My Religion Is Hurting (Part II)

Note: This is a continuation of the post "My Religion is Hurting (Part I)."

Discrimination Against LGBTQ+ Community in Death

In offense directed less at the LGBTQ+ individual and more so at their families and loved ones, the Catholic Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, led by Bishop Robert Morlino, issued guidelines to priests on how to handle requests to hold funeral services for someone in a same-sex relationship. The guidelines make it clear that it is perfectly acceptable and likely necessary from the Church’s perspective to deny funeral rights to someone in a same-sex relationship.

Funerals for single LGBTQ+ individuals are not addressed in accordance with the belief that acting upon one’s gayness is a “manifestation of sin,” while gay thoughts without actions is plausibly deniable. As long as one is not out and, worse, proud, the Catholic Church has no reason to believe that you are anything other than what is “acceptable” in their definition of “normal.”

The Church will glady perform the funeral of a non-attached gay person because it seems that there’s nothing the Church likes better than the non-expression of sexuality (with the exception of a married, straight couple with the sole purpose of reproduction, without the intervention of the medical community.)

The blog Pray Tell first posted an excerpt of the guidelines written by Vicar General James Bartylla, who encourages priests to consider how to best “minimize the risk of scandal” before agreeing to performing the funeral. The guidelines are more about protecting the Church and its power than it is about compassion. Bartylla also uses the word confusion as a justification for denial, believing that performing such a funeral could have the following effects:

  1. The entire Catholic community will become a flamboyant, assless-chap wearing crowd (Not that there’s anything wrong with the flamboyant, assless-chap wearing crowd, but it’s certainly not a representative of how diverse the LGBTQ+ is.)

  2. The Church will appear soft in this manner and then will lose the ability to talk about any moral issue. The thought appears to be that, if the Church accepts gay people, the world will believe that it’s also okay with murder, lying, theft, adultery, etc.

These reasons are superficial. Allowing someone to express their gender identity is not the gateway drug to other sins; no one is going to “choose” to be gay because the Catholic Church is no longer trying to pray it away, and logical persons will realize that performing a funeral is not an official policy change, no matter how much the Church’s anti-gay policies need to change.

Unsurprisingly, the Diocese is more concerned that someone on the confidential email list newsletter released these guidelines to the press than how heartless the message and Church’s position appears (remind you of any other autocrats?). That said, the guidelines are merely suggestions, so priests do have some room to act with kindness and ignore the Diocese’s recommendations.

How often priests will act with their heart instead of following orders from their Dioceses remains to be seen though, and I will protest the Church’s treatment of gay individuals until the Vatican issues a statement fully recognizing equal marriage and disavowing any bigoted priest and parishioner who discriminates against the LGBTQ+ community.

Bartylla’s note includes the following questions that priests should ask before agreeing to perform a funeral (note the quotations):

  1. 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?

  2. Did the deceased give some signs of repentance before death?

In regards to question one: I know this may seem to make light of this statement, but when I die, please share the hell out of this piece. Here’s why: Even as a married, cisgender woman, I am in violation of this question because I try to be a loud ally for the LGTBQ+ community and have “promoted the gay lifestyle,” whatever that means. Like my gay friends, I should be denied a Catholic funeral based on Bartylla’s recommendations. The difference is that the Church can easily look beyond everything I have written and said because I, a woman, am married to a man.

The Church can plausibly deny that I ever engaged in activism for the gay community, so when I die and if gay couples cannot be married and buried in the Catholic Church, please share this piece in whatever manner possible. If someone tries to give me a Catholic funeral, hand this piece out at the Church’s door. Read it at the pulpit. Do not deny what I believe. And do not deny how others love.

In regards to question two: Do not deny who someone loves. In our final moments with breath in our lungs and spirit in our eyes, we should never deny the sincerest decision we made in this life: to love and be loved in return.

Bartylla suggests that scandal can be avoided if the priest only speaks briefly at a funeral home and/or gravesite. In addition, the priest may offer a memorial mention during a routine Mass; family members’ presence is not required. If the priest does agree to have the service within a church (with permission from a higher-ranking church official), Bartylla believes it’s best if the priest only provides the bare minimum service (no mass, no additional Church representatives), no mention of the priest’s name in any public announcement of services if the deceased’s partner is also mentioned, and the deceased’s partner may not have a role during the religious service.

While all of these recommendations are offensive, the worst deal with how Bartylla and the Church wish for the priest to treat the deceased’s partner. Bartylla writes, “There should be no mention of the ‘partner’ either by name or by other reference (nor reference to the unnatural union) in any liturgical booklet, prayer card, homily, sermon, talk by the priest, deacon, etc.” Bartylla’s use of quote marks around the word partner throughout the guidelines is extremely cruel and dehumanizing, even without the condescending and dismissive tone they are written with.

Even in the midst of grief, the Catholic Church will not allow someone to feel at peace with their sexuality. I am saddened by the additional trials that the deceased’s partner is put through. I can only think of the heartbreaking revelation in the documentary Bridgegroom that Shane Crone is not allowed to attend his partner Tom Bridegroom’s funeral at the request of Tom’s religious family, who threatened physical violence in retaliation if he did. How cruel are we to deny someone the right to recognize their most impactful relationship in both life and death?

I know that some believe that the Catholic Church’s discrimination no longer matters in the United States because the Supreme Court recognized the constitutionality of equal marriage in 2015, but being LGBTQ+ does not mean that one desires to be non-religious. Sexuality and religion are not mutually exclusive, so many gay Catholics are being hurt by these policies.

Plus, the Catholic Church has a global reach, so these beliefs are damaging not just to the American LGBTQ community but to the global community.

Catholicism is certainly not the only religion to discriminate against the gay community; a recent analysis found that none of the 100 largest churches in the United States have policies that explicitly affirm the LGBTQ+ community. 35 of the churches studied have policies that openly reject them.

Global discrimination against this community is not solely the result of non-acceptance by religious communities, but it certainly doesn’t help. Bermuda recently became the first country to ban equal marriage after it was legalized. Gay men in Chechnya are being tortured and killed, and some European countries require transgender individuals who transition to be sterilized. And there’s plenty more heartache to go around.

P.S. For those hurting because they’ve been rejected by their religion or families, I encourage you to read this TED article with some healthy tips on how to respond to rejection.