How should we bury offending priests?
The Archdiocese of Newark has released a policy for planning the funerals of priests who have been removed from ministry on sexual abuse accusations.
The new policy requires that the funeral Mass be held away from any churches where the priest worked or lived, and that obituaries be published without photos or specific information about when and where the funeral Mass will be held. Furthermore, the viewing "is to be a private viewing (not in a church) for members of the family and close friends only."
A letter from the archdiocese says that these new procedures will "allow for sensitivity to the family of the deceased priest as well as to avoid possible negative publicity or further embarrassment to the family and the church."
Significantly, the policy states explicitly that the offending priest may be buried in vestments, "provided there were no canonical restrictions prohibiting the deceased from private celebration of the Eucharist."
The release of this policy, of course, has not been received well by many of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse. In particular, many people object to the possibility of the priest being buried in vestments. Furthermore, the secrecy surrounding the funeral Mass means that some victims could be denied an important opportunity for closure and healing.
Unfortunately, the new funeral policies create the perception—whether true or not—of clericalism. It creates the appearance that the archdiocese is seeking to shield itself from further embarrassment and trouble first and serve the needs of those hurt by the offending priests second.
According to Dr. Charles Ried, a Canon lawyer who was interviewed by NorthJersery.com, "What they should strive for is reconciliation and humble service," Reid said. "But what we're getting is distance, coolness and adversary-ness. The tone is an adversarial tone, a distant tone, a clinical and antiseptic tone. In the end, you want to heal the victims."