Commentary by Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carámbula, Doctor of Dogmatic Theology and head of the Rome office of Human Life International
Author’s Note: The Catholic Church has taught on many occasions on the important duties of Catholic political leaders. A recent event in Boston makes it necessary to reflect again on those teachings. “John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.” (Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholic in Political, CDF, n. 4.)
True love consists in presenting the saving truths that the Lord has entrusted to His Church with clarity and precision, without any concessions to the spirit of the world. This duty is not only incumbent to the Hierarchy, but to all Catholics and in particular to the persons who have a position of social and political leadership; they have to manifest these teachings and, more importantly, their lives have to be lead in coherence with those teachings.
There is no doubt that example and coherence of life are much more eloquent than a thousand words. This applies especially to the example of those who have a position of public authority. Such as these cannot be selective in the way that they adhere to the teachings of the Church: all teachings are important and they have an inner coherence that is necessary to respect.
At the same time, the teachings of the Church with regards to life and family have a central position because if the right to life from conception through natural death, and the protection the origin of life which is the family, are not respected, all the other rights that a human person might have become illusory.
If a Catholic is engaged in politics, the Church has a right and a duty to request coherence from this person. If, regrettably, this Catholic refuses to be coherent, the Church has the right and the duty to refuse him the reception of the Holy Eucharist as it is established in Canon 915: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
Archbishop Raymond Burke, commenting on this canon points out that, “The application [of the canon], therefore, is more necessary than ever, lest the faithful, led astray by the strong cultural trends of relativism, be deceived concerning the supreme good of the Holy Eucharist and the gravity of supporting publicly the commission of intrinsically evil acts. Catholics in public office bear an especially heavy burden of responsibility to uphold the moral law in the exercise of their office which is exercised for the common good, especially the good of the innocent and defenceless. When they fail, they lead others, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to be deceived regarding the evils of procured abortion and other attacks on innocent and defenceless human life, on the integrity of human procreation, and on the family.” (The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to Those Obstinately Persevering in Manifest Grave Sin, Periodica, Vol. 96 (2007), pp 57-58.)
In the same way that publicly incoherent Catholics might be denied communion, these persons can also be denied ecclesiastical funeral rites. The Code of Canon Law establishes, Can. “1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals: 3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.”
The Code establishes two cumulative requirements to permit the ecclesiastical funeral of public sinners: some signs of repentance and the avoidance of public scandal of the faithful.
We are informed by the press that the person who received the recent funeral in Boston gave some signs of repentance; but those signs were not specific at all with regards to the many grave and public violations that he committed against the teachings of the Church. Even if the signs of repentance would have been judged sufficient by competent local ecclesiastical authority, the problem of the scandal remains because the ordinary of the place where the funeral was officiated could not have been ignorant that the funeral was going to be turned into a celebration of the life of that particular person.
Here we should also remember the norm of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that establishes: “382. At the Funeral Mass there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but never a eulogy of any kind.” There is ample public evidence provided by the press that this norm was not respected in a recent Boston funeral and that fact is in itself a reasonable source of scandal.
We should also remember that Catholics that are scandalized by this recent funeral in Boston have a right to express their complaints to competent Church authorities in accordance with the instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum” of the Congregation for Divine Worship of March 25, 2004, that establishes: “184. Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.”
To uphold the teachings of the Church with regards to the responsibility of Catholic political leaders is a two-fold exercise of mercy. First, it is for the good of the soul of the politician. A politician that is acting contrary to fundamental teachings of the Church in his public life is risking his eternal salvation. So to warn this person in due canonical fashion and then, if he persists, to apply to him canonical sanctions will help him to repent and change his life. The Church, sharing the infinite love of Jesus Christ, does not want that any of its members should perish and be deprived of eternal life.
Second, it is an act of mercy towards society, because any thing that tends to confuse or blur the Christian message of salvation damages the ability of the Church to fulfil her saving mission. As a consequence in this particular case it would have been an act of mercy towards all Catholics and to many other persons of good will who suffered scandal by this recent funeral to deny it.
In conclusion, the Church should examine with attention the recent funeral in Boston and determine in an official and authoritative way if corrective action is necessary to avoid the furtherance of this type of scandal in the future.