The Limits of Mercy



      Reblogged from

One of the things I am beginning to like about Francis is that he challenges me, he makes me ask questions, especially about mercy. “Am I merciful? How far mercy should be extended? Is there a limit to it? Where does it end?”

The test came with the celebration of a Requiem Mass for the murderer and war criminal  Erich Priebke, who was responsible for the deaths 335 Italian civilians and who himself admitted to personally shooting two people. Pope Francis’ Vicar for Rome, Cardinal  Agostino Vallini, had forbidden every priest in the diocese to offer a Requiem for him. From what I understand this was a blanket ban with no exceptions, it wasn’t possible for example to offer a Requiem at an obscure and tiny church early in the morning, with no music, with a limited number of participants, or even with just a priest and server, behind locked doors.
Personally, I have no sympathy for murderers, anti-Semites and Nazis, as a priest I have a duty to be merciful to sinners even if I am revolted by what they have done. I would not want to celebrate Priebke’s funeral rites and certainly  not in public but in his life Priebke was not excommunicated and according to his lawyer he died having been to Confession and therefore we presume was reconciled to God and his Church. Excommunicating someone post mortemwhich seems in effect to to be what happened to Priebke seems a terrible and unmerciful thing to do, something which belongs to the Church from a previous century. As Francis himself asked in the case of Mgsr Ricci, “Who am I to judge?” In the case of someone who has just died, who now stands before God’s throne Catholics are indeed not called to judge but to implore God’s mercy, the unfaithful become ‘the faithful departed’.

Certainly, Cardinal Vallini was right to take in account the opprobrium of the faithful and even of the secular world but in this case it seems ‘the right-wing Catholic cult, that has split from Rome’, the SSPX, has been more merciful than the Pope’s Cardinal Vicar. Though we might be suspicious of their motives, they have been willing to accept the inevitable condemnation that comes with being merciful to those society vilifies.

It could be that we are dealing with two different understandings of funeral here. In the rite which was offered for Priebke, whether he had killed millions or was eventually raised to the altar as canonised saint, it would have been the same, it would have implored God’s mercy, recognising that ‘all have fallen short of the Glory of God’. Perhaps Cardinal Vallini understood a funeral to be ‘a celebration of the life of” Priebke, with readings, music and even the colour of the vestments chosen by loving friends and relatives and a sermon full of platitudes preached by a sympathetic priest.

The question remains, who showed mercy, the diocese of Rome or the priest who said Mass for him carried out the final obsequies? Who showed the mercy of God and questioned the values of the world?

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