MADISON, Wisconsin — A top aide to Bishop Robert Morlino has issued guidance to priests in the Catholic Diocese of Madison that critics say could limit funeral rites for gay people.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Vicar General James Bartylla sent an email to priests Saturday, with the bishop’s approval, that says rites “may be denied for manifest sinners” if they would cause unavoidable “public scandal of the faithful.”
The email was published by Pray Tell, a progressive blog covering Church issues.
The message laid out “general considerations” for priests asked to perform Catholic funeral rites by a deceased person’s family or same-sex partner, including whether “the deceased or the ‘partner’ was a ‘promoter of the gay lifestyle.'”
Bartylla told the priests of the diocese to think through the issue “thoroughly and prudently” and said they would likely call diocesan officials early in the process to discuss the situation.
“The main issue centers around scandal and confusion (leading others into the occasion of sin or confusing or weakening people regarding the teachings of the Catholic Church in regards to sacred doctrine and the natural law), and thereby the pastoral task is to minimize the risk of scandal and confusion to others amidst the solicitude for the deceased and family,” the communication reads.
The email contained a list of general considerations to take into account, including if the deceased showed any sign of repentance, limiting any role a partner can take in the funeral, and limiting the number of clergy involved in the ceremony.
“This document is the very antithesis of pastoral care,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, a gay rights organization seeking change in the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
“It shows that this bishop believes that lesbian and gay people who have lived a deep commitment to a spouse or partner should be demeaned even in death. Our families could be refused the sacraments of our faith at the moment of their greatest grief. This is heartless. It is cruel. It is unchristian in the extreme,” Duddy-Burke said in a statement.
Diocese spokesman Brent King calls the vicar general’s message advisory. He says there were no real directives except to “think through the issue thoroughly and prudently.”
Crux staff contributed to this report.