Father Kenneth Doyle

Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. You noted in a recent column that the Mass is “the most powerful prayer that can be offered on a deceased person’s behalf.” That comment brought back a wave of sorrow for my wife and me. Ten years ago, her father died after a lengthy and progressive illness. Due to the fact that we were living out of state at the time, and worsened by some unresolved hard feelings toward their father by other surviving family members, Dad was shuttled into a grave at a veterans’ cemetery before my wife and I could intervene.

Despite the fact that he was a lifelong practicing Catholic, he was buried without even a public wake, and worse still, without the Catholic funeral Mass he richly deserved. So my question is this: Can he still have a full funeral Mass, not just a memorial Mass, celebrated in his name even though he is already buried, even without the presence of his remains? (If so, I would contact our family’s original pastor.)

It would be an opportunity for Dad’s soul to enjoy a proper requiem, and it would also allow close family and longtime friends a chance to prayerfully ask God’s graces on Dad’s behalf, an opportunity they were deprived of (and shocked by) at the time of his passing. (City of origin withheld)

A. Yes, you could have a Mass celebrated for your father-in-law even now, 10 years after his death. Technically, I suppose, it would be called a memorial Mass, but in most respects it would be similar to a funeral Mass, except that the body would not be present. (And these days, with cremations becoming more frequent, that is already the case at many funeral Masses.)

I would suggest that you contact your family’s pastor and see if he would be willing to celebrate a separate, special Mass for your father-in-law. (In other words, you would not simply add the deceased’s name to the other intentions at one of the regularly scheduled parish Masses.)

You may want to announce the Mass in a newspaper notice or by contacting friends and family directly. Perhaps you would want to call it an anniversary memorial Mass for your loved one. At the Mass, you might consider having a small table with your father-in-law’s picture and a bouquet of flowers. (That table could be placed either where people first enter the church or, if the priest is willing, in front near the altar where the casket would ordinarily go.)

Your question, and your sadness and lingering regret, remind me how important it is, at the time of a death, for a family to set aside differences and join in planning funeral rites that best honor the deceased and respect his wishes. Clearly, your father-in-law would have wanted a funeral Mass.

Q. On the third anniversary of his election to the papacy, Pope Francis once again stressed the critical importance for followers of Christ to show mercy. How would that attitude manifest itself toward those priests dismissed from their ministry because they were found guilty of some sexual crime? (These men are well-known and often their names have been listed on diocesan websites.) (Wynantskill, New York)

A. In a 2002 meeting in Dallas, the U.S. Catholic bishops fashioned the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and adopted a policy of “zero tolerance.” In other words, any cleric found to have sexually abused a minor could never again be allowed to function in public ministry.

Having been present at that meeting, I recall that there were a few bishops who spoke in favor of a more nuanced approach. There are varying levels of gravity, they argued, and each case should be weighed separately, especially when a single offense had occurred many years before, rehabilitative therapy had taken place and a man had functioned productively and flawlessly in ministry ever since.

But the will of the majority prevailed. Zero tolerance was set in place and that policy continues in the church today. If you are asking whether someone who has been credibly accused will ever be allowed back into ministry, I believe that to be unlikely.

The mercy to which we are called as Christians obliges us, however, to offer forgiveness to those men who have been removed, many of whom helped a fair number of people during their years in ministry and deeply regret the hurt and the harm they caused to individuals and to the church.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.