Should priests accused of abuse be denied public funerals?

The idea that a person’s funeral reflects his or her status in life is pretty much a given throughout the world, but Catholics should ask themselves: What is a funeral for?

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This idea that a person’s funeral reflects their status in life is pretty much a given throughout the world. The last huge funeral we experienced in Britain was that of the Queen Mother in April 2002: the pageantry was extraordinary, reflecting, one supposes, an extraordinary and long life.

The ‘Green Book’ as it is commonly called, which lays out the Catholic funeral rites, does say in the introduction that the funeral should reflect the life of the person, but it also makes clear that the funeral is a time for prayer and refection anchored in our belief in the Resurrection of the Lord. The focus must be on the Lord, and on the deceased’s Christian vocation, now fulfilled. Secular elements must not be allowed to crowd this out. But the idea that the Catholic funeral is somehow or another a ‘reward’ for living a good life, or a reflection on the status of the deceased, is still there. There is no level playing field for the dead, and this is partly the fault of the Church.

Everyone knows of famous people who were denied a Church funeral on the grounds that they were public sinners. Nowadays this would be unusual, to say the least; indeed, we have gone the other way, assuming that all who die automatically go to Heaven (Trigger warning: it may not be the case – some may be destined for Purgatory, and some even for another place.) But there is one group who are being treated differently in death, as I myself have noticed.

I was in a cemetery a short while ago and I noticed the grave of someone who I will call Father John Jones. Two things struck me as unusual: first, I had had no idea that he had died. Second, his cross just said “John Jones” without the customary “Father”. I made enquiries, and I was told that Fr Jones’s funeral service had taken place in a private chapel, and the death had been announced after the funeral. Two or three people had been present at the funeral, fellow members of his religious order. Of course, Father Jones had been credibly accused of child abuse, and out of ministry for some years, though never sentenced by any court. He had been an embarrassment to his order – hence the truncated ceremonies, the muted inscription; all this may have been done to avoid hurt to his victims. But it also meant that his friends (and he would have had some) would not have been able to attend his funeral.

The procedure in the case of Father Jones does raise questions. One may well ask whether this is right. But one also needs to remember the case of the Bishop of Dromore, Dr. McAreavey, who, in March this year, resigned because he had celebrated the Requiem Mass of a priest, in 2002, who had been credibly accused of pedophilia. His celebration of the funeral Mass effectively cost him the confidence of the people of his diocese and his job. So, it seems that when it comes to pedophile priests, the Church has no choice but to deny them the sort of funeral that any other Catholic would be given.

We are not all equal in death, after all. Moreover, praying for the dead, in some cases, of those who particularly need it, had better be done in private from now on. But is it right? Are we not all equal before God, whatever our sins and crimes? Perhaps even to ask the question is to underestimate the damage done by child abusers and the hurt they have caused. But at the same time, the question remains: what is a funeral for? To celebrate a life? Or to implore God’s mercy for a departed sinner? That is a question we are in danger of getting wrong.

Full story at The Catholic Herald.

Comments

  1. So a credible allegation merits severe punishment? What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Did Fr. Jones ever get his day in ‘court’?

  2. William Robert says:

    Priests and laity convicted of abuse of children or adults should be denied a public funeral. Those accused of some offense should be given the benefit of the doubt and provided a public funeral if that is their wish.

  3. Bob Bugiada says:

    One of the Catholic scandals that I often cite is the large funeral Mass given for Senator Edward Kennedy. Here was a man whose personal life was a shambles, who supported pro-abortion legislation throughout his career in the Senate, smeared Judge Bork, and who led the vote that doomed thousands of Vietnamese to a near genocide. At funerals, we celebrate the life that the decedent lived. Just like Ted Kennedy, the lives of abusive priests are not worthy of celebration.

    • “At funerals, we celebrate the life that the decedent lived.”

      That’s the problem, as the author pointed out. A funeral mass is for the repose of the soul of the decedent. For many it will represent the last prayers for their salvation. It is what it is, but this is another example where the Church has come to reflect the Protestant/secular culture. We’ve entered squarely into a kind of “evaluation” trap whereby a decision is made depending on how the optics measure up.

      Still, it would be very uncomfortable to be the guy that denied Kennedy his send off. The motto may as well be “bury them all and let God sort ’em out”.

    • I too had been scandalized at the hoopla surrounding Sen. Kennedy’s funeral. I felt that he should have a Catholic funeral but perhaps low key.

  4. Anonymous says:

    A Catholic funeral is not a celebration of the person’s life.
    It is a prayer for the soul of the person.

  5. I think the title of this article by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith should reference those convicted, as in “Should priests CONVICTED of abuse be denied public funerals?” And, the answer is probably no, unless, as Bob Bugiata says above, one has the stomach to agree that we also begin denying public funerals for public pro-abortion Roman Catholic politicians and those who work in abortion clinics, serial rapists, murderers, kidnappers, extortionists, human smugglers, drug lords, and the whole lot of various convicted felons whose cases are public knowledge. It’s either all public sinners or no public sinners. I personally think a public sinner needs all the prayers he or she can muster at the time of death.

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COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.