Geraldine Ferraro Dies, Some Want to Deny Her Catholic Funeral

Robin Marty

A groundbreaking leader in women's politics dies, and a debate starts on whether she should be allowed a Catholic funeral.

Geraldine Ferraro, 75, died this weekend due to complications from blood cancer.  Ferraro, was an icon for women in politics as the first woman to run on a major party party ticket, running as Democrat Walter Mondale’s Vice Presidential pick in 1984. 

But it comes as no surprise that rather than celebrate her life and the ground she broke for women in politics, a faction is instead debating her last rites and claiming she should not be allowed a Catholic funeral due to her support of a women’s right to choose.

Ferraro herself likely wouldn’t see her pro-choice stance as a reason to be denied a Catholic mass.  Her major skirmish with church leaders stemmed primarily from her belief that it was possible to be Catholic and still support reproductive rights, and that many Catholics in fact did so.  According to an article from Time Magazine in 1984:

The assault on Ferraro seemed almost gratuitous. Before addressing a pro-life convention in Altoona, Pa., New York Archbishop John J. O’Connor told reporters that Ferraro had “said some things about abortion relative to Catholic teaching which are not true.” He did not immediately explain just what Ferraro had said or when she had said it. Puzzled and privately seething, the candidate tried to reach O’Connor between campaign appearances. She finally did so from Indianapolis. In what she described as a “cordial, direct and helpful” 35-minute telephone conversation, she politely asked the Archbishop what “mischaracterization” of the church position he had in mind. He cited a letter she had sent in 1982 to other Roman Catholic members of the House accompanying some literature from a group called Catholics for a Free Choice. The printed material showed, her letter said, that “the Catholic position on abortion is not monolithic and that there can be a range of personal and 

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political responses to the issue.” Barely suppressing her anger, she questioned the timing of O’Connor’s announcement. “Why is this letter coming out now of all times?” she asked. Unsatisfied by a vague answer from O’Connor, Ferraro pleaded, “I think that if you make reference to it again, you ought to make it clear you’re referring to a 1982 document.”

Timing aside, the disagreement between the two was over the meaning of the ambiguous language that the Ferraro letter, which had been drafted by an aide, had used. The Archbishop contended that Ferraro had “misrepresented” the position of the church. “The teaching of the Catholic Church is monolithic on the subject of abortion,” he said. Indeed it is (see box). But Ferraro insisted that she was not referring in her letter to the official position of the church, which she agreed “is monolithic.” Instead, she was referring to individual Catholics, contending that “there are a lot of Catholics who do not share the view of the Catholic Church.”

It is no surprise that now the same “monolithic” wing of doctrine believe that she should be denied the right to a Catholic funeral as well.  Over at The Deacon’s Blog the debate begins:

A commenter raised the issue, citing the former congresswoman’s support for abortion rights, and declared: “Geraldine Ferraro should be denied a Catholic Mass with Catholic sacraments and yes, may God have mercy upon her soul.”

[T]his sort of controversy is not without precedent.  Two years ago, when Ted Kennedy’s Catholic funeral (shown above, featuring the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston) caused such an uproar, I posted a link to an article from Zenit on who may or may not have a Catholic funeral:

A funeral Mass can be celebrated for most Catholics, but there are some specific cases in which canon law requires the denial of a funeral Mass.

Canons 1184-1185 say:

“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.Ҥ2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

“Canon 1185. Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.”

In fact, these strictures are rarely applied. In part, this is because many sinners do show signs of repentance before death.

The consensus at the time was that it was appropriate for Ted Kennedy to have a Catholic funeral.  Canon lawyer Ed Peters weighed in on the topic, too — and agreed that the Kennedy funeral was canonically acceptable.

Reasonable enough, but not for all of Deacon’s commenters:

Abortion is an automatic excommunication according to Canon Law. If she truly repented of this terrible onslaught in which 60,000,000 babies were killed in a 38 year period, the public were not informed. Because this was a public scandal, as well as other left wing agendas, the only thing I can say is, “May God have mercy on her soul.

So much for the casting out the beam in your own eye, first.

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