The rituals practiced during and after the death of a Catholic are not complicated, and include (generally) three steps: Extreme Unction, Funeral, and Internment.
Extreme unction is the bedside blessing at home or in the hospital. The funeral is the ritual and celebration of life at church. Internment is the burial, which includes prayers and blessings graveside.
During a funeral Mass in Washington, D.C., a priest denied Barbara Johnson, a Catholic woman, the sacrament of Communion because she is lesbian. He then left the altar while she eulogized her mother, and then he refused to attend the burial where he was expected to complete the rite of Christian burial. All three actions are a clear and direct violation of human decency, Christian behavior, civil rights, and Church policy.
His employer, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., released a statement that reads, in part:
Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.
The Church is handling it as a personnel issue. Sadly, the Church's track record of employee discipline is very poor. (See, Catholic sex abuse cases.) The only acceptable action is to remove the priest from direct contact with lay people as the first step of laicization (more commonly known as defrocking).
There is nothing in Church doctrine that forbids a homosexual from participating in a Catholic celebration or receiving Communion.
Especially in the United States, the church is open about ministering to all Catholics, including homosexual Catholics. Fifteen years ago (yes 15), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter to the families of homosexual Catholics. In part, it reads:
How can you best express your love—itself a reflection of God's unconditional love—for your child? At least two things are necessary.
First, don't break off contact; don't reject your child. A shocking number of homosexual youth end up on the streets because of rejection by their families. This, and other external pressures, can place young people at a greater risk for self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse and suicide.
Your child may need you and the family now more than ever. He or she is still the same person. This child, who has always been God's gift to you, may now be the cause of another gift: your family becoming more honest, respectful, and supportive. Yes, your love can be tested by this reality, but it can also grow stronger through your struggle to respond lovingly.
The second way to communicate love is to seek appropriate help for your child and for yourself. If your son or daughter is an adolescent, it is possible that he or she may be displaying traits which cause you anxiety such as what the child is choosing to read or view in the media, intense friendships, and other such observable characteristics and tendencies. What is called for on the part of parents is an approach which does not presume that your child has developed a homosexual orientation, and which will help you maintain a loving relationship while you provide support, information, encouragement, and moral guidance. Parents must always be vigilant about their children's behavior and exercise responsible interventions when necessary.
What it says is that homosexuals are God's children, too; and that it is our job to love all of God's children. It tells us to avoid passing judgment or condemning a person because of their sexual orientation, and it acknowledges that homosexuality is not a "choice." It tells us to minister to all Catholics, especially those who most need spiritual support during a time of great transition. It is a remarkable document, and can be read here: Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers
What this priest did was wrong. He doesn't get to decide who is and isn't in a state of grace and eligible to receive Communion. If he has doubts or questions, he is expected to meet privately with that person to discuss the issue. No priest is to use the sacrament of Communion as a political tool against someone he doesn't like.
The Sacraments: Eucharist
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