QUAERITUR: Could a Catholic terrorist be denied funeral and burial?

From a reader:

Father if the Boston bomber was catholic could the church refuse to give him a funeral or burial in catholic cemetary under cannon law?

To the first question: Yes, the Church could refuse him a funeral.

We read in the Latin Code:

canon 1184: §1 “Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:
1° notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;
2° those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;
3° other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.
§2 If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

As far as denying them burial in a Catholic cemetery, there is no provision for this in universal law.

There may be particular law of a diocese that governs the discipline to be observed in cemeteries (canon 1243). The reason for this is that the Church recognizes that there may be civil laws which need to be respected (c. 22).

For example, civil laws may state that if a person (your theoretical Catholic terrorist) had purchased a cemetery plot in advance, his body may not be prevented from occupying it after his demise, regardless the circumstances.

In such a case, it should be buried without Catholic ceremony.

We should, of course, pray for God’s mercy for such people, as well as for His justice.

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to QUAERITUR: Could a Catholic terrorist be denied funeral and burial?

  1. Priam1184 says:

    I guess the IRA were Catholic terrorists back in their day but that was a while ago now. What brought this up?

  2. JohnMa says:

    Probably because most Islamic clerics in the Boston area are refusing to give the dead bomber funeral rights and most cemeteries in the area are refusing his body.

  3. Priam1184 says:

    I am not sure what the state of Ted Kennedy’s soul was i.e. whether he had repented before he died, but the fantastical increase in the murder of the unborn incited by his policies and advocacy surpassed by leaps and bounds and order of magnitude upon order of magnitude anything these punk kids in Boston could have dreamed of and, as I recall, the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston presided over Senator Kennedy’s funeral…

  4. Charivari Rob says:

    The Cardinal Archbishop of Boston did not preside, celebrate, or concelebrate the funeral Mass for Ted Kennedy. He did attend (is “in choir” the appropriate term?) and pray for him.

    I believe the celebrant was one of the (Redemptorist) priests of Mission Church (the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help), which was the site of the Mass.

    As for the actual news story… Even as someone who lives in Boston (and has lived in Worcester, where the funeral home is) – this disgusts me. The thought that someone – as grievous as his (alleged) crimes are – is being denied the simple, minimal, last human dignity of a final resting place… That people voice the thought that he should be dumped out at sea with Osama bin Laden, etc… Disgusting.

  5. Hello Father. Just would like to say thank you for covering this question. Pax.

  6. Scarltherr says:

    Interesting question, and given #’s one and three, would that include the terrorists who wear Prada and go after the unborn (AKA Pelosi, Biden, Kerry, etal)?

  7. Scarltherr says:

    P.S. I know I sound evil, I’m particularly angry today at the evils done by those in power in the US.

  8. BaedaBenedictus says:

    In defense of the good Redemptorists at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, they had nothing to do with the Kennedy funeral. The celebrant was a (Jesuit) friend of the Kennedy family. The funeral was held there because Ted Kennedy loved the church and wanted to have it there—my friend used to see him praying there all the time while his daughter was undergoing cancer treatments at Brigham and Women’s Hospital down the street.

  9. Maltese says:

    This is a rhetorical question, since, exception for a few souls in Ireland, Catholic terrorists don’t exist!

  10. AnAmericanMother says:

    Charivari Rob,
    I understand what you’re saying. In fact, when a civil rights worker was slain in Mississippi, the white funeral homes wouldn’t touch him and the black funeral homes didn’t dare. So my dad wrapped the poor guy up in a bedsheet and tarp and carried him back to Atlanta (praying that he wouldn’t be pulled over on the way) where he was buried.
    With that said, refusing Christian burial used to be done a good deal more often than it is now – suicides (while of sound mind), the obstinately heretic, etc. – not only by Catholics but most denominations. Most prisons had a “potters field” for those executed for outrageous crimes.
    When the judgment of the community is informed by facts and not prejudice (perhaps in judging a man who was given everything and responded by killing 3 and maiming hundreds in a most random and brutal way) then there must be some point at which a man has abandoned his humanity and does not deserve the civilized rites of burial.
    And if there is to be no judgment, then there is no salutary effect that might cause someone to pause before committing an unthinkable outrage. As C.S. Lewis said, pity can make a dog in the manger the tyrant of the universe.

  11. Elizabeth D says:

    May the situation never arise.

  12. IanW says:

    This thoughtful post brings two memories to mind: missing an IRA bomb at London Bridge Station by minutes; and hearing a professional Catholic fund raiser from the US East Coast react with discomfort to that reminiscence. The man is a priest, and I still struggle to forgive him; and, God forgive me, I thought of him recently.

  13. AnAmericanMother says:

    Scarltherr,
    You haven’t even begun to snark. Most trenchant comment I’ve seen so far around teh interwebs: “Is there no North Carolina pig farmer who will step up to take care of this poor man?”

    Courbet’s painting, btw, was considered scandalous in its day, and made all his neighbors really angry.

  14. AnAmericanMother says:

    IanW,
    When I was in the northeast, they used to go about claiming to be collecting donations “for the poor widows and orphans”. So he could probably use a prayer. I wonder how much he knew beforehand (we all know now).

  15. Jeannie_C says:

    There were three men nailed to crosses on Good Friday 2,000 years ago. Our Lord forgave the one who repented and assured him a place in Paradise. He made no mention of the fate of the other thief. There are consequences to our actions on earth and beyond. The body of a Christian terrorist could be buried with respect for the life God created, but the prayers and rites of a Christian burial denied the deceased due to his actions and lack of repentance otherwise those performing it would be engaged in mockery.

  16. Andrew says:

    There is a distinction between a funeral and a burial. The original post explains the difference.

  17. Bosco says:

    May God have Mercy on his soul. I recall the number of times in my life where I have done calculated violence to others, deeply wounding, if not crippling the spirit, the self-esteem, the consciences of others…all sins against the 5th Commandment…thou shalt not kill.
    Perhaps in God’s eyes I am more violent than this deluded brother of mine/ours who cannot even find ground within which to be buried.
    Judge not.

  18. Scarltherr says:

    AnAmericanMother, I am angry today. If you click on my name, you’ll see just how angry when it redirects you to my blog post titled, “It’s About Eternal Souls, Stupid” Not exactly the tone for the new evangelization…

  19. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Could be some useful things here: http://www.canonlaw.info/catholicissues_funeral.htm

  20. Scarltherr says:

    Dr. Peters, ‘some useful things’? Your knowledge is encyclopedic! Thank you.

  21. The real problem here is what funeral Masses in general have become. If we would stop canonizing everyone who dies and spend the time praying for the soul of someone who just might still need a trace of God’s mercy, then perhaps people would not be scandalized at the thought of a sinner having a funeral Mass. But of course people would be understandably upset if they thought that a terrorist would get the same canonization mass as Uncle Bill or Aunt Millie did last week.

  22. aviva meriam says:

    Not surprised Islamic Clerics refuse to grant funeral rights. Which Cleric wants to be associated with a terrorist? Only wish those clerics would do more to publicly, unequivocally condemn vile acts of terror committed in the name of their faith.
    Reminded that in Jewish law, it is forbidden to grant funeral rights or burial rights to an executed criminal. Mourning is not observed.
    I honestly don’t know HOW this situation will be resolved.

  23. robtbrown says:

    Priam1184 says:

    I guess the IRA were Catholic terrorists back in their day but that was a while ago now. What brought this up?

    Disagree. It was the Occupier (English and sumpathizers) vs the Occupied (Irish). The one just happened to be Protestant and the other Catholic.

  24. TNCath says:

    Regarding “your theoretical Catholic terrorist,” does that include certain members of diocesan and national liturgical commissions who as well? :)

  25. JonPatrick says:

    robtbrown, that may have been the case back when Ireland was occupied by the British, but after 1922? (not sure of the year) when they achieved independence, that didn’t justify the violence in Northern Ireland, given that you had a minority who had legitimate reasons for fearing to be assimilated into the Republic of Ireland. In many ways the people in Ulster were as much a victim of earlier British rule as the Republicans (many of them being descended from Presbyterians who had left Scotland after persecution from the Anglican majority). There is a lot more I could say, but I fear this may be opening a rabbit hole and diverting us from the original subject.

  26. Peter in Canberra says:

    ‘terrorist’ is a term that has in more recent times been legislated/defined in various jurisdictions. It is therefore now not only descriptive of murder and mayhem but a political policy tool. Even among those that decry acts of terrorism as barbaric and reprehensible there is disquiet over how the label is used as a tool to set aside what would normally be due process and indeed to for states to take extraordinary and morally questionable actions in pursuit of terrorists – even I understand before they have contemplated a terrorist act.

  27. Cremation. Sore point. What are “reasons contrary to the Christian faith”? The SSPX will not bury a cremated person who chooses cremation. Barring an ebola outbreak, cremation is banned, period. Generally all other Catholic priests don’t get that upset about it. Is a mere preference, without being deliberately anti-Christian about it, an acceptable reason? I really dislike the idea of rotting away in a box underground, trapped in a place that is fairly meaningless to me. I know I won’t be there to feel trapped but it’s not a nice idea.

  28. PostCatholic says:

    The thought that someone – as grievous as his (alleged) crimes are – is being denied the simple, minimal, last human dignity of a final resting place… That people voice the thought that he should be dumped out at sea with Osama bin Laden, etc… Disgusting.

    I applaud your charity and am glad there is someone who affirms the inherent worth and dignity of a fellow human.

  29. jmvbxx says:

    If the bomber WERE Catholic #grammarnazi! [Grammar nazi is NOT welcome here. You are not our editor. Period.]

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    Scarltherr wrote,

    “P.S. I know I sound evil, I’m particularly angry today at the evils done by those in power in the US.”

    Just anger is not sinful. These people have encouraged the growth of evil and being angry at their actions is not sinful. It moves towards sin when it becomes contempt – a thought that they are already condemned and judged. Any same person who understood the issues involved would be angry at many of the boneheaded actions of those in power in the U. S. and elsewhere. I, also, can become contemptuous if I mull on these things too long. Better to stop and think of Jesus and ask him to bring these people to their senses.

    The Chicken

  31. Juergensen says:

    Millions of babies were butchered limb-by-limb under policies and funding supported by Ted Kennedy, and he was granted a full ecclesiastical funeral, with even the Archbishop at the altar.

  32. robtbrown says:

    JonPatrick says:

    robtbrown, that may have been the case back when Ireland was occupied by the British, but after 1922? (not sure of the year) when they achieved independence, that didn’t justify the violence in Northern Ireland, given that you had a minority who had legitimate reasons for fearing to be assimilated into the Republic of Ireland.

    NB: I didn’t just say “Occupiers” but also “sympathizers”, which includes descendants.

    It is often a strategy of occupiers to import their own people to try to reduce opposition. My understanding is that in addition to imports (many from Scotland, if memory serves), there were also home grown Irish who adopted Protestantism to avoid persecution (cf. sell out for a bowl of soup). Protestantism identifies both groups.

    In certain parts of the world there are still resentments that are residue from rivalries hundreds of years ago.

  33. JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    Disagree. It was the Occupier (English and sumpathizers) vs the Occupied (Irish)

    I’m guessing you’re an American — ergo someone never having had to deal with the effects of IRA terrorism against innocent civilians in Northern Ireland, London, and elsewhere.

    The fact that the IRA switched to some more paramilitary strategies per se during the Thatcher régime does NOT magically cancel out the deliberate terrorism that they engaged in by targetting innocent civilians both in Northern Ireland and in England over the course of many decades prior to this strategic shift.

    Referring to Father Z’s answer, I cannot find on the internet (after an admittedly unlengthy search) any references to any IRA terrorists being denied a Catholic funeral, except for some who took their own lives in prison, via hunger strike or otherwise.

    Instead, one finds this : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2200496/Police-watch-volley-shots-ring-Real-IRA-boss-funeral-killed-clinical-daylight-hit.html

  34. Juergensen says:

    After reading Canon 1184 posted by Father Z, I don’t see how all these abortionist homosexualist politicians are given ecclesiastical funerals.

  35. robtbrown says:

    PostCatholic says:

    The thought that someone – as grievous as his (alleged) crimes are – is being denied the simple, minimal, last human dignity of a final resting place… That people voice the thought that he should be dumped out at sea with Osama bin Laden, etc… Disgusting.

    I applaud your charity and am glad there is someone who affirms the inherent worth and dignity of a fellow human.

    Of course, there's a reason why so many cemeteries have been contiguous to churches, people buried next to the parish they attended–grace is given to a soul substantially united to the body. And a few days ago I read St Isaac Jogues saying that having found the head and some half-gnawed bones of St Rene Goupil, he had kissed them "as the bones of a martyr of Jesus Christ" as he took them for burial.

    And even with a secular cemetery there is still the idea that in some way it is tied to the community, and so it is possible to understand why Bostonians might not want them in a local cemetery. I am not fond of the fact that my non-Catholic parents are buried in a plot (that of my father's family) that is a few hundred yards away from the graves of Hickcock and Smith (paid for, I understand, by Truman Capote).

  36. robtbrown says:

    Should be:

    Of course, there’s a reason why so many cemeteries have been contiguous to churches, people buried next to the parish they attended–grace is given to a soul substantially united to the body. And a few days ago I read St Isaac Jogues saying that having found the head and some half-gnawed bones of St Rene Goupil, he had kissed them “as the bones of a martyr of Jesus Christ” as he took them for burial.

    And even with a secular cemetery there is still the idea that in some way it is tied to the community, and so it is possible to understand why Bostonians might not want them in a local cemetery. I am not fond of the fact that my non-Catholic parents are buried in a plot (that of my father’s family) that is a few hundred yards away from the graves of Hickcock and Smith (paid for, I understand, by Truman Capote).

  37. robtbrown says:

    IMHO, Kennedy should only have been given a Catholic funeral if he had publicly renounced his support for abortion. That could have been done by him releasing a public statement or by the celebrant saying at the funeral that Kennedy had renounced it on his deathbed.

  38. tcreek says:

    A few years back this pastor was sued by a funeral director for implement funeral policies according to church teaching. Fr. Leger is now pastor at Guardian Angels parish in Louisville, Ky where he offers the Extraordinary Form Mass at 8:00 A.M. every Sunday.
    http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2008/08/death-and-praxis.html

  39. robtbrown says:

    JabbaPapa says,
    The fact that the IRA switched to some more paramilitary strategies per se during the Thatcher régime does NOT magically cancel out the deliberate terrorism that they engaged in by targeting innocent civilians both in Northern Ireland and in England over the course of many decades prior to this strategic shift.

    Agree. I wrote nothing that would contradict that fact.

    My point is that it wasn’t primarily a religious conflict but rather a conflict between the Occupier and the Occupied (and sympathizers).

  40. jmvbxx says:

    Dear Editor,
    Thank you for the feedback! Now I know for the next time.. Enjoy the rest of your day! I’m also including a helpful prayer..

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    where there is injury,pardon;
    where there is doubt, faith;
    where there is despair, hope;
    where there is darkness, light;
    and where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
    to be consoled as to console;
    to be understood as to understand;
    to be loved as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive;
    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

  41. robtbrown says:

    Let’s not forget St Francis’ Canticle to the Sun, which includes:

    Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
    from whose embrace no living person can escape.
    Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
    Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
    The second death can do no harm to them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canticle_of_the_Sun

  42. Fr. W says:

    Would there be a distinction between a public funeral and offering a Mass for the repose of the soul? Perhaps wrongly, I have told people the public funeral is what might be omitted to avoid scandal, but a private Mass could be said for the terrorist.

    Is this correct? Thoughts?
    Fr. W

  43. Fleeb says:

    So Father, if canon law is correct and the law of the Church, how does a “notorious heretic” like Ted Kennedy rate a Catholic funeral…with all the bells & smells??? I take it that cannon law is–as the pirate Barbossa remarked–more “guidelines than actual rules,” especially if you’re a bishop of the wealthy & well-connected….

    Just an observation from one of the dimwitted “sheep”.

  44. Tony McGough says:

    Surely a terrorist is more in need of the graces the Rites will bring than many others; and his (or her) family will need to grieve like any other. But no eulogy … And a burial is, surely, an inalienable right.

    As for the Bostonians collecting for the IRA, that is a dark and disreputable chapter, as many will come to realise when they think of the damage done by a tiny home-made bomb; they funded seriously large car-bombs, full of Libyan plastic explosive, in Belfast, London and elsewhere.

    My own home town (Manchester) suffered a huge IRA bomb in 1996. One does not forget.

  45. MAJ Tony says:

    As far as denying them burial in a Catholic cemetery, there is no provision for this in universal law.

    Such was not the case in the Pio-Benedictine Code of 1917. Too bad that part was not retained.

    1917 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1240 § 1-5: “Unless they gave before death a sign of repentance, the following are deprived of ecclesiastical burial: 1. Notorious apostates from the Christian faith, or those who notoriously gave their name to heretical sects or schismatic or Masonic sects, or other societies of this sort; 2. Excommunicates or those under interdict after a condemnatory sentence; 3. Those who killed themselves by deliberate counsel; 4. Those who died in a duel, or from wounds related thereto; 5. Those who ordered that their body be handed over for cremation; 6. Other public and manifest sinners.”

  46. aviva meriam says:

    Weird Question….. I thought it was common practice for a Muslim to have an unmarked grave (no tombstone). Does anyone know if Islamic belief or tradition requires an unmarked grave? Furthermore, Catholic rites are said on behalf of the deceased…… How does Islam view the funeral rights? Do they believe their funeral rites affect the soul of the decased? In what manner?

  47. JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    Occupier and the Occupied

    This is a simplistic caricature of the situation in Ireland.

    Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom — and the visceral rejection and even hatred of some Irish against the English has NOTHING to do with “occupation” (this is just provo political propaganda, aimed in particular at the stoking historical anti-English resentments in the US and elsewhere), but much to do with Cromwell’s genocidal actions against Irish Catholics centuries earlier. The partition of Ireland is probably a mistake, but there are complex reasons for that as well.

  48. JabbaPapa says:

    “stoking the”

  49. PostCatholic says:

    robtbrown, Cambridge Cemetery is a city-owned cemetery. My grandmother, her parents, an uncle, several grand-uncles and aunts, many neighbors and familiar figures of my childhood are interred there. But also interred there are a several thieves whose acquaintance I made, a guy who regularly beat his kids with the cord of a vacuum cleaner, at least one cold-blooded murderer I knew growing up, and two rapists that I know of. Not to mention a lot of politicians.

    Thus, I would not have a problem with Tsarnaev’s body being shoved into a hole in the dirt there. It would be unseemly if that hole were to be, say, in the veteran’s lot along Coolidge Ave where my Uncle Henry’s remains are buried, but I otherwise don’t have a problem with him being interred in the same cemetery as my Nana. The remains have to go somewhere.

  50. robtbrown says:

    PostCatholic,

    No doubt you have no objection to Tsarnaev being buried near your family, but that doesn’t mean that others do object to it.

  51. robtbrown says:

    JabbaPapa,

    Actually, it precedes Cromwell, going back to the Tudor conquest. Ireland had already been in rebellion before Cromwell moved. No doubt that Cromwell exacerbated the situation, but he didn’t create it.

    Keep in mind that the English reformation sought to eliminate any foreign loyalties via the Act of Supremacy. As long as Ireland remained Catholic, there could be foreign alliances with nations that opposed England.

  52. acardnal says:

    PostCatholic, you must know that practically speaking if Tsarnaev is buried in the municipal cemetery it will become both a shrine for those who sympathize with his cause and a place of desecration for those who hate him and what he did.

    From recent news, it appears actions are being taken to ship his remains to Russia and to the control of his mother. It’s the best solution I think considering the circumstances. I am sure the family would welcome your donation to pay for shipment.

  53. PostCatholic says:

    And why would I do that? When did I offer to finance the funeral arrangements? I had more in mind potter’s field.

  54. Phil_NL says:

    Cremate him and empty the urn at sea. Problem fixed, and there is precedent enough (from Rudolf Hess to Adolf Eichmann to Bin Laden).