September 11 hero John McNamara, a firefighter who was diagnosed with cancer after spending months at Ground Zero, left a handwritten list of things he hoped for, should the disease that was ravaging him eventually take his life.
One thing he hoped for? To have some of his ashes scattered in Ireland. And now the Vatican says that’s a no-no.
As CNN.com reported, “According to new guidelines from the Vatican's doctrinal office, cremated remains should be kept in a ‘sacred place’ such as a church cemetery. Ashes should not be divided up between family members, ‘nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.’”
Obviously, some people get a little tacky with this stuff. But chastising people who want to scatter their ashes at a special place? It reminds me of the infamous decision about 15 years ago to ban performances of “Danny Boy” at funeral Masses.
It’s this small but significant stuff that makes people so frustrated with a church that can still do so much good.
This cremation news came down about two weeks ago, not long before Pope Francis announced that you were more likely to see an urn full of sacred ashes saying Mass behind a church altar than you were to see a woman.
Last week, Pope Francis was asked by a journalist what he thought the prospects for female priests might be. This is not a surprising question, given the spirit of reform Pope Francis has brought with him to the Vatican.
“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last word is clear,” the Pope reportedly said, before citing an apostolic letter “written in 1994 by Pope John Paul II, who has since been canonized. The letter said that ordaining women was not possible because Jesus chose only men as his apostles,” The New York Times noted.
“It was given by St. John Paul II, and this remains,” Francis said. “If we read carefully the declaration made by St. John Paul II, it goes in this direction. But women can do many other things better than men.”
There is something Trumpishly condescending in that last line, but I’ll let that pass. I don’t want to diminish the understandable importance of tradition with the church.
Still, the idea that the heroic nuns out there serving the poor and needy all over the world can’t contribute as priests -- not to mention begin changing the culture of a church that, shall we say, has caused some problems for the faithful -- is simply ludicrous. It also conveniently shuts down any discussion whatsoever of women serving, you know, in positions of real power, as cardinals or (heaven help us) pope.
But I guess none of this should be a surprise. Not long ago I finished reading a wonderful new novel by Sarah Domet entitled The Guineveres. The book takes place at a convent school where four girls have come to be cared for, having been abandoned by their families.
The book is beautiful in so many ways, among them that it refuses to offer up stereotypically stern or abusive nuns and priests. One of the more fascinating moments comes when the main characters are allowed to serve as altar girls, because World War II has taken so many local boys away.
I contacted the author, wondering if this actually happened, decades before altar girls began popping up in more and more parishes in the 1990s. I thought that would be a fascinating slice of Catholic history. Alas, this did not appear to be the case.
So I did some research of my own. You know what I found out? There are still quite a few people out there who are angry that we have altar girls now!
Just last year, a pastor at San Francisco’s Star of the Sea Church banned female altar servers. Among other things, he cited the shortage of priests currently plaguing American churches.
“Maybe the most important thing is that (serving as an altar boy) prepares boys to consider the priesthood,” he said.
Hmm. If only there was some magical way to double the pool of priest candidates overnight. Now that would be a miracle.