Last week, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois issued a decree forbidding persons in “same-sex marriages” who cause public scandal from receiving Communion or from being received into the Church through RCIA if they choose not to end their relationship. Pastors are to meet with such individuals in private and call them to conversion through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Some, like Fr. James Martin, have criticized the decree as an example of the Church’s judgmentalism and lack of inclusion. But when we examine the Church’s teaching on celebrating funerals we see that it’s not intended to bring condemnation to sinners but rather prayerful support for the deceased and solace hope for the living.
Who can receive a Catholic funeral?
According to the Code of Canon Law, “Deceased members of the Christian faithful must be given ecclesiastical funerals according to the norm of law” (1176.1). This also includes catechumens who died before they received the sacraments of initiation like baptism and confirmation (CIC 1183.1). If a bishop deems it appropriate, a funeral can also be given to children who died before being baptized or even, in some cases, to a baptized non-Catholic (CIC 1183.2-3).
The inclusion of catechumens and unbaptized children shows that the Church wants to provide funerals for as many believers as possible. However, canon 1184 stipulates that:
Unless [the deceased] gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:
1. Notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;
2. Those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;
3. Other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.
The Catechism teaches that “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection” (2300). This means all people, including non-Christians, should receive honorable burials. But in the context of a Christian funeral we recognize that “the Church who, as Mother, has born the Christian sacramentally in her womb during his earthly pilgrimage, accompanies him at his journey’s end, in order to surrender him ‘into the Father’s hands’” (CCC 1683).
A Christian funeral can serve as a reminder to those who have separated themselves from God through mortal sin that they should reconcile with God as soon as possible, since the time of our earthly departure can be sudden and unexpected. But a funeral for someone who engaged in manifest, unrepentant sin could cause those in attendance, or even those who merely hear about the funeral, to think that certain mortal sins are not a big deal. “After all,” they may ask, “If the morally certain hope of eternal life is preached at this person’s funeral, then why would it be wrong to live just like he did?”
This part of canon law does not forbid funerals for Christians who struggled with sin (otherwise no one would have a Christian funeral). It also does not forbid funerals for people whose struggle with serious sins had become public knowledge. It only includes “manifest sinners” whose funerals could cause the faithful to think their unrepentant, mortally sinful behavior was not a serious matter. It prohibits liturgies that distort the truth that “all who die in God’s grace and friendship [emphasis added], but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation” (CCC 1030).
A less-controversial example that illustrates this point involves refusing funerals to members of organized crime families. Notorious gangsters such as John Gotti and Paul Castellano, for example, were denied Catholic funerals because of their potential for scandal.
In response to Bishop Paprocki’s decree, Fr. James Martin—who recently published a book on how the Church can build bridges with the “LGBT community”—wrote this on his public Facebook page:
If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. They must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments, women who has or man who fathers a child out of wedlock, members of straight couples who are living together before marriage, and anyone using birth control. For those are all against church teaching as well. Moreover, they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a “sign of unjust discrimination.”