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. children of Israel

    Drugs are for the flesh? Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. *1st Corinthians 6:2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? (Revelation 18:24)

    February 8, 2014 at 2:43 am |
    • G to the T

      Attachment (i.e. desire) is the root of all suffering – Buddha.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
  2. children of Israel

    How does America treat drug dependency? They put you on more drugs charging you an arm and leg for it. As the government medicates everyone into a slow death. Now will you take the devil chip call obama care? Jeremiah 8:15

    February 8, 2014 at 2:03 am |
  3. HotAirAce

    Just another dead, drug addicted, hypocritical Babble Humper. Who really gives a rat's ass about how his cult deals with his remains? Does it really matter?

    February 8, 2014 at 1:25 am |
  4. Reality #2

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    February 8, 2014 at 12:32 am |
  5. MsL

    While I am not a fan of drug use or the fact that 3 young children are left fatherless as a result of very unfortunate act, PSH was a member of our Church and for those of you who have little comprehension of Roman Catholicism, we are all basically aware that none of us is without sin. There is great comfort for the grieving family in the community of faith in our Church. This is part of our philosophy of love and caring for all our members and their families. We do not cast aside the downtrodden in their time of need.

    February 8, 2014 at 12:16 am |
    • truthprevails1

      You support a church full of pedophiles-that doesn't say a tremendous amount about you or anyone within the group! Any normal person would walk away but instead you're so brainwashed that you don't care about the innocent children, just the god you 'believe' exists. How very sad!
      (oh and before you whine that I know nothing of your group, my husband is a recovering Catholic who fortunately was smart enough to leave the cult of pedophile behind)

      February 8, 2014 at 7:05 am |
      • Ed

        I feel sorry for your husband having to be married to an angry heathen like you. Talk about unequally yoked!

        February 10, 2014 at 9:51 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Ed: My husband feels the same way I do. We're not angry. We're simply not blind to reality. My husband is a recovering Catholic and we're good without god.

          February 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
  6. JohnG

    If someone is a practicing user of drugs, they know their tolerance levels. If they mainline more than that and have another 45 packs for backup to me that is suicide. The Coroner may want to term it otherwise. When a man has three children who love and trust you and depend on you to show them the way in life, you leave them heartbroken. Those are sins for any religion. He was a good actor. Which means he only pretended to have a soul worth praying for.

    February 8, 2014 at 12:12 am |
    • G to the T

      "If someone is a practicing user of drugs, they know their tolerance levels."

      The potency and lethality of any particular dose will depend on a) the amount of filler and b) what the filler consisted of. You may be able to have a general idea, but in the case of heroin, there's no gaurantees of consistency in product.

      February 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
      • myweightinwords

        Not to mention, if he'd been clean for a while and was falling back to using, he could very easily misjudge amounts he could tolerate or that he needed to get the accustomed feeling.

        From what I've read, this doesn't sound like an intentional overdose.

        February 10, 2014 at 10:01 am |
        • igaftr

          His heroin was from the same bad batch that is killing hundreds. Tainted heroin. Definitely not intended.

          February 10, 2014 at 10:05 am |
  7. muon

    Great guy. Great actor. Sad.

    February 7, 2014 at 11:46 pm |
  8. Maria Procaccino

    One name comes to mind: TRUJILLO!! FULL FORMAL, HIGH, SOLEMN Mass with every Bishop, Cardinal and Priest in attendance... Talk about hypocrisy...

    February 7, 2014 at 10:53 pm |
  9. David

    The real 'sinners' are many of the filthy perverse liars and stealers within the highest levels of the church who hide behind their holy cloaks acting high and mighty, but who in reality are even lower then that of a serpent's belly. The wrath of God is yours, for your judgment day is coming!

    February 7, 2014 at 10:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      there is no judgement, we just die

      February 7, 2014 at 10:58 pm |
      • Shyeah

        Or not. There may be more to life than what sam stone knows. sam stone does not know everything there is to know about life. But he does know he and his theories will die someday. Yes.

        February 7, 2014 at 11:02 pm |
        • Baby

          What, internet atheists don't know everything? I'm pretty sure sam stone is a renowned scientist.

          February 7, 2014 at 11:06 pm |
        • sam stone

          i am just stating an opinion

          if the blog theists would be so humble, that would be a pleasent surprise

          but, i do not think that will happen

          shyeah and baby.....do you claim to have KNOWLEDGE of what goes on after death, or are you just stating your opinion like i am?

          February 7, 2014 at 11:26 pm |
        • sam stone

          also, you and your theories will die someday too

          February 7, 2014 at 11:27 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Sorry Sam isn't wrong. This life ends and that is it, there simply is no reason or evidence to support anything more and to believe there is, devalues this life. (Nowhere in recorded history has anyone ever returned from the dead , so no justification for believing it.)

          February 8, 2014 at 6:43 am |
        • Ed

          These atheists like Sam Stone and Truthprevails1 are arrogantly confident in their beliefs. Maybe they're right or maybe not.
          "Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools."(Romans 1:21-22).

          February 9, 2014 at 5:53 pm |
        • sam stone

          arrogantly confident?

          as opposed to the jesus suckers who claim that their opinions are FACT?

          February 10, 2014 at 5:15 am |
        • sam stone

          i am a fool for having an opinion?

          then what are you, with that bible jammed so far up your backside that you are s-h-i-t-t-i-n-g up "scripture"?

          what say you, d-bag?

          while we are at it, punk, i am not professing to be wise, i am only stating an opinion

          go back to your comic book for another quote now

          February 10, 2014 at 5:20 am |
      • Steve M

        Thank you for expressing your opinion.

        February 9, 2014 at 10:18 am |
  10. Robert Raulerson

    If you get a Catholic funeral – then what? You aren't really dead? The only thing about religion that isn't funny is the part that is dangerous.

    February 7, 2014 at 9:47 pm |
  11. 7

    Hello folks.

    Everyone is welcome to visit,


    February 7, 2014 at 9:42 pm |
  12. Mitchell

    The man was an addict. He had a chronic brain disease. He was also undoubtedly, like the rest of us, a sinner. But the addiction wasn't the sin.

    February 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
    • sam stone

      sin is a man made concept, a religious guilt trip that only resonates with the members of that religion

      February 7, 2014 at 7:48 pm |
      • Camel

        The consequences are real.

        February 7, 2014 at 8:22 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Of an overdose yes.

          February 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm |
        • sam stone

          there are no consequences to "sin". it's a hoax

          February 7, 2014 at 10:57 pm |
        • Camel

          What do you imagine I'm being hoaxed out of in believing my sins have negative consequences in my life?

          February 7, 2014 at 11:13 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          You simply fail to comprehend that outside of your book sin is non-existent. It is something made up to make you live in fear of a hell that as far as anyone in recorded history knows does not exist (no-one has ever returned from the dead to say otherwise). It is pathetic that you need that fear to be a good person.

          February 8, 2014 at 7:11 am |

    All people who go to church are hypocrites! They just go to criticize others. Read the part in the Bible where it says just because you go to church, doesn't mean you're going to heaven! SO TRUE INDEED!!!

    February 7, 2014 at 5:55 pm |
    • Takai

      How do you know all people who go to church are hypocrites... unless you go to church? And wouldn't that would make you... a hypocrite, too.

      February 7, 2014 at 7:07 pm |

        Geez you're stupid. I don't go to church because I'm no hypocrite like you obviously are, along with the rest of your moronic herd.

        February 7, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
        • Takai

          I didn't say I go to church. I was asking how you know who goes to church? Unless you actually go, you can only speculate.

          February 7, 2014 at 9:48 pm |
  14. Laurie

    I can't help but wonder if all the devout religioners screaming that Hoffman doesn't merit a church funeral were quite so adamant about the Church's protection of all the child molesters and all their decades of masquerading in clerical costumes?

    Is it for you to judge Hoffman? There is something in the bible about who gets to avenge and, to the best of my recollection, none of your names was listed. The man had a gift and people who loved him. He made bad choices, caving to a strong pull. As a result, he died in a stupid way. Not that he was stupid, but that the cause of death was stupid and wasteful. Lives come to their ends in many ways and this is one of the sad ones.

    February 7, 2014 at 5:17 pm |
  15. Valley Girl from the East

    Why is everyone kissing this guy's posterior..."Greatest actor of our generation" or "beloved actor with tremendous talent"...
    The fat ginger who overdosed on heroin?! and left behind a girlfriend who wouldn't marry him with 3 kids...yikes. I guess you can be an overweight drug addict and kill yourself and still come out smelling like roses if your an actor with "talent".

    Anyone remember his role in "Along Came Polly"? He taught me the word "sharted"....that's about all I remember about him.

    February 7, 2014 at 3:33 pm |
    • Laurie

      If you remember only one stupid thing about a role he played, by what authority to you comment on him, his life or his choices? As you find significance in his weight, I find significance in the screen name you use: It indicates mindlessness, something your post demonstrates so well. His talent and his drug use are mutually exclusive. No point in drawing lines when there are no dots to connect. One hopes you find fitting outlets for all that holiness.

      It never fialsrnparallels parallelsThe less they have to say, the more they show it.

      February 7, 2014 at 5:30 pm |
    • Valley Girl

      'He taught me the word "sharted"....that's about all I remember about him.'

      That sums you up nicely.

      February 7, 2014 at 10:33 pm |
      • Laurie

        "That sums you up nicely."

        Pithy and funny.

        February 7, 2014 at 11:30 pm |
  16. Name*bak

    Father,I am a Catholic with many of Seymours feelings abt the religion but we as kids were brain washed into thinking when someone commits suicide and he did ,we were not to give him a mass nor Catholic burial.

    I forgive him but cant forget his selfishness toward those children,who in fact will suffer everyday of their lives for his selfish undoing.

    Father,all due respect you are being political because he is famous and don't want the responsibility of saying he was wrong as it may lose viewership.I am completely disappointed in this stance.

    He should be in a chapel somewhere out of the public eye not a Catholic Church.Im sure before our wonderful New Pope you would not have been of this opinion. I love the Pope because I am not judgemental but angry as HELL that those kids are being totally humiliated and brought out for the public to gawk at in this time of THEIR NEEDS.
    The Catholic Church Loyola should have made suggestions to the family because the mother is numb and doesn't know how to deal. Its obvious in the look on her face.....
    Father much luck and love to you,


    February 7, 2014 at 1:48 pm |
    • Akira

      He didn't commit suicide.

      February 7, 2014 at 1:52 pm |
  17. Akira

    Why shouldn't he have a Catholic funeral?

    February 7, 2014 at 1:45 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.