February 6th, 2014
04:07 PM ET

Why Philip Seymour Hoffman deserves a Catholic funeral

Opinion by Greg Kandra, special to CNN

(CNN) - When the news broke the other day that Philip Seymour Hoffman would receive a Catholic funeral on Friday, a few people on social media expressed surprise.

One commenter on my Facebook page questioned whether it was appropriate for the church to provide a high-profile Catholic funeral to someone whom she described as "a public sinner."

As  you probably know, Hoffman, one of this generation’s most celebrated actors, died last weekend of an apparent heroin overdose.

The Facebook critic recanted her comment when I explained that the funeral will not be high-profile. Instead, the Hoffman family is holding a private ceremony Friday at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York.

Although Hoffman was nominated for Oscars twice for playing religious figures - a Catholic priest in “Doubt” in 2009, a cult leader in “The Master" in 2012 - his own faith wasn’t widely known.

Hoffman was baptized Catholic, said the Rev. James Martin, a Catholic priest and prolific author who met the late actor while consulting for an off-Broadway play, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”

Martin, who also advised Hoffman on the intricacies of life as a Catholic priest for his role in “Doubt,” will officiate the late actor's funeral on Friday.

“Phil Hoffman was not only a baptized Catholic but also a person with a lovely soul, and so deserves a Catholic funeral,” Martin said. “And Pope Francis reminds that the sacraments aren’t for perfect people; they are for the rest of us.”

Martin’s book, “A Jesuit Off-Broadway,” fills in the picture of Hoffman’s faith.

As a boy growing up near Rochester, New York, Hoffman attended Sunday classes in preparation for confirmation in the Catholic Church, though his parents were not especially religious, according to Martin. The budding actor considered Masses more a chore than a blessing.

“Those Masses really turned me off,” Hoffman told Martin. “Lots of rote repetition, pretty boring and sometimes really brutal.”

It's unclear how religiously observant Hoffman was later in life; certainly, some of the details of his private life — and tragic death — are the kind of thing you'd read in the tabloids, not your parish bulletin.

Ultimately, though, it boils down to this: Philip Seymour Hoffman was a Catholic, a member of the Body of Christ. By virtue of his baptism, he has the right to a Catholic funeral.

Yes, the Catholic Code of Canon Law says there are “manifest sinners” who “cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.” But it’s rare for a Catholic bishop or priest to deny a funeral Mass to even people who have publicly disagreed with church teachings.

For instance, Cardinal Sean O’Malley backed the decision to allow the late Sen. Ted Kennedy to have a church funeral in 2009, despite the politician’s well-known support for abortion rights.

“We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief and loss,’’ O’Malley wrote on his blog at the time.

On the other hand, in 2002, the bishop of Brooklyn denied a full Catholic funeral to mobster John Gotti, but permitted the family to hold a private memorial Mass.

More recently, the Diocese of Rome last year instructed the estate of a Nazi war criminal to hold a “small private” funeral at his home, rather than at a Catholic church.

MORE ON CNN: Catholic sect holds funeral rites for Nazi war criminal

Phillip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t a murderer or a mobster. He was, like most of us, a mass of contradictions. He was a stunningly talented actor with an everyman’s physique. He was a loving father with a selfish addiction. He was a sinner, but also a son of God.

It's impossible to know for certain Philip Seymour Hoffman's relationship to God, to Christ, to the Catholic Church. These are things he carried in his own heart.

Likewise, we can't know the state of his soul in the final moment of his life. But all of us in the church pray for our brother Philip, as we do for all who die.

All this discussion of funerals illustrates something fundamental to Catholic theology, which is rooted, among so many other things, in mercy. We pray for it constantly, for ourselves and all who are struggling to live a life of faith.

I like the way it's phrased in one of the final prayers of the funeral Mass:

Merciful Lord, turn toward us and listen to our prayers: open the gates of paradise to your servant and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and with our brother for ever.

Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic deacon in the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, New York. A veteran broadcast journalist, he blogs at The Deacon’s Bench. The views expressed in this column belong to Kandra. 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Celebrity • Christianity • Entertainment • Faith • Mass • Opinion

soundoff (303 Responses)
  1. Douglas

    If the late Mr. Hoffman's final Will and Testament called for a Catholic funeral so be it.

    Who am I to judge?

    May he rest in peace!

    February 7, 2014 at 11:57 am |
    • Ann

      And if a Catholic service would provide comfort to his friends and family, even better. Who the heck would object to something like that?

      February 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm |
  2. Robert Raulerson

    I was on Huffington Post for years – they gradually destroyed the blog with moderation. Once people are given the power to censor others they always abuse it.

    February 7, 2014 at 11:12 am |
  3. Robert Raulerson

    I admire Hoffman's work and I'm sorry to learn he was a Gawdder. Of course, because he was baptized into the Catholic Church doesn't mean he really bought into it.

    February 7, 2014 at 11:01 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      definitely too smart to be religious.

      unfortunately not smart enough to stay off the junk.

      February 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
      • QuesCity

        How do you deal with the fact that there are a lot of people smarter than you that are religious?

        February 7, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
  4. Robert Raulerson

    Funerals are for living people Dead people are unconcerned.

    February 7, 2014 at 10:58 am |
    • C.u.

      Well said.

      February 7, 2014 at 11:51 am |
  5. KSinKY

    I stopped reading after the first few sentences. We're all public sinners. If the Catholic Church refused to celebrate a funeral Mass on these grounds, we'd all be in trouble.

    February 7, 2014 at 9:36 am |
    • Sungrazer

      I'm not a public sinner, because I have never sinned. Sin is a Christian concept that I reject.

      February 7, 2014 at 11:56 am |
      • Responding to the Pride

        "Sin" is the just generic term we use for acting adverse to God's commands. So, for instance, we call telling a lie a sin. Will you go on record as having never lied. Which is easier for you to say, that you are a sinner or a liar? If you say you are a liar, then we say it is sin–you can reject the concept of it, but you're still a liar.

        February 7, 2014 at 3:59 pm |
        • sam stone

          no, we do not accept that these are "god's commands". instead, many of us see them as ancient prohibitions from iron age sheep herders that were codified into a book that some people feel is the word of god

          February 7, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
  6. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    Heck from my experience being Catholic isn't even a requirement for a Catholic funeral or being buried in a Catholic Cemetary.

    February 6, 2014 at 11:45 pm |
  7. Age of Reason

    ..."what RICHES has not the FABLE of the Christ has NOT brought us!?"
    Pope Leo X (1521-38) ..............if the Pope doesn't believe in this phony "JESUS", then why should you?
    ............"JESUS CHRIST" never existed, and DO NOT believe in him!

    February 6, 2014 at 9:56 pm |
    • Akira

      Yes. Except Leo X never said that.

      February 6, 2014 at 10:50 pm |
      • Akira

        And Leo died in 1521.

        February 6, 2014 at 10:53 pm |
  8. Mitake111

    Hoffman's death is a tragedy. But also concerning is the public reaction to celebrity deaths, especially drug overdoses and suicides. Too many people are dangerously misguided. Read why our beliefs on Life and Death matter, and what we can learn from the loss of PSH.


    February 6, 2014 at 7:56 pm |
    • sam stone

      "drugs offer the empty promise of a temporary or permanent escape from reality"

      so does faith

      February 7, 2014 at 7:23 am |
      • lngtrmthnkr

        Drugs offer a temporary escape from reality and no future that is livable. Faith offers life and hope for the future and even after death. The death is not something to be dreaded but even to be anticipated with hope.

        February 7, 2014 at 11:25 am |
        • sam stone

          if that were the case, where are the vast numbers of faithful offing themselves to speed up paradise?

          February 7, 2014 at 11:33 am |
        • sam stone

          so, what you are saying is both are drugs, but faith is the drug you prefer?

          February 7, 2014 at 11:35 am |
        • sam stone

          hope IS the drug

          prayer/meditation releases endorphins

          faith IS a drug, and is temporary as long as you have it

          every bit as much as heroin

          February 7, 2014 at 11:47 am |
        • lngtrmthnkr

          Sam one is temporary ,one is permanent. Faith is not a drug, it's a concept.

          February 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm |
        • sam stone

          people can lose faith

          and, the nature of faith (as a drug) is independent on whether it is permanent

          February 7, 2014 at 3:46 pm |
        • sam stone

          the belief that you will live forever and ever in paradise with no pain or suffering and with a loving father figure can certainly be a drug

          February 7, 2014 at 3:54 pm |
        • sam stone

          i live just outside a big, poor urban area. a drive down the main drag(s) in the city show churches and bars, bars and churches.....one a place for those whose drugs are despair and alcohol, the other for those whose drug is hope. a drug is a drug is a drug, moreso for those who deny it is a drug

          February 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Heroin doesn't provide comforting rituals. Religion may do.

    February 6, 2014 at 7:11 pm |
  10. aldewacs2

    "Why Philip Seymour Hoffman deserves a Catholic funeral."
    – – –
    I didn't even know that a Catholic funeral was some sort of 'prize'.
    For all I know it's just another way to create an artificial bond between the church and its victims.

    February 6, 2014 at 6:56 pm |
    • Happy Atheist

      "it's just another way to create an artificial " monetary " bond between the church and its victims."

      February 7, 2014 at 11:51 am |
  11. tony

    To create an varied and busy, belief blog thread?

    February 6, 2014 at 6:15 pm |
  12. Reality #2

    And exactly why would anyone want a Catholic funeral?

    February 6, 2014 at 5:53 pm |
    • tony

      Dead people never know how their funeral went.

      February 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm |
    • Akira

      I see nothing wrong with a Catholic desiring a Catholic funeral.

      February 6, 2014 at 7:44 pm |
    • TJ

      Funerals are for the survivors. However, if one believes in life after death, the meaning of funerals and religious services is more important.

      February 6, 2014 at 9:34 pm |
    • Reality #2

      Time line of Human Evolution – starting point? Stardust

      name Millions of years ago

      Cells with a nucleus 2,100
      Animals 590
      Vertebrates and closely related
      invertebrates 530

      Vertebrates 505
      Tetrapods 395
      Amniotes, 340
      Mammals 220
      Mammals that birth live young
      (i.e. non-egg-laying)
      Pl-acental mammals (i.e. non-marsupials) 125
      Supraprimates, bats, whales, most
      hoofed mammals
      , and most carnivorous mammals
      Supraprimates (primates, rodents, rabbits,
      tree shrews,
      and colugos) 100
      Primates, colugos and tree shrews
      Primates and colugos
      Primates 75
      "Dry-nosed" (literally, "simple-nosed")
      (apes, monkeys, and tarsiers)
      "Higher" primates (or Simians)
      (a-pes, old-world monkeys, and
      new-world monkeys)
      "Downward-nosed" primates (apes and
      old-world monkeys) 30
      A-pes 28
      Great a-pes (
      Humans, chimpanzees, bonobos,
      gorillas, and orangutans) 15
      Humans, chimpanzees, bonobos,
      and gorillas 8
      Genera H-omo and Australopithecus 5.8
      Contains only the Genus H-omo 2.5
      Humans 2.5
      Modern humans 0.5
      Fully anatomically modern humans 0.2

      Ending Point? Stardust

      February 6, 2014 at 11:16 pm |
      • Akira

        So? Is your family not having a funeral for you? Make your wishes clear now so they don't waste their time on you.

        February 7, 2014 at 10:26 am |
      • lngtrmthnkr

        You forgot the soul. It is the main reason we are.

        February 7, 2014 at 11:27 am |
        • Science Works

          The breath of soul ?

          February 7, 2014 at 11:41 am |
        • sam stone

          the soul?

          why do you think such a thing exists?

          February 7, 2014 at 11:52 am |
        • Happy Atheist

          What soul? Please provide evidence for a soul. The evidence for a soul is as compelling as the evidence for girl cooties.

          February 7, 2014 at 11:55 am |
  13. Dyslexic doG

    hey, why not make him a saint. that would help your current membership drive. It seems pretty easy to fabricate a couple of miracles. you do it for every pope. why not PSH?

    February 6, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
    • Colin

      I prayed to him and my dyslexia wnet ayaw.

      February 6, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
      • aldewacs2

        OK that was funny.

        February 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        very funny! 🙂

        February 6, 2014 at 10:42 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.