Priests in Ireland who die while facing accusations of sexual abuse are being denied "traditional Catholic funerals,” even if they weren't convicted during their lifetimes.
The Association of Catholic Priests has voiced concern over the funeral arrangements of stepped-down members of the clergy, with one prominent member claiming that even deceased murderers are laid to rest with more dignity.
The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) has published a list of broad guidelines to church authorities on how to discreetly conduct the funerals of clerics who had allegations made against them before they died.
But some dioceses around the country have adopted even more stringent policies for funeral members facing accusations, including rulings that funerals take place in a private chapel, that no death notice be published, that the deceased be referred to only by his Christian name throughout the rites, and not be buried in his clerical garb.
The NBSCCCI said that's its guidelines are in place because "pastoral concern for complainants must be considered in the situation where a priest/religious dies following receipt of a credible allegation.”
However, a leading member of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said the rulings go too far and cause unnecessary heartache for surviving family members.
Father Tim Hazelwood, spokesman for the 1,000-strong ACP said, "We're
concerned about the funeral arrangements for stepped-down priests or those facing accusations, particularly for priests who have been accused of something, but nothing has been proved.
"I personally know an elderly priest, who's been facing an accusation which he totally denies of a case dating back 40 years. In his case he will be denied a proper Catholic funeral, and it's causing him and his family terrible distress.
"The situation differs from diocese to diocese, but in general priests in this situation are treated terribly. Even members of the Kinahan gang or convicted murderers can expect proper Catholic funerals, but that's not the case with some priests, who really are treated like the lepers of Irish society."
One set of diocesan guidelines, obtained by and published by the ACP, suggests that "consideration be given to have the funeral liturgies in a private chapel and/or a time other than the usual times.”
It also recommends that the deceased priest not be buried in his clerical garb and be referred to during the rites by his Christian name, and that "if possible, no death notices should appear in the local or national newspapers or on internet websites” before adding, “The minimum of information should be given if it does appear".
A further recommendation states, "The funeral Mass is not to be concelebrated. No vestments to be worn by priests attending the funeral."
Hazelwood added, "I do not know of any other group of people who have such restrictions placed on their funerals."