Priests need to be “courageous” when celebrating Catholic funerals of gang members, even if it could bring them into “serious confrontation”.
Following a statement from the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, decrying “show funerals” of criminals directly involved the “traffic of evil”, several diocesan priests said they understood the archbishop’s position and welcomed his leadership, but said the issue is pastorally difficult.
Fr Joe McDonald of Ballyfermot said priests must defend the sacredness of the funeral Mass, which must not be “hijacked as a way of showing strength or making points”.
“The Archbishops comments bring us into a very serious dynamic of confrontation, but in actual fact many of us are already in a situation we have some case of not being popular because we dare to say ‘no we’re not doing that in Church’”, he said.
Fr Hugh Kavanagh, co-parish priest of Rowlagh and Neilstown, who has experience of gang-related funerals, said it is generally grieving families “who have lost a son whom they really love and cherish” organising the funeral, “rather than leaders or the gangs”.
I understand perfectly what the archbishop is getting at, said Fr Kavanagh. “We don’t want the funerals of gang leaders and people involved in drugs and in killing, to be presented to young people as a celebration of the glory their life was because their life was anything but a glorious life.”
Asked if the homilies at the funeral Masses for known criminals should include a warning against crime to young people, Fr Kavanagh said “You can say something, but it may not be appropriate.”
“My experience has been that because of the life they have lived and because they have spent their life promoting drugs generally and ruining the lives of young people and also themselves and maybe being involved in the killing of other members of other gangs, there is really nothing particularly good that you can say in your homily about the person.”
Moderator of Jobstown parish, Fr Patrick McKinley, said it’s not his business what happens outside the Church or at the graveside. However, once inside the Church he said that “if people are looking for stuff that’s not acceptable, I’d simply say that’s not going to work”.
There can often be some negotiation, he said, and “usually people then will see your point of view, and if they don’t, then I say maybe you should go somewhere else”.
“Whether it’s someone who has been shot or someone who has died from cancer, my pastoral take is exactly the same, if people are looking for stuff that’s not acceptable in a Church I’d simply say that’s not going to work.”
At the centre of the inner city Fr Hugh O’Donnell SDB from Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Sean McDermott Street said that Archbishop Martin has been “consistent” regarding his condemnation of gangland crime.
“He’s been vocal from the very beginning about the killings, and there’s been a lot of them in the inner city, they’re just spread out now slightly further afield. It’s same thing now, drugs related.
“It’s good that he’s given some leadership, it’s a Catholic funeral, you’re talking about values that are very close to our hearts and we don’t want somebody coming in trying to upstage it.”
A senior Dublin priest who asked to remain anonymous said he would have expected the archbishop would have the “manners to contact priests about guidelines before speaking to the media”.
“The first we heard of it was though the media. At these funerals we as priests can only pass on hope. We don’t know if 10 or 15 Mercedes are going to arrive outside and there’s nothing we could do about that. The altar and the pulpit are not the place for political statements. People are grieving enough; often there are loving parents who did their best. It’s not our job to add to their pain.”