The archbishop of Seattle, Washington approved Catholic funeral rites for an active, unrepentant homosexual whose highly publicized suicide party involved "marrying" his gay partner while being accompanied by clairvoyants.
It's not the first time Abp. J. Peter Sartain has gotten in hot water over a funeral. In 2014 he was criticized for allowing the funeral Mass of a homosexual priest who had admitted to abusing as many as 10 boys. His funeral Mass was concelebrated by 20 priests of the archdiocese.
After backlash, Sartain issued a public statement regretting the scandal: "We will assure that this does not occur in any future similar situation." He also promised to review guidelines for funerals.
The archbishop wrote: "Even at a time as sensitive as the death of the perpetrator, the greatest prudence and sensitivity must be shown so that, while the deceased is given a Christian burial which proclaims the Lord's mercy and our hope in the Resurrection, the impression is not given that the abuse perpetrated by the deceased did not take place or was not serious."
The reasoning is similar to his justification for approving the funeral Mass of a same-sex married Catholic who threw a celebration party on the day of his suicide.
The archdiocese's Aug. 28 statement makes clear parish leadership sought — and received — permission from the archbishop before proceeding with Robert Fuller's funeral Mass at St. Therese Catholic Church in Seattle:
Once it was clear that Mr. Fuller was not going to change his mind, the pastor reached out to his leadership to discuss the situation.
Archbishop Sartain agreed that it is the church's responsibility to pastorally care for those who mourn. With this in mind, he gave permission for the funeral with certain conditions to ensure there was no endorsement or other perceived support for the way in which Mr. Fuller ended his life.
Church Militant spoke with archdiocesan spokeswoman Helen McClenahan, who said she would confirm the precise date Sartain granted approval, but heard nothing back as of press time.
Critics have noted that Sartain's actions violate canon 1184, which states, "Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals: notorious apostates, heretics and schismatics; other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful."
Fuller's situation met all the criteria of 1184: He was a manifest sinner who showed no signs of repentance before death — his last acts involved marrying his gay partner and having a celebration before his suicide. His funeral has also clearly caused public scandal.
Fuller also indulged in paganism, one of his last posts on social media expressing hopes of being welcomed into eternity "as Shaman": "See you all later today. I'm ready to be welcomed by my Ancestors as Shaman."
A May 6 Facebook post shows Fuller praising two friends as his "spirit-world clairvoyants" who would be present at his suicide party, and promoting a self-described clairvoyant who offers "aura readings and healings." A May 3 post states, "My Kharmic scales are balanced."
Fuller's highly publicized death was a fact well known at his parish, an "inclusive," pro-LGBT community where he sang in the choir and served as lector.
Local and national media expressed interest in documenting Fuller's suicide, as made clear by this and other posts on Fuller's page:
Later this week the filming crew from KING-5 will be here documenting my journey. We’ve grown very close. Choosing DWD [Death With Dignity] gives me the chance to have closure with friends and for old acquaintances to re-connect. ... And I want others to hear about this option. That’s why KING-5, the Associated Press, and local journalists are reaching out to me. And I'm so appreciative.
Leaving out the grave problem of Fuller's months-long premeditated suicide and his paganism, the fact that Fuller was a well-known active homosexual would have been sufficient to bar him from a Catholic funeral.
Two dioceses have cited canon 1184 to address such instances.
In a decree issued in June 2017, Bp. Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois wrote, "Unless they have given some signs of repentance before death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites."
And in an October 2017 note, the vicar general for the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin wrote, "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."
Sartain justified his approval based on "pastoral" reasons, while failing to consider that his "pastoral" response caused public scandal by giving the appearance that the Church minimizes the gravity of Fuller's choices. More appropriate pastoral responses would have consisted of private prayer and counseling for the grieving family, or the possibility of a low-key graveside service without a Mass.
Critics have noted the dishonesty of the archdiocese's initial Aug. 27 response, which deflected attention onto the priest who gave the final blessing while wholly failing to mention the part the archbishop played.
The case of Robert Fuller garnered national media attention after an Associated Press story revealed Jesuit priest Fr. Quentin Dupont gave Fuller a final blessing on May 5 at his parish, where Fuller — who suffered from orthopharyngeal carcinoma — received Holy Communion. A photo shows Fuller surrounded by first communicants and tearful parishioners, who were aware of his plans to kill himself.
An initial response to the story issued by Abp. Sartain and Abp. Paul Etienne appeared to express surprise and concern over the event.
"The Associated Press story about Mr. Fuller is of great concern to the Archbishops because it may cause confusion among Catholics and others who share our reverence for human life," the statement read.
The statement went on to claim Dupont was unaware of Fuller's plans to commit suicide when he gave the final blessing — a claim that was met with widespread skepticism, as the AP report made clear the parish had known for months about Fuller's plans.
A March 16 Facebook post by Fuller appears to contradict Dupont's claims of ignorance, as CNA first reported.
After announcing his decision to kill himself by taking 100 Seconal capsules, Fuller writes, "And my pastor/sponsor has given me his blessings. And he's a Jesuit!!!"
The pastor of St. Therese parish, Fr. Maurice Mamba, is not a Jesuit. But Fr. Dupont, S.J. frequently offered Mass at the parish and was asked by Fuller to give the final blessing.
Dupont has denied that he is the Jesuit sponsor mentioned by Fuller, saying in an America interview that he had no ongoing relationship with Fuller and does not know which Jesuit he was referring to in his Facebook post. Dupont admits he noticed a TV crew at the Mass and a photographer taking photos.
"I am shocked," says Dupont about reaction to the scandal, while praising the pastor of St. Therese Church for responding to Fuller's suicide plans "very pastorally and very well."
Dupont also praised the archdiocese for "being willing to let this funeral happen for this man who sought and wanted this comfort in this celebration of life in the church."
Dupont's denial leads to further questions. He claims he would "absolutely" not have given Fuller a blessing had he known of his suicide plans, yet praises Sartain for choosing a far more controversial and significant course of action: full Catholic funeral rites. A blessing is a minor affair compared to a public Catholic funeral Mass, yet Dupont claims he would've objected to giving the blessing while giving full approval to a funeral Mass. The incongruency casts doubt on his denials.
The Seattle archdiocese doubled down on its claims in its Aug. 28 statement, claiming Dupont was a "visiting priest who happened to be at St. Therese that particular day" and only then learned of the dying man's request for a blessing.
What many Catholics are seeing as damage control by the Seattle archdiocese in its attempt to respond to national scandal has done little to shore up the confidence of laity, whose trust in the hierarchy after the explosive McCarrick revelations, Abp. Viganò's testimony and the Summer of Shame — exposing wholesale dishonesty and corruption on the part of clergy — is at an all-time low.