Catholic Church Denies Funeral For Local Gay Man

Our Lady Of The Rosary In Little Italy Canceled Funeral Of John Sanfilippo

A funeral service for a gay parishioner that was canceled by a Catholic church will be allowed to take place, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego. The church, however, has not communicated the decision change to either the family of the deceased man or the media.

Local businessman and devout Catholic John Sanfilippo died last week after struggling with emphysema. Friends said Sanfilippo planned for the funeral mass to be held at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Little Italy, where Sanfilippo had attended for decades. Friends said he even left the church a large sum of money in his will.

This past weekend, Sanfilippo's partner of 28 years and Sanfilippo's family were notified that the church canceled the funeral because Sanfilippo was gay.

Friend Patrick Cannon told 10News, "The fact that they're now turning their backs on him is a… sad thing."

"It’s like 2005 all over again for us Catholics… especially us gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics," said Nicole Murray-Ramirez, Sanfilippo's friend.

Ramirez told 10News the same thing happened in 2005 when Bishop Robert Brom said John McCusker, a gay businessman, could not have his funeral at any of the diocese's churches. McCusker's funeral was eventually held at an Episcopal church.

Friends said some of McCusker's family converted to the Episcopalian church because of the way they were treated by the Catholic Church. Bishop Brom apologized to the family after the fact.

"This is the only diocese [where] this has come up," said Ramirez, who is also Catholic. "This is the second time in the entire nation."

He led a small group in prayer outside the Our Lady of the Rosary on Monday and taped a letter addressed to Brom to the front door of the church. Ramirez said the letter asks the bishop to clarify the church's position on funerals for gay parishioners.

"Are there going to be others that are going to be denied in the future? Will we have to go through this again?" asked Ramirez.

Sanfilippo's partner and his family were not available for comment on Monday.

In an email, Rodrigo Valdivia, the chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, told 10News, "The Diocesan office was notified about this situation earlier today... Diocesan Authorities have concluded that the funeral as scheduled at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish may take place. Plans for the ritual are yet to be made."

At the cocktail lounge that Sanfilippo owned for 28 years came outrage from friends over what some called a confusing statement from the San Diego diocese.

"All of a sudden, they change their mind and say, 'Well, you know, we may still allow the funeral to be here.' Why? Because they got caught in the process of denying equal rights to people?" asked Neil Thomas, a friend and customer of Sanfilippo's.

Cannon also believes the statement is unclear.

"I think it's confusing… They did their best to put the verbiage in there that they needed because they still have their… out," he said.

Ramirez said the statement was proof the parish was acting alone and the diocese needs a diocese-wide policy so a similar situation does not happen again.

But after a hurtful rejection, it appears Sanfilippo's family has moved on.

"From what I'm told, they don't want it there now," said Thomas.

Ramirez said Sanfilippo's family had already found another Catholic church for the funeral. Ramirez said the family would not feel comfortable going back to Our Lady of the Rosary after what happened.

No one from Our Lady of the Rosary was available for comment.

On Tuesday evening, 10News' media partner the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Sanfilippo's funeral will be held Thursday morning at Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum on 4470 Hilltop Drive.

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