Right to church burial; does forgiveness have limits?
Q. Recently, a local priest refused to bury a resident of his town because the person did not go to church. The priest was told that the deceased had confessed and received Comm on his deathbed, but that did not seem to matter. Fortunately, a neighboring priest was willing to celebrate the funeral Mass. What should we do with regard to the first priest, except to pray for him (which I am doing)? (Wisconsin)
A. Sometimes in cases like this, the story contains elements of hearsay and the facts become clouded. But if it really happened as you describe, then I would disagree with the first priest's determination.
According to the Code of Canon Law (No. 1176), Catholics have the right to a Church funeral, and this is generally true even if the deceased was not regularly practicing his faith at the time of death. In certain situations, Catholic funeral rites may be refused, but only by exception - notably (in No. 1184) for "manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful." Notorious members of crime syndicates would be an example of this.
No matter how openly sinful a person's life has been, a Catholic funeral is never to be denied if the person has manifested repentance before dying. When opera star Luciano Pavarotti died in Italy in 2007, some expressed surprise that a funeral Mass was celebrated in his hometown cathedral with messages of condolence from an archbishop and even from Pope Benedict XVI, since it was commonly known that, following a divorce, he had conceived a child with his secretary, whom he later married in a civil ceremony.
According to several news sources, Pavarotti's pastor stated that the singer had been reconciled to the Church before his death.
In the case you mention, if the pastor had any doubt as to the proper course of action, Canon No. 1184 states that he should have sought the advice of his bishop. In such situations, I believe that the presumption should normally favor the deceased - a presumption only to be overridden in extreme situations.
Simply being a sinner does not render one unworthy of a Catholic burial - in fact, it's precisely because we are sinners that we need the funeral Mass.
Q. In Matthew 18:21-22, we are given a standard of forgiveness which I interpret to mean that we are to forgive always ("not seven times, but seventy seven"). I'm at a loss, though, as to how to apply that in my case. For a long time, I've had a terrible relationship with my mother, who lost custody of two of her three children (including myself) for continually putting us in unsafe and inappropriate situations.
I've never had a problem feeling compassion for my mother and I often pray for her. But I decided a long time ago that when I had children of my own, I would love my mother from a distance and not give her the chance to hurt or influence my children. A few times since then, I've tried giving her opportunities to redeem herself only to find out that I was wrong - to the detriment of my children's well-being.
Despite this, I am forever being asked by friends and family to give my mother another chance by allowing her some controlled interaction so that she'll know the blessing of grandchildren. What I'm struggling with is this: Is it enough that God knows I've forgiven my mother, or must I show it by giving her another chance with my children? (Rochester, N.Y.)
A. You are correct in thinking that the mandate for a Christian is to strive to forgive always. From the facts as you've explained them, I believe that you've done that. (Bringing the person before the Lord in prayer is a good first step to forgiveness, because it reminds us that all of us are flawed and in need of God's help.)
I hope that your mother knows you've forgiven her, and I imagine you've been able to communicate that to her.
Forgiveness, though, does not demand that you put your children in peril, and you, as their parent, are in the best position to know what would cause them harm. It is difficult for me to make a clear call here with limited information: I have no idea what your mother's original missteps were that caused her to lose custody, nor what damage you perceived when you tried giving her the chance to be an active grandmother, nor what sort of "controlled interaction" your friends and family are now suggesting.
In situations like this, you are probably best advised to have a face-to-face discussion with a priest or other trusted counselor where all of the circumstances can be reviewed.