Pope Francis with Bishop Tony
Palmer shortly before Palmer's
Catholic Canon Law permits a Catholic Funeral Mass for baptized non-Catholics under certain circumstances. Perhaps the most famous of these Masses was in August 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI sent Cardinal Walter Kasper to preside over the Funeral Mass of Brother Roger Schütz, the Founder of the Ecumenical Monastic Community of Taizé and a close personal friend of both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Cardinal Ratzinger had personally given Brother Roger Holy Communion at the funeral of Pope John Paul earlier that year. In the case of Tony Palmer permission for a Catholic Funeral Mass was granted by the local bishop because Palmer’s wife and children are Catholic. It is not only permissible under Canon Law to provide a funeral Mass for a non-Catholic member of a Catholic family, especially one who frequently worships with his or her family, but it is routine in most parishes today to do so. Certainly in our parish it is a common event, perhaps provided as often as a dozen times a year.
When the Palmer family asked that Tony have a Catholic Funeral Mass, the Bishop of Clifton, the Rt. Rev. Declan Ronan Lang, granted permission but said he was not to be buried as a Bishop. This is when Pope Francis stepped in and granted the permission for a funeral in which the deceased was given the rites due a bishop. How could a Protestant, the Krazies wonder, possibly be accorded recognition as a bishop? Well, we need to look at the facts. We cannot presume that just because a person is Protestant that they are not, according to the standards of the Catholic Church, validly ordained. In fact, the Communion of Episcopal Evangelical Churches has been very careful from its foundation to make sure that its Bishops are consecrated according to Rites acceptable by the Catholic Church and by Bishops whose Apostolic Succession is unquestioned by Rome. Their Orders are derived from the Old Catholic Church in Netherlands whose first bishop, Cornelius van Steenoven was consecrated for the empty See of Utrecht in 1724 —without papal mandate—by Dominique-Marie Varlet, titular Archbishop of Babylon, who had himself been consecrated—with papal mandate—by Jacques de Goyon Matignon, who had served as Bishop of Condom from 1671-1673. While the episcopal consecration of van Steenoven was illicit (there being no papal mandate, and in fact Steenoven had been turned down by Rome as a candidate for Archbishop of Utrecht because he was suspect of Jansenism), it was valid as it was performed by a validly ordained bishop according to the canonical rite and with presumable correct intention to consecrate a Bishop in the sense that the Church holds. Thus the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands has an undisputed Apostolic Succession (and is and has always been recognized as such by the Holy See) and thus the Succession passed on to the Bishops of the Communion of Episcopal Evangelical Churches is also recognized. Pope Francis was simply giving Bishop Palmer the courtesies due him in the funeral service. That doesn’t please the Krazies, but if they would do their homework –theological as well as historical—they would lose their beef with Francis. But then, if they didn’t have their gripes with the Pope, they wouldn’t be special and who wants to be just a garden variety Catholic like the rest of us? What would you blog about if you were happy? I don’t know, but I find an awful lot good about the Church today and where it is going. And when I hear that Pope Francis reached out to Bishop Palmer’s family with his sort of courtesy, I am profoundly thankful that we have such a Pope. At the same time, to be fair, I have no doubt that Pope Benedict would have done the same as his actions at the time of the death of Brother Roger would indicate. We call this the hermeneutic of continuity.