Wisconsin Diocese Cautions Against Funeral Rites for Active Gays

by Rodney Pelletier  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 23, 2017   

Concern over causing scandal

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MADISON, Wis. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Wisconsin diocese is advising priests to be careful with funerals for people who lived a homosexual lifestyle to avoid scandalizing the faithful.

In a memo issued on October 21 by James Bartylla, vicar general of the diocese of Madison, headed by Bp. Robert Morlino, Bartylla addressed funerals in Catholic parishes for people who were in "a public union gravely contrary to the natural law," specifically referring to homosexual civil unions.

Although not authored by Bp. Morlino, a Madison diocese statement clarified that the directives "conform with the mind of the bishop and meet his approval."

The directives encourage priests to "think through the issue thoroughly and prudently," adding that if a priest is not sure how to deal with a particular situation, "the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment is to be followed."

Referring to Church law, the directives note that "funeral rites may be denied for manifest sinners in which public scandal of the faithful can't be avoided."

The main reason for treating the funerals of deceased homosexuals carefully is the potential for "scandal and confusion" and the possibility of "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."

The guidelines ask, however, that all be done "amidst the solicitude for the deceased and family."

They offer the following thoughts to help guide his priests to make the right decision in a situation:

  • 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 or 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).

A dissident, pro-gay group is lashing out. "This document is the very antithesis of pastoral care," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, in a statement released Sunday, going on to call the directives "outrageous and shameful."

"This is heartless. It is cruel. It is unchristian in the extreme," she complained.

Morlino is considered one of the more faithful Catholic bishops in the United States.

In 2016, he ordered all churches in his diocese to move tabernacles to the middle of the sanctuary, giving the nearly 134 parishes with tabernacles somewhere else three years to comply. His spokesman commented, "This isn't just another piece of furniture in the sanctuary. It is housing the living God."

He also announced in October 2016 that all the Masses he celebrates will be ad orientem — with the priest and the people facing the altar.

More recently, he required priests to recommend that people receive the Holy Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling.

After condemning in 2015 the schismatic group , the Society of St. Pius X, Morlino commented, "I want to stress that the need for a reform of the reform is real, and it is underway in our diocese." He added, "If you see that the Church needs fixing, work with your bishop, your pastors and your fellow lay faithful to fix it."

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