Thursday, June 22, 2017

James Martin on Funeral Rites for LGBT Couples

Today, James Martin, SJ, now a consultant to the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications and ubiquitous member of the Jesuit twitterati, tweeted out a message in seven successive tweets. For ease of reading, I put the tweets together:
If bishops ban members of same-sex couples from funeral rites, they must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics without annulments, women who have children out of wedlock, members of straight couples living together before marriage [and] anyone using birth control, for these are all similarly against "church teaching" on sexuality. Moreover, they must ban anyone who has gone against the church's teaching on caring for the poor and on caring for the environment. More basically, they must ban anyone who hasn't been forgiving, or merciful, or loving. That last category are the teachings of Jesus's, the most basic of "church teachings." To focus only on LGBT people, even those in same-sex marriages, without a similar focus on the sexual or moral behavior of straight people is in the words of the "Catechism" a "sign of unjust discrimination" (2358).
Buried amidst various errors and obfuscations, there is a valid point. All things being equal, it would be unreasonable and perhaps unjust for the Church to "single out" any category of notorious and unrepentant grave sinners for the denial of funeral rites. And, yes, that would include people involved in "LGBT" relationships.

But Martin falsely frames the problem. The Catholic Church has never argued that funeral rites should be denied to sinners or even grave sinners. Obviously, it it did so, funerals would largely be confined to the deaths of recently baptized infants. Rather, the Church has traditionally argued that funeral rites may (or more accurately, must) be denied to those notorious sinners who steadfastly refused to repent or reconcile themselves to the Church, and where there is no evidence or likelihood that they did so, even at the point of death.

Here is how the Code of Canon Law states it:
Can. 1183 §1. When it concerns funerals, catechumens must be counted among the Christian faithful.
§2. The local ordinary can permit children whom the parents intended to baptize but who died before baptism to be given ecclesiastical funerals.
§3. In the prudent judgment of the local ordinary, ecclesiastical funerals can be granted to baptized persons who are enrolled in a non-Catholic Church or ecclesial community unless their intention is evidently to the contrary and provided that their own minister is not available.
Can. 1184 §1. Unless they 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.
§2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.
Can. 1185 Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.
The Catholic site Fisheaters summarizes it this way:
Catholic funerals are denied to the unbaptized (note that catechumens, including infants whose parents planned on having them baptized, are baptized by desire, and that martyrs are baptized by blood); infidels; heretics; suicides (unless they were of unsound mind or showed signs of repentance); notorious, unrepentant sinners; the excommunicated; the schismatic; those under ecclesiastical censure; and those who, without remorse, have openly held the sacraments in contempt; and those who, for anti-Christian motives, choose to be cremated.
That, especially in contemporary times, some priests and bishops have often ignored Canon Law and tradition on funeral rites is true but beside the point. If they did so, they were in error. I have no doubt that Fr. Martin would rewrite Canon Law and much of Catholic theology were it within his power, but he has, of course, not done so.

Martin mentions all sorts of different categories of sin that people, including faithful Catholics engage in every day. Who has not failed to always be loving or merciful or forgiving? But these are the sorts of things that one confesses to regularly, or at least tries to, if one can even remember all of the instances. That's part of the meaning and practice of being Catholic. Catholic funeral rites are precisely for such people, though I suppose one might imagine an extreme hypothetical case where such activities might put one outside the Church at the moment of death - one of sound mind tells the priest giving last rights that he utterly refuses to forgive so and so for doing such and such because so and so was such a jerk, and if that means he'll go to hell for saying it, then so be it, the love of Christ be damned - but one presumes that that sort of example is rare.

Then there are the "political" sins, which Martin is so fond of. Speaking for myself, I'm sure I'm on his list of "sinners," as I oppose much of the current quasi-socialist and environmentalist movements. But I do so not because I sadistically want to see the poor dying in the streets or much of the earth fried to a cinder or whatever but because I simply disagree with the empirical claims of the agenda. Among other things, I believe that many government programs actually make things worse for the poor, and global warming legislation will have either no positive effect or a net negative effect on the earth and the lives of its inhabitants. If I am a sinner (which I am) it's not because I oppose the global warming agenda. The same goes for millions of other Catholics, of course.

Of more relevance is the Catholic position on the sexual sins in general, as well as the issue of divorce. The faithful Catholic is always invited to repent of such things, from inappropriate behavior at a bar up to and including extra-marital sex or even abortion. And again, it's possible, to imagine the hypothetical case of someone, of sound mind and fully informed, steadfastly refusing to ask forgiveness for such activities, even at the point of death.

In this, I suppose, Fr. Martin is correct that a member of an "LGBT" couple might be in some ways be in a similar position to a divorced and "remarried" person. The Church hopes that the dying person would be repentant in the end, to which, the presence of a priest would be, at the least, helpful.

Unless of course, one were confronted in one's last hours with Fr. Martin or his like. It's very clear that Martin does not really believe that gay sex or out-of-wedlock sex in general is sinful. So, it's doubtful that the issue would be pressed, presented or would even be "live" in any way, so to speak.

And that is, of course, the problem. The Church has always acknowledged that culpability for sin may often be lessoned due to various factors, including lack of knowledge. On the other hand, it has also proclaimed the very real effects of people being mislead to the point where they will be damned because of it. Jesus is explicit on this point in the Gospels.

Technically, Martin, a notorious public heretic, as well as, arguably, someone who holds the sacraments in contempt, should also be denied the funeral rites of the Church (given the usual caveat of last-minute repentance). Up to a few generations ago, he would have been.

And, of course, the faithful Catholic should pray for Martin and those like him. But he should also pray for those who are being mislead by them. If Catholic teachings are true, then false and anti-Catholic teachings can have real effects, including the worst real effect imaginable - that of being permanently separated from God.


  1. Father Martin is a liar. Like most of his ilk he is a master of mixing truth with lies - you know, the old Marxist trick. And it works a treat with the uneducated Catholic.

    Can we even pray for this man? I pray, as I guess I must, that he be given enough light to see his own sins of apostasy and heresy before he dies.

    If I were a faithful Catholic priest, and was asked, I would refuse MARTIN of a Catholic funeral.

  2. Shared this on Facebook with a bunch n. o.'S who think this bishop is appalling for forbidding the funerals.¬if_t=feed_comment_reply¬if_id=1498167626850968&ref=m_notif

    Seattle kim

  3. At a Catholic funeral the priest says the same prayers for a notorious sinner as for a saint . The priest asks God to forgive the sins of the deceased with no pretension that the person was sinless.
    There is no eulogy during the service.Neither do we boast of the great deeds nor do we declare the crimes of the deceased. Death equalizes us all.Burying the dead is prescribed by Jesus and it can lead to conversion of the witnesses. God is merciful and the Catholic church ought to manifest mercy by burying all of the dead.

  4. The sin of sodomy is in fact is MUCH worse....

    Saint Peter Damian:

    (The vice of sodomy) "surpasses the enormity of all others," because:
    "Without fail, it brings death to the body and destruction to the soul. It pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the mind, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, and gives entrance to the devil, the stimulator of lust. It leads to error, totally removes truth from the deluded mind ... It opens up hell and closes the gates of paradise ... It is this vice that violates temperance, slays modesty, strangles chastity, and slaughters virginity ... It defiles all things, sullies all things, pollutes all things ... This vice excludes a man from the assembled choir of the Church ... it separates the soul from God to associate it with demons. This utterly diseased queen of Sodom renders him who obeys the laws of her tyranny infamous to men and odious to God. She strips her knights of the armor of virtue, exposing them to be pierced by the spears of every vice ... She humiliates her slave in the church and condemns him in court; she defiles him in secret and dishonors him in public; she gnaws at his conscience like a worm and consumes his flesh like fire. ... this unfortunate man (he) is deprived of all moral sense, his memory fails, and the mind's vision is darkened. Unmindful of God, he also forgets his own identity. This disease erodes the foundation of faith, saps the vitality of hope, dissolves the bond of love. It makes way with justice, demolishes fortitude, removes temperance, and blunts the edge of prudence. Shall I say more?"

    St. Paul made it pretty clear in Romans 1 why this was one of 4 sins that cry out to Heaven for is the consequence of the gravest sin of idolatry, and intrinsically, ontologically, inseparably tied to it.

    It is, in point of fact, much worse than most. And the funny thing is, this wasn't even debated in saner times...when intellects and reason weren't as darkened by the atmosphere of sin that is the very air around us.