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. johnn23


    February 11, 2014 at 10:35 pm |
  2. Honey Badger Don't Care

    Who cares about him? Second rate actor and a heroin addict. Big whoop!

    February 10, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      wow,honeybadger you really don't care

      February 10, 2014 at 5:30 pm |
    • Akira

      Who is a first rate actor, in your eyes?

      February 11, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
    • mytrueshurts

      I think that his activity show the levels of unhappiness and the emptiness that is among the U.S.A. population not matters the economic levels. Maybe that is Why the media is shaken drums.

      February 11, 2014 at 7:50 pm |
  3. Sophia

    I agree, it was right to give him a Roman Catholic Funeral. It was WRONG to fire the unwed, pregnant teacher in Mont. Are Roman Catholics Pro-Life or not? One of the reasons I left the Roman Church and became Orthodox is because I kept hearing that Anti-Abortion was a Roman Catholic Issue-wish it were.

    February 9, 2014 at 5:06 pm |
  4. Dude

    I'll always be glad for Mr. Hoffman's role in the Big Lebowski. Great movie.

    February 9, 2014 at 7:38 am |
    • doobzz

      It's tough to pick a favorite. Boogie Nights was a standout for me.

      February 9, 2014 at 12:43 pm |
      • headlessthompsongunner

        Yes, Boogie Nights was a special performance.

        February 11, 2014 at 7:42 pm |
  5. Bootyfunk

    "By virtue of his baptism, he has the right to a Catholic funeral."

    +++ baptisms usually aren't voluntary. baptism is something that is usually DONE to a child, not something they volunteer for. because parents dunk their child's head in water with a witch doctor present doesn't mean their dead body should be subjected to more silly religious ritual.

    February 9, 2014 at 6:26 am |
  6. Ahoj2U


    February 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm |
  7. Alias

    You all know that the poster "Mary" actually has a penis, right?

    February 8, 2014 at 12:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      You all know that the poster Larry of Arabia doesn't, don't you?

      February 8, 2014 at 3:32 pm |
      • Alias

        I would suggest we get them together, but imagine how the children would turn out.

        February 8, 2014 at 4:32 pm |
        • doobzz

          Ew, thanks a lot, Alias. I just ate.

          February 8, 2014 at 8:04 pm |
    • ?

      Yeah, his ex girlfriend's name is Mary; she posts here, so it's a revenge thing.
      (He does, too; you know them both.)

      February 9, 2014 at 11:47 am |
  8. Alias

    I can't prove no god exists, but I can expalin why the bbile is flawed.
    After that, we could explain why all the other religions are crap, and what will be left with then?

    February 8, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
  9. palintwit

    Bobby Jindahl's real first name is Piyush. He's a batsh!t crazy right wing nut job who attends catholic exorcisms. And he keeps his wallet and his car keys up his nose.

    February 8, 2014 at 11:53 am |
  10. Robert Raulerson

    When my favorite Founding Father – Thomas Paine – was dying a Zealot broke into his room and and demanded to know if Ol' Tom accepted Jesus as his 'savior'. Ol' Tom replied, " No, I see no reason for that."

    I intend to keep a pistol under my pillow when I'm on my death bed – Zealots be warned.

    February 8, 2014 at 10:51 am |
  11. Robert Raulerson

    Only on a religious blog could such a silly question be given such serious consideration. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    February 8, 2014 at 10:40 am |
    • doobzz

      At least it's not about the pope.

      February 8, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
  12. A. Reasoner

    Of course he deserves a Catholic funeral.

    1. He's dead.
    2. He was rich.

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

      I personally find the question foolish. He will no clue and the purpose of the funeral is to benefit the grieving, so if they wish to give him a Catholic funeral, so be it.

      February 8, 2014 at 9:19 am |
    • Mack Hall, HSG

      "But the worse I am the more I need God. I can't shut myself out from His mercy.."


      February 8, 2014 at 9:48 am |
      • doobzz

        Wow, a fictional character talking about her need dependency on another fictional character. Brilliant.

        February 9, 2014 at 3:35 pm |
  13. jay

    Liberals and atheists blame, and ridicule religion when alive, but when they die?

    February 8, 2014 at 7:36 am |
    • JWT

      When they die they are dead and none of it matters.

      February 8, 2014 at 8:05 am |
    • Colin

      They're dead. It's not as though he changed his mind.

      February 8, 2014 at 8:33 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Tell us Jay, what happens when they die and what evidence do you have for this?
      I have it clearly stated in my Living Will that no attention is to be paid to any blathering done by me when I am not of lucid mind, therefore no minister of any form is to be brought in. No funeral will be held, my corpse is off to a University to hopefully benefit some med student and science.
      As far as anyone can say with certainty, this is the only life we get and to think otherwise devalues this life.

      February 8, 2014 at 9:16 am |
      • Darryl

        Thanks for that, TP1. I might add a similar bit to my own will.

        February 8, 2014 at 9:38 am |
    • Petra

      What a mind-numbingly stupid statement. His family is arranging it. He didnt't know he was going to die.

      February 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
  14. mary sullivan

    lovely...rest in peace, philip

    February 8, 2014 at 7:05 am |
  15. Colin

    How does one “deserve a funeral,” Catholic or otherwise. I would much prefer to never quite reach that goal!

    But when I do, I am the least likely to care what is going on around me.

    February 8, 2014 at 6:48 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Exactly. A funeral is strictly for the living, the deceased person gets no benefit from it.

      February 8, 2014 at 6:54 am |
    • Ryan

      Good luck in your quest for immortality.

      February 9, 2014 at 6:25 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.