Monday, October 10, 2011

Death of an Archbishop

I haven't written about the recent death of Archbishop Phillip M. Hannan because I have been quite conflicted over the whole post-mortem affair.

On the one hand, as much as I have disagreed with Archbishop Hannan's politics and his sticking his nose in the secular affairs of state, I recognize the important role he played in this community for a long time.

Like him or not, his influence in New Orleans was considerable and impressive.

So, I guess all the pomp and circumstance surrounding his death, funeral, and burial events can be understood in this light.

But ... the whole situation also struck me as way over the top.  I found it to be excessive, gaudy, and almost obscene.  It seemed like a throwback to times where Popes and Kings governed all aspects of life, cultural, political, economic, and social.  I can't think of any other person in the recent history of New Orleans who was treated like royalty upon his death, with such pomp and circumstance.

At a very basic level of the Christian example, I also found the funeral and burial events to be just the opposite of the humility and simplicity that one would expect.  One might argue that this is more a reflection on the living faithful than it is on the Archbishop himself, but even still, I would have expected Archbishop Hannan to have tried to downplay the hoopla and to insist on a simple Christian funeral and burial.  But he didn't.  Apparently, he left no instructions about his funeral and burial, which leads me to think that he was thus consciously acquiescing to the big deal that he surely must have known people were going to want to make about his funeral and burial.  And I see that as a last act of vanity.  He's human, after all, so one can forgive him this; but I did find it to be a bit of a moral failing.

At another level, I found it personally hard to celebrate the legacy of the man's life when that life has been in many ways lived improperly.  I simply cannot forget that he unapologetically defended capital punishment, even when the Vatican itself declared that capital punishment, for all intents and purposes, was no longer morally justifiable.  I cannot forget that he publicly declared that anyone who voted for a candidate for political office who happened to be pro-choice as sinful (and if memory serves, he called it a grave and mortal sin) -- even though, again, the Vatican has never categorically declared this.  I cannot forget that he generally justified war, even when the Vatican openly opposed particular wars as unjust and inconsistent with its commitment to peaceful solutions to disputes.

The man was significant to the history of New Orleans, but he was also a deeply flawed man, too.  Outside of the unseemliness of a vicar of Christ being laid to rest with such showy pomp and circumstance in this day and age, I don't think any public servant deserves to be treated so regally in death.

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