The Vicar General of the Madison diocese in Wisconsin, Msgr James R Bartylla, above, recently issued an email communication called ‘Consideration of Funeral Rites for a Person in a Homosexual Civil or Notorious Union’ – and after it was leaked it caused outrage, and rightly so.
The communication, according to Pray Tell, sets out guidelines for priests who are asked to conduct the funeral services of a persons in a ‘notorious homosexual relationship’ and advises that such services are to be conducted in a way that will ‘minimise the risk of scandal and confusion’.
Bartylla, who is deputised to oversee the administrative tasks in the 11-county diocese, which encompasses about 270,000 Catholics in 134 churches, wrote.
The main issue centers around scandal and confusion (leading others into the occasion of sin or confusing or weakening people regarding the teachings of the Catholic Church in regards to sacred doctrine and the natural law), and thereby the pastoral task is to minimise the risk of scandal and confusion to others amidst the solicitude for the deceased and family.
Bartylla listed several factors that a priest should take into account when considering whether or not to conduct the religious rite, including: “Was the deceased or the ‘partner’ a promoter of the ‘gay’ lifestyle?’ And “Did the deceased give some signs of repentance before death?”
Bartylla also advised that the surviving partner of the deceased should not have any public or prominent role at any ecclesiastical funeral rite or service.
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 (ie, limited to one priest or deacon and at merely essential times of a service or rite, if one occurs).
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 (eg, 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.
Most shocking is Bartylla’s advice that:
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.
According to this report, the diocese’s Communications Director Brent King said that the communication published on the Pray Tell blog is “not an official diocesan policy”. However, he added that “it does conform with the mind of the bishop [Robert C Morlino] and meets his approval”.
Homosexual Catholics have reacted with outrage to the guidelines. Marianne Duddy-Burke, above, Executive Director of the Catholic LGBTQ advocacy group DignityUSA, said that the guidelines were:
Outrageous and shameful. This document is the very antithesis of pastoral care. 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.
Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of the homosexual Catholic group, New Ways Ministry, said he believed these guidelines harm Catholic families who are grieving.
Funerals are times that families will remember for a long time. If they are turned away at that point, it is very likely they will never return. For the sake of the Catholic Church and for LGBT Catholics and their families, the Diocese of Madison should rescind this decision immediately and offer a public apology.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn