San Diego Church Cancels Funeral for Gay Parishioner

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 30, 2011

A Catholic Church in San Diego refused to allow a funeral for a gay member of its own congregation, local news source 10 News.com reported on June 27.

The diocese reversed it position once the media got hold of the story, but the family of the deceased reportedly no longer wish for the funeral to take place at the church that rejected him.

The deceased was openly gay parishioner and devout Catholic John Sanfilippo, proprietor of a gay bar called the SRO Lounge. The rejection of his funeral was not the first time that Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church had denied a gay man services. Six years ago, the funeral of another gay church member, John McCusker, was similarly rejected, reported 10 News.com in a separate, June 29 article.

That follow-up article also said that one of the church's clerics, Father Louis Solcia, allegedly told the congregation that gays themselves had "set up" the church for controversy.

Sanfilippo died last week after a bout with emphysema. He had attended mass at Our Lady of the Rosary for many years. According to friends, he left the church a considerable sum of money, but that didn't stop the church from denying him funeral services.

"This past weekend, Sanfilippo's partner of 28 years and Sanfilippo's family were notified that the church canceled the funeral because Sanfilippo was gay," 10 News.com reported.

"It's like 2005 all over again for us Catholic [GLBTs]," a friend of the deceased, Nicole Murray-Ramirez, told the media, referring to McCusker's funeral being denied, not only at Our Lady of the Rosary, but at any of the churches in the San Diego diocese. That decision came from Bishop Robert Brom, 10 News.com reported.

"This is the only diocese [where] this has come up," Ramirez added. "This is the second time in the entire nation." Added Ramirez, "Are there going to be others that are going to be denied in the future? Will we have to go through this again?"

McCusker was given a funeral service by St.Paul's, a local Episcopalian church. Some members of his family were so angered by the bishop's decree that they converted to the Episcopalian faith. Brom later offered his apologies to McCusker's family, the article said.

"One of the things we declare when we're baptized is we will strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being," a St. Paul's cleric, the Very Rev. Scott Richardson, told 10News.com. "John McCusker was a human being... a child of God."

When contacted by 10News.com, the San Diego diocese abruptly reversed course and told the news outlet that the funeral would be allowed to proceed after all. But the diocese seemingly neglected immediately to inform Sanfilippo's family.

News that the diocese had changed its mind was met with further anger.

"All of a sudden, they change their mind and say, 'Well, you know, we may still allow the funeral to be here.' Why? Because they got caught in the process of denying equal rights to people?" said Neil Thomas, who was both a friend of Sanfilippo's and a patron of his business.

The diocese claimed that "a visiting priest, substituting during the pastor's vacation [who] was not familiar with local practice" had made the initial decision to deny Sanfilippo's funeral rites.

This explanation, and the change in the decision, did not ameliorate the insult done to the family, who reportedly sought out another church for the service.

The GLBT press was similarly outraged. "[W]hen the priests at Our Lady of the Rosary Church found out that he was survived by his partner of 30 years, Brian Galvin, they told Sanfilippo's family that the Mass was canceled," a June 30 Queerty article said. "That the priests managed to do so just two days after Sanfilippo died speaks both to their efficiency and their complete lack of humanity."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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