Friday, May 19, 2023


By Tim Rohr

Today I agreed to assist a relative (I'll call him "Tom") to bury his sister (I'll call her "Mary"). 

Tom and Mary were born and raised Catholic. However, many years ago, Tom joined an evangelical church (I'll call it a "church" for convenience) and Mary remained Catholic. 

Tom's church is like many such evangelical churches: tight-knit, responsive, outgoing, helpful, and very personable. Mary's Catholic parish is like many parishes: anonymous, unresponsive, inward, not helpful - at least not unless you ask...and ask again, and impersonal. 

God bless you if your Catholic parish is not like Mary's.

Recently Mary died. The only relative who cared about her was Tom. In fact, Tom was really the only person in the world Mary had. She died quietly of brain cancer while sitting next to Tom watching TV. 

The reason I'm involved, other than being a relative, is that Tom is having trouble getting Mary buried. 

Mary, before she died, made it clear that she wanted a Catholic funeral. Upon her death Tom called Mary's parish church. His call was answered by a parish secretary who had no idea who Mary was (she was always a quiet person) and reflexively read off the funeral charges from a price list. 

This is a side note, but perhaps one of the most important jobs for a pastor is choosing and educating the right person to be the church secretary, since this is the person who almost everyone, parishioner or not, will interact with first, and will always be seen as an extension of the pastor. Sadly, my almost constant experience is... Well, I'll let that go for now.

Long story short, the price of a Catholic funeral and burial - just the charges for the church, the Mass, and the priest, are a hardship for Tom since Mary died with nothing to her name and Tom has already used most of his own meager resources dealing with the other aspects of Mary's death.

Tom tried to negotiate with the secretary but she said he would have to meet personally with the pastor to discuss it and the pastor was on vacation for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Tom lives about 100 miles away. 

Tom called me for help. He was very nice about it. He didn't criticize the Catholic church, but he let me know that he is a member of a bereavement ministry at his church and that they immediately attend to the needs of deceased members at no charge and even provide a reception. If the family of the deceased can donate, that's fine. Otherwise, everything is taken care of - including the cost of a burial plot, casket, whatever, if that's what's needed.

What a great ministry. 

If our poor, publicly-battered Catholic Church ever wanted to restore its public image and bring alienated Catholics back to the fold, this would be the way to do it. In fact, it's already required that we do it as a Corporal Work of Mercy.

True, Canon Law mandates the following: 

  • "Deceased members of the Christian faithful must be given ecclesiastical funerals according to the norm of law." Can. 1176 §1
  • "A funeral for any deceased member of the faithful must generally be celebrated in his or her parish church." Can. 1177 §1. 
  • "Regarding offerings on the occasion of funeral rites, the prescripts of can. 1264 are to be observed, with the caution, however, that there is to be no favoritism toward persons in funerals and that the poor are not deprived of fitting funerals." Can. 1181 

Note the word "offering." These are not "fees." And in "summary," a deceased Catholic cannot be denied a Catholic funeral because someone can't afford the aircon bill. 

Certainly our pastors know all this, but most "regular" Catholics do not. And they are usually not told. They, like Tom, are just read a price list by the church secretary. 

At Tom's church, when one of their members dies and the church secretary gets a call, the caller is immediately referred to Tom's bereavement ministry and they spring into action to see to everything that is needed. 

Upon getting Tom's call today asking for help to bury his sister in the Catholic way that his sister wanted, I did a search and found that there is a non-profit Catholic organization in Mary's diocese which provides assistance to bury the dead much in the way Tom's church does. 

However, Mary’s church secretary was either ignorant of this help or didn't care to share it. She just read off a price list and when Tom objected he was told he'd have to meet with the pastor who was on vacation for another two weeks and would have to drive 200 miles round trip to meet with the pastor when he returned. 

Meanwhile, Mary’s body remains in storage. I don't know what it's costing Tom, but it may be more than what Mary's church is charging by the time we finally get her buried.

I told Tom that I'd meet with the pastor and take care of it. 

Meanwhile, we have so many "ministries." Why not one like Tom's?

I'll join.


  1. A very discouraging situation. Love's grown cold. But I'll pray that your effort on Tom and Mary's behalf becomes a channel of grace, and for her soul too

  2. Truly a terrible dilemma! I know what you mean about Church secretaries and unresponsive parishes. God bless you for working to resolve your relative's situation. I'm glad he belongs to a caring church. I often wonder why non-Catholic churches often have holier members than Catholic ones do.

  3. This was a sad situation. When reading it I have seen often horrible treatment of people who have gone to a parish and have been treated so coldly and completely disrespected during their grief.
    But, I have also seen some parishes with wonderful people helping them from beginning to end and after.
    I have heard more than once about the St. Jude Parish and that they have a Bereavement Person who is immediately contacted and walks the grieving family through everything.
    It’s too bad that not all parishes are like that.
    Sorry for your friends loss.

    1. I believe we just need to step up in our own parishes since it does not appear that developing a bereavement ministry is a pastoral priority. Just a note. At my cousin's church there is not just a person who walks the bereaved through everything, they, his church automatically pays for everything. The family can give a donation if they are able. Why not a second collection once in awhile for the support of something like this. This is something I know every Catholic would get behind. We are all going to need it someday.