally decide which get a funeral and which don’t, if their loved ones had to entrust you with that decision? What kinds of crimes would you excuse, and which ones would you tolerate? How severe does the crime need to be?
Would you only question cases where civil laws had been violated, or would you also consider the guilt of those whose sins are state-sanctioned? If you look to the civil law to guide you, how would you distinguish between the mother who sought a legal abortion, a doctor who performed one, the family members who pressured the woman into it — and all that in comparison to a ruthless murderer of a dictator whose office and actions are approved by his nation’s laws and courts?
There are many factors to consider. And then . . .
How much evidence of repentance would you demand before you gave the funeral the green light?
Or would you make no distinctions at all? Were it left to you, would you offer a funeral to anyone who requested it?
And then, having made your general rules, what would you say to the people who disagreed with you? How would you respond to those who felt you were too merciful, and those who found you were not merciful enough?
These questions aren’t easy to decide.