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Unlearning Compassion in San Diego

Down in the far reaches of SoCal, it’s 2005 all over again.

That was the year of the Great San Diego Funeral Scandal. Save for a few line-up and location changes, locals were recently treated to a re-enactment. The basic storyline goes like this: A Catholic homosexual passes away; his funeral Mass is planned at a local parish; a Church official steps in to prevent it; a media uproar ensues; the diocese backtracks; local Catholics and homosexuals are both left scratching their heads; the Church winds up with egg on her face; the curtain falls.

In 2005 the bishop of San Diego, Robert Brom, took center stage. The drama began when John McCusker died of congestive heart failure at the young age of thirty-one, and his parents arranged for his funeral Mass to be held at the Immaculata Catholic Church on the campus of the University of San Diego, where he had graduated nine years earlier. When word got out that McCusker had been the owner of two gay bars, Club Montage and Rebar, where gay porn was routinely filmed and “slave auctions” were a common event, Bishop Brom took the unusual step of canceling the funeral Mass in order to “avoid public scandal.” Chancellor Rodrigo Valdivia, citing canon 1184 of the Code of Canon Law, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that McCusker’s business activities were “inconsistent with Catholic teachings.” Canon 1184 states that “manifest sinners” are to be “deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites” so as to “prevent public scandal to the faithful,” unless the deceased had “given some sign of repentance before death.”

As was to be expected, Brom’s decision caused a media sensation, and the bishop quickly became the target of intense attacks in the local media, both gay and mainstream. The Los Angeles Times reported that homosexual activists were planning to lead a boycott of collection-plate offerings and were preparing to picket outside Brom’s home.

Then, suddenly and without warning or explanation, Bishop Brom reversed course. He met with McCusker’s family and “regretfully acknowledged his hasty decision,” which, he said, “resulted in [McCusker’s] unjust condemnation.” The bishop promised to preside over a Mass in John’s memory for the McCusker family at Immaculata. He then said he would “not be available for any further public statements on this matter.”

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