Directive asks priests to consider whether to perform funerals of people in same-sex relationships

Email sent by Vicar General of Diocese of Madison

Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Madison say Bishop Robert Morlino stands by a directive sent to priests to consider whether or not to perform funerals for a person in a same-sex relationship.

A weekly newsletter including the considerations was sent Saturday to priests by Vicar General James Bartylla in an email marked “private and confidential.” The section entitled “consideration of funeral rites for a person in a homosexual civil or notorious union” was first reported by the Pray Tell blog , and a copy of the correspondence was independently obtained by News 3.

Directive asks priests to consider whether to perform funerals of people in same-sex relationships

Bartylla tells priests in the email that they may encounter same-sex couples or their families asking for a Catholic funeral for their loved one, and directs them to “think through the issue thoroughly and prudently.”

Bullet points included in the directive sent by Bartylla include:

– 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 referrence (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 (i.e., limited to one priest or deacon and at merely essential times of a service or rite, if one occurs).

The Diocese of Madison offered an emailed statement to News 3 on Monday night, saying it would be their “only public statement” on the issue.

Directive asks priests to consider whether to perform funerals of people in same-sex relationships

“The communication attributed to Bishop Morlino was not an official diocesan policy, though it does conform with the mind of the bishop and meet his approval,” the statement reads in part.

The diocese says the email “was a result of pastoral questions asked by the priests themselves and was to serve as a tool to provide some framework and considerations in this confidential setting.”

The statement also raises concerns about the issue being published publicly.

“It is lamentable that some who have willfully and flippantly spread gossip, rumor and sadly even calumny in recent days on this subject have done so without asking the diocese for any clarification whatsoever,” the statement reads. “Those who place at risk the ability of the bishop to communicate with his priests confidentially do a grave harm to the Church and perform, indeed, what Sacred Scripture calls ‘a work of darkness.'”

The executive director of OutReach LGBT Community Center, Steve Starkey, believed the consideration to be “offensive and discriminatory,” but also acknowledged that at least the directive would give priests options rather than a demand.

“I would just hope that this day and age the Catholic Church would be more inclusive, and treat people more equally, especially somebody who’s coming to the Catholic Church and asking for a funeral service,” Starkey said. “They probably have a connection, have been members of the church, and it seems very discriminatory.”

Directive asks priests to consider whether to perform funerals of people in same-sex relationships