Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from the Associated Press, July 19, 2003, with the headline: “Family Sues Over Priest’s Sermon at Funeral: Graphic descriptions of deceased called offensive, Chama, New Mexico—The family of a former Chama councilman is suing a Catholic priest and the archdiocese of Santa Fe over the priest’s sermon at the man’s funeral. The lawsuit accuses the Reverend Scott Mansfield of using graphic terms to tell the congregation the deceased was going to hell because he wasn’t totally devoted to the Church.
“The family of Ben Martinez filed the lawsuit in June, accusing Mansfield of saying during Martinez’ funeral ‘clearly, loudly, and without hesitation, that the Lord vomited people like Ben out of His mouth to hell.’ The archdiocese and Mansfield deny the allegations and are vigorously defending themselves in court, archdiocese spokeswoman Celine Radigan said. Their answer to the lawsuit says Mansfield recited scriptural passages from the gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ and scriptural passages from the Book of Revelation at the funeral. “There is a passage in the Book of Revelation similar to what Mansfield is accused of saying. In Revelation:3:15-16, the Lord says, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.”’
“Mansfield, who was ordained a priest in 2000, is a former rock music disc jockey, once known as Hubby Dean. The dispute also cost Andy Rivas of Chama, who had trained to be a deacon for more than two years, his chance at ordination as a deacon this month, the lawsuit states, because he backed the family’s account of Mansfield’s sermon. ‘I felt so bad for the family,’ Rivas said, ‘to go to church and have somebody condemn your loved one to hell in the middle of the service. They were thinking about taking him, Martinez’ body out—that’s how bad it was.’
“Martinez, 80, died June 17, 2002. Ruth Pregenzer, attorney for Mansfield and the archdiocese, has filed notice to move the case to Federal court, arguing that free speech rights are at stake. Nine relatives of Martinez, including his widow, Joanne Martinez, allege in the lawsuit that because of Mansfield’s sermon, they have become depressed, had nightmares, undergone psychological treatment or counseling, and suffered in other ways. Pauline Hamm, a daughter, thinks people in Chama are staring at her, thinking her father is in hell, the lawsuit says.”
Tom: Dave, you know what amazes me about this—growing up Roman Catholic, but even as an evangelical, or attending funerals of people who weren’t believers, and so on, I’ve never heard hell mentioned at a funeral. Not at all, and particularly, as I said—you know the Catholic Church. It’s like everybody is going to purgatory, and I don’t know if that could be, even if there were a purgatory. But I’d say, again, I don’t know what the reasons…and the article says that he felt that the man wasn’t totally devoted to the Church, so that’s a problem there. But, I think the guy is a bit courageous in speaking about an issue that’s important.
Dave: Maybe he should have…maybe the Catholic Church should have spoken more clearly before, you know, while there was still some time, and, as you said, the article says it’s because of not being totally devoted to the Church. Well, of course, that’s not what sends you to hell. It’s a tragedy that these people don’t get it yet. They are still looking to the Church, and they’re upset that a Church spokesperson should even hint that one of their faithful followers who has a Catholic funeral, who may have even had extreme unction, the last rites from a priest, that he should go to hell.
Why don’t they go to the Bible and find out what the Bible says? That salvation is not in a church but it’s through Jesus Christ. And maybe, Tom, it’s pretty hard to awaken people, and the thought that these people were upset about somebody going to hell—I don’t know. How do you get people upset about going to hell? Because there are millions and billions who just go on heedlessly and don’t care. But Jesus warned about hell more than anyone. Maybe we need a few more sermons about hell.
Tom: Dave, then what’s the option? You have the widow—it says she became depressed, had nightmares, undergone psychological treatment or counseling. What kind of help would that be? What’s a psychologist going to tell her in truth about the afterlife and what to expect?
Dave: It’s a bit late for her husband. Of course, you know as a Catholic, the Catholics hope to end up in purgatory, not in hell. If you end up in hell, that’s the end. If you get into purgatory then you can suffer, although Christ suffered, but He didn’t suffer enough, not in…
Tom: Or others can suffer and pray for you and get you out…like Padre Pio.
Dave: Exactly. Others can suffer for you, or they can buy you out, and Masses can be said to mitigate your punishment and get you out early into heaven. So…
Dave: Right. So that’s what they are hoping for, but why don’t the widow and the relatives have some concern for their own eternal destiny? Maybe they ought to wake up. If the father and grandfather is in hell, it’s too late for him. Maybe they ought to think about themselves. Maybe they should go back to the Bible and find out what does it say? How do we get out? How do we get to heaven? How do we miss hell? What does the Bible say? What does Jesus have to say about it, and what role did Jesus have to play? What does His suffering on the cross—what does that do? Did He pay the penalty for our sins? Well then, if you accept His payment, then you have been set free. If you don’t accept it, you are still looking to a Church. The Church is going to say Mass after Mass after Mass, and they are going to have Christ continually suffering and suffering and suffering to get you out of purgatory. Come on! That’s not what the Bible says! And who tells you that that would work? What makes you think that will work?
Tom: And Dave, the last comment here, the daughter of the deceased is concerned that everybody thinks…and she is self-conscious about her father supposedly being in hell. I would think self-consciousness isn’t the problem here—it’s truth.