Why Was Sonny Bono Eulogized in a Catholic Church?

In the HERALD recently was an article on Sonny Bono. Everyone eulogized him at a Catholic funeral Mass and the closing paragraph told us that he had four wives. How can I explain to my Protestant friend who is scandalized and asks me, "How can this be. I thought Catholics didn't allow divorce and remarriage?" I myself am scandalized as are other Catholics and young people who see this as an accepted thing. Other prominent Catholics who died recently had the same treatment, even though they openly did not live according to God's law. — A reader in Leesburg. The Sonny Bono funeral and the article in the HERALD prompted many readers to write to "Straight Answers" on this matter. l did address the substance of this matter earlier this fall when several readers asked similar questions regarding the funeral services for both Giani Versace and Justice William Brennan. So first, we need to refresh ourselves about the Church's stance in these situations. The "Code of Canon Law" provides the regulations concerning the offering of funeral Masses and the Rites of Christian Burial. In general, the faithfully departed Catholic has a right to proper Church burial. The funeral rites of the Church are intended not only to implore the Lord's mercy for the faithfully departed and to honor his body in burial, but also to provide solace to the living family members and other remaining survivors. (Confer Canon No. 1183). However, the following individuals are to be deprived of both a funeral Mass and the Rites of Christian Burial unless they have shown some sign of repentance before their death: (1) know heretics. and schismatics; (2) individuals who purposely chose to have their bodies cremated for a reason opposed to the Christian faith, i.e. a denial of the resurrection of the body; (3) or other "manifest sinners" for whom the offering of a funeral Mass and the Rites of Christian Burial would cause scandal among the faithful. Regarding these cases, the local bishop should be consulted, particularly when there is doubt, and his judgment should be followed. (Confer Canon No. 1184) These succinct guidelines govern the Bono case. Before continuing, we must keep in mind a very serious caution: We entrust the judgment of anyone's soul to the Lord, who alone knows its depths and who renders His divine and perfect justice. None of us may comment on the state of Sonny Bono's soul at the time of his death. The fact that Sonny Bono was married and divorced three times, and then survived by his fourth wife at first hearing makes us think of category No. 3 above. (Please note that I do not know any of the particulars of this man's personal history.) However. we must be mindful that Sonny Bono's married life may have followed two possible courses: First, he may have received proper Declarations of Nullity for those first three marriages and was then validly married in the Catholic Church. Second, he, a baptized Catholic, may have entered into his first re-marriages outside of the Catholic Church which would mean they were not recognized at all; after a proper declaration from the Church and repentance, he would then be able to validly enter his last marriage, which was not technically his first in the civil sense but was his first in the eyes of the Church. We must remember that the Tribunal of a Diocese that would handle these marriage situations would not comment publicly to preserve confidentiality. I would presume that since he received a funeral Mass and the Rite of Christian Burial, his last marriage was a valid marriage and he had at least a minimal affiliation with the Catholic Church. Perhaps in his latter years and because of this last marriage, Sonny Bono had a sincere conversion. In all, we do not know the details so we must rely on the prudent judgment of the local bishop. Nevertheless, the question remains whether the offering of the funeral Mass and the Rites of Christian Burial have caused public scandal. Our Lord warned, "Whoever causes one of my little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Mt 18:6). Church authorities must be careful. While silence about Sonny's private life may protect his privacy "and that of his family" it also tempts us to think the worst in light of his past history. Couple this silence with the events surrounding Sonny's funeral. Since he was an entertainer for years and now a representative in Congress, he attracted the attention of the media. Various individuals, such as Newt Gingrich and Sonny's first wife, Cher, provided eulogies, though more from the secular bent than the spiritual. Such displays could be construed to give tacit approval to every aspect of a whole person's life, which hereupon could be seen to undermining or ignoring Church teaching regarding marriage. Here perhaps is where the scandal arose, and the faithful Catholic asks, "What is going on? Why should I bother to follow the teachings of the Church? We too must ask, "Has the funeral become the canonization?. Prudence would have dictated a private funeral Mass and burial attended by family and close friends. A memorial service where all of the dignitaries spoke could have been offered separately. The media could have been banned from the Church to prevent exploitation and distortion of the situation. The homily could have emphasized several points; the call to conform our lives to the Gospel message; the need for constant repentance of sin, conversion, and penance; the preparation for death and Judgment: the importance of praying for the repose of the soul that may be undergoing the pain of purgatory; and the need to trust in the infinite mercy of our Lord, who forgave the repentant thief and even His own persecutors. The assembled congregation could have prayed for the repose of Sonny's soul and the healing of his family. In my judgment, this would have been the best course of action. This situation and any similar one is delicate to say the least. We too are called to forgive, to give the benefit of the doubt, and to pray for the repose of the soul of the departed, saint or sinner. Nevertheless, we must also be prudent dent and show good discretion so as not to ve scandal and in any way dilute the teachings of the Church. Fr. Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria. Copyright ?1997 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

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