Metro Weekly

Two petitions call out Catholic bishop for denying funeral rites to LGBTQ people

Diocese's guidelines urged priests to refuse to perform funerals for people in "notorious homosexual relationships"

Photo: Glendale Lapastora, via Flickr.

Two petitions are being circulated online protesting the Roman Catholic diocese of Madison, Wis., for recently released guidance suggesting that priests should refuse to perform funeral rites for deceased LGBTQ people.

According to The Huffington Post, the guidance on funerals for LGBTQ Catholics was included in an email sent to priests throughout the greater Madison area by the Rev. Msgr. James R. Bartylla, the Vicar General of the diocese. In the email, Bartylla advised parish priests to focus on minimizing “the risk of scandal and confusion” that might be associated with performing funeral rites, particularly if the person was in a “notorious homosexual relationship.”

To help priests determine whether to perform rites, Bartylla listed several factors that might be taken into account, such as: “Was the deceased or the ‘partner’ a promoter of the ‘gay’ lifestyle?” or “Did the deceased give some signs of repentance before death?” If priests do perform rites, Bartylla advised that there should be no mention of or participation by the surviving partner in the service.

“If the situation warrants … ecclesiastical funeral rites may be denied for manifest sinners in which public scandal of the faithful can’t be avoided,” the guidelines state.

A spokesman for the diocese told The Huffington Post that the guidelines in Bartylla’s email are not official policy, but do conform to the views of Bishop Robert C. Morlino, who oversees the Madison diocese. Official Catholic doctrine opposes same-sex marriages, based on the Church’s views against homosexual relations.

In response, DignityUSA, an organization that advocates for full inclusion of LGBTQ Catholics in the Church, began circulating a petition on Change.org. The petition calls on Bishop Morlino to withdraw the guidance and allow priests to hold funeral services for LGBTQ Catholics.

“All Catholic families deserve to know that their loved ones will be treated as a loved, respected member of the Church at the time of their death,” the petition reads. “Telling people in same-sex relationships that they may not be given the full funeral rites of our Church makes us second-class members of the Church. This will increase the pain and grief that our families will experience while dealing with the loss of someone they love. 

“We want ALL Catholics-including the LGBTQI Community-who seek Catholic funerals to know their requests will be honored, and that all families will be treated with compassion.”

Thus far, over 2,500 people have signed the petition.

The second petition, also on Change.org, is addressed to Pope Francis as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, asking him to remove Morlino as bishop. That has received over 6,300 signatures.

“Bishop Morlino exerts a corrosive and corrupt influence over the Diocese through his transparent attempts to influence the voting habits of its members. His threats to priests amount to a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state,” the petition claims. “Furthermore, he is an open and practicing bigot whose attitudes and opinions about the LGBTQI members of his Diocese (and our beloved families) are nothing short of inhumane.  His hatred and discrimination are undoubtedly a violation of Christ’s admonition to love thy neighbor.

Finally, it is apparent that Bishop Morlino does not have the love in his heart nor the strength of character to stop his hate-filled fixation on the intimate lives of consensual and committed adults,” the petition reads. “He tries to disguise this obsession under a veil of discrimination and deploys it at a time when loss leaves loved ones most vulnerable and in need of support.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com