Sunday, August 17, 2008

373. Sunday Morning Obsequies

Do you remember that word? Obsequies. It is a strange word, the plural of obsequy, a word I have honestly never used or written before in my life. Related words are obsequious, sequel, sequence, and others. The ob- in the word is a prefix meaning over or toward. The sequi- root means to follow. Thus obsequies are that which follow an event, in this case a funeral.

Many of us first read it in tenth grade English, the class where many of us first read a lot of things. It is from the Fifth Act of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The text is below, taken from one of my favorite scenes in literature, that of the Grave Yard. The foolishness between Hamlet, Horatio, and the gravediggers is followed by the very serious funeral service itself, of Ophelia, Hamlet's lady friend and sister to Laertes, who questions the priest about the funeral service, which Laertes feels is lacking. His words are exchanged with that of the priest leading the funeral procession.

What ceremony else?

First Priest
Her obsequies have been as far enlarged
As we have warrantise: her death was doubtful;
And, but that great command o'ersways the order,
She should in ground unsanctified have lodged
Till the last trumpet: for charitable prayers,
Shards, flints and pebbles should be thrown on her;
Yet here she is allow'd her virgin crants,
Her maiden strewments and the bringing home
Of bell and burial.

Must there no more be done?

First Priest
No more be done:
We should profane the service of the dead
To sing a requiem and such rest to her
As to peace-parted souls.

You've probably thought no more about such obsequies, or even the word obsequies, since your last reading or most recent viewing of the play, or perhaps since Tenth Grade English. Yet, the headline on the front page of today's Courier-Journal Metro Section is about just that, obsequies. Playing the part of Shakespeare's First Priest is Father Jeffrey Leger, pastor of Saint Catherine Church, at right, in Nelson County, Kentucky's cradle of Catholism. Father Leger has sent a letter to area funeral directors informing them he must participate and approve funerals performed for Catholics in a Catholic church, and that they will strictly follow Canon Law and liturgical practices, something that many funerals have slipped away from. Fr. Leger specifically is concerned about certain types of readings, the music used, and eulogies spoken, which have no legitimate place in a Catholic Mass. Non-biblical readings, some recorded music, and poetry and prose offered on behalf of the deceased have a place, but not during the Mass, according to Fr. Leger. He suggests such diversions from the text should take place at the Vigil, usually held the night before.

Father Leger is also taking the strong position of forbidding a Mass for those Catholics who have not been in attendance at Mass, or others who have strayed from Catholic teaching. He used the words "notorious apostates, heretics, schismatics, and other manifest sinners." Rather strong language. He will allow some of these people a Rite of Christian Burial, but not the Mass itself. He is also restricting who can preside at a funeral Mass, requiring that he be the presiding priest of a Mass at his church, even if the deceased had as a friend or family member a fellow priest.

And for such actions, Fr. Leger and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville are being sued by a New Haven funeral director, Ron Rust, our modern day Laertes, except Laertes accepted the words of the priest; Mr. Rust's response to Fr. Leger's action was to file a lawsuit in the Nelson Circuit Court.

Lawsuits and Courthouses are often the final refuge of those who feel they've been harmed by another person's or group of persons' actions. Ending up in court is usually the last place one who feels they've been wronged want to end up. But, there are times that such an action is necessary, when the wheels turned by those in charge of events turn them so as to impend upon the beliefs or even livelihood of another. To use Mario Savio's famous words from December of 1964, "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!" Funeral director Rust has used the filing of a lawsuit as a means of putting his bodies upon the gears and wheels of the Hierarchic Government known as the Roman Catholic Church.

I have a reputation in some circles, but not others, for adhering to rules, adhering to processes. In this matter with Fr. Leger and Mr. Rust, I have a divided mind. As many of you know, I have been questioning some of the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church for a little over five years, and I've been questioning my allegiance to the same. I've been a member of the church since May, 1979. Since 2003, I've been on a journey, seeking to find a different way of practicing my beliefs and faith in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, and in humanity. It has not been an easy road - it has frankly been very difficult - and I have not yet made the decision - or any decision - within the timeframe I had originally allotted to do so. I may grant myself another five years to find an answer.

But, in this matter, Fr. Leger is correct - the practices he seeks to end are in opposition to Church Law, although they are customs more honored in the breach than the observance. In recent times, I've attended two funeral masses which, apparently, would not have met with Fr. Leger's approval. At the Mass for the mother of my friend Morgan Ransdell, one of the celebrants was Fr. Jim Lichtefeld who was a relative of the deceased, although he may not have been the main celebrant, which would have brought him under Fr. Leger's concern. There were also a number of eulogists at her funeral. At another funeral, that of my late Uncle Don Noble in 2005, ironically presided over by the same Fr. Lichtefeld, two eulogies were offered, one by the deceased's brother-in-law and the other by me, on behalf of my father who was too overcome to do so. Fr. Leger is seeking to end such personal touches in the name of Church Law.

So my questioning isn't really of Fr. Leger's actions. He is doing what he is trained and required to do as a priest. He is following law - he is following a process. And while I tend to agree with him that sometimes such additions tend to bastardise the Mass, there are other rules and regulations of the Church which I find anti-Christian to be very honest, which thus makes me a heretic I suppose. The early church and indeed the sacred scripture which have come down to us in the Bible offered two sets of commandments, or rules. The Ten Commandments in the Old Testament cover a multitude of sins with the very well known "Thou shalt nots". But, for Christians, that is followers of Christ, which the Roman Catholic Church purports to do, Jesus, for whom the religion is named, offered only two. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark he said quite simply, to Love the Lord and to Love your Neighbor. He emphasized the briefness of his response with "All the Law and the Prophets" are fulfilled in these two commandments.

Thus, when one believes a law is wrong, they have two avenues of relief. One is to change the believed-wrong law from within by infusing oneself into the organization to the extent that one can thereby offer changes to the offending canon. The other is to remove oneself wholly from the jurisdiction of the offending law's controlling authority. I've been down both roads in different situations with different parties. Neither is easy and both can be time consuming and costly.

I'm not sure which is correct or if there is a correct solution. But, there must be a solution. We are a people of compromise and we have a destiny as humanity to always proceed, always make ways of moving forward. An obsequy, in its ancient etymological sense taken from the Latin, is just that - the compliant dutiful service of moving forward. So we shall.


Anonymous said...

There is more to this story then most outsiders know. The good father has shown a pattern of interference well before this lawsuit was filed. This is just the latest. I think the pattern will need to be proved to win the lawsuit. The powers that be in Louisville keep moving this guy around to avoid lawsuits. I'm not sure how they ran the good father out of Cambelsville but he was ran out of New Hope for hitting children. He has a cult following and has no place leading people in faith. Most the local faithful in New Haven have moved on to other churches because of the good father and his cult followers. They no longer feel welcomed in the church they were baptized in. You would think the Catholic Church would have learned their lesson with abusive priest, guess not.

Anonymous said...

To the previous anonymous poster:
Nobody ran Father Leger out of Campbellsville. He was loved there and they didn't want to see him go. Your accusation about Fr Leger hitting children is slanderous, a total lie. He has never been abusive in anyway. The false rumors like yours caused him to resign the New Hope parish.

Anonymous said...

Published in the Kentucky Standard:

Archdiocese releases statement on lawsuit


In response to a lawsuit filed by Rust Funeral Home against the Rev. Jeffrey Leger and the Archdiocese of Louisville, the Archdiocese released the following statement to St. Catherine of Alexandria, New Haven, parishioners:
“You may have seen press stories about the lawsuit filed by Rust Funeral Home against Father Leger, St. Catherine Parish, and the Archdiocese. It is unfortunate that these conflicts become the topic for debate in the public media.
“Archdiocesan attorneys are responding to this lawsuit. In the meantime, I want to assure you that the funeral policies distributed by Father Leger deal primarily with liturgical norms that apply to any Catholic Mass. They are consistent with Church law and pastoral practice throughout the Church.
“Let us all pray for a speedy resolution to this unfortunate misunderstanding.”
The statement was signed by the Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D., Archbishop of Louisville.
Ron Rust with William R. Rust Funeral Home filed the lawsuit, seeking an injunction against certain aspects of a funeral policy Leger wrote for St. Catherine.
Rust Funeral Home and St. Catherine Church are in New Haven, and Rust often conducts funerals at the church for St. Catherine parishioners. He believes that unless an injunction is issued to keep Leger from enforcing the policy against his business, he will lose funerals and related income.
At issue are restrictions Rust claims Leger placed on the funeral Mass concerning Biblical readings, who can provide music, which songs can be played or sang, the presentation of tributes and eulogies, who can act as pastor and deacon, which church can be used and who qualifies to receive Catholic funeral rites. Rust also claims that Leger has placed restrictions on when and where funeral services can be conducted, and that Leger requires all funeral Masses to be planned by him instead of the funeral director.
The lawsuit states Leger put the policies into effect without approval of the Archdiocese of Louisville. The Archdiocese is included in the lawsuit, however, because Rust claims that concerns expressed about Leger’s funeral policy were ignored, implying approval of the policy.
Rust referred questions about the lawsuit to his attorney, Larry Raikes with Fulton, Hubbard & Hubbard. Raikes declined to comment beyond what he set forth in the lawsuit, which includes:
• Rust’s rights will be violated by Leger’s enforcement of the policy and Rust will suffer immediate and irreparable loss and damage pending a final judgment in the matter.
• A temporary and/or permanent injunction would not harm the public, but would maintain the status quo.
• Rust has the right to direct funerals according to the wishes of the deceased’s family without the constraints of Leger’s policy.
• No harm would befall Leger or the Archdiocese of Louisville if an injunction is issued.
• Rust is entitled to compensatory damages for lost income, foreseeable emotional distress or harm to his reputation, plus punitive damages.
In a previous interview, Leger said it is common for individual Catholic churches to have funeral policies in place. On Tuesday, he said the policies must be upheld.
“The policies are put in place for church law and therefore have to be defended, by virtue of the church’s right within her own boundaries and confines to govern herself,” he said.
Leger said the lawsuit is stressful for the parishioners, but they are being “generous and merciful.”
“The parishioners are very supportive and very understanding of the situation, even though it’s not fun to have it because everybody comments and ask them questions,” he said.

Stephanie Hornback can be reached at 348-9003, Ext. 130, or


Anonymous said...

I'm very impressed with your persistence. Have you ever noticed how most of the comments in the local papers supporting Father Leger are outside the New Haven community? Anyone that wants the truth will have to come to New Hope and get it. Come to Sunday service and ask. Will you take the truth for what it is when you find it? Those who love Father Leger will fight for him tooth and nail even when he is blatantly wrong. He is a human being and no more infallible that the next man. Those who do not see that need beware of false Idols.
Pharisees come to mind when I think of the Leger Defenders. Good people defending the wrong ideals because they think that they and only they are on the path.

Larry Leger said...

I'll quit hiding behind the anonymous postings and tell you who I am. I'm Larry Leger, Fr. Leger's brother. I've known him all my life and I know he would never abuse children or anyone for that matter. I'm not stupid, I know he's a human being and so do his supporters. I live in Louisville but I go down to St. Catherine often. Many people there tell me that they just love my brother, and they also tell me about the attacks against him. The reason I tell you who I am is to let you know that there is no way I would go to New Hope alone for what you say is the truth. I look too much like Fr. Leger. Send me an e-mail with the truth, I'm at

Anonymous said...

It's true that there are pockets of people who like Father Leger and don't mind his "unconventional" way of getting his point across. You don't live here so your the man in the bubble when you visit.
Your fears of visiting New Hope are unfounded. No one would harm you or Father Leger.
Ask yourself this question, When has the church ever allowed a priest to "resign" based on rumors?
Why would a priest allow rumors to make him resign?
I would be wasting my time trying to tell you the truth over e-mail when you wouldn't take it here. There is a local priest that may help fill in some details for you. You would believe a priest that's not your brother? I will get the name and forward it to your e-mail anonymously. If he will not you will have to come to New Hope.
There has been an effort to remove him by the elders of the church documenting his unconventional style. Those letters are within my reach. So far the church has been reluctant to move him elsewhere, again (remember your in the bubble everywhere he has been). The Elders have been reluctant to go public with this but, I'm considering it. Until then It is more beneficial to give you sources you might have an easier time believing. BTW have you tried simply asking your bother?

Larry Leger said...

I don’t think that me living outside of New Haven puts me in a bubble. I know my own brother and I know how he works. Yes I’ve spoken to my brother and I know the accusations against him are false. What do you mean by my brother’s “unconventional” way of getting his point across? Are you talking about his homilies where he speaks the truth? The truth that some don’t want because it doesn’t fit their lifestyles? Well, my bubble must have been busted since I’ve been able to get out and attend all of the churches my brother has been assigned to. He’s done the same type of homilies at every church, with no complaints until now. I’m not worried about physical harm from anyone at New Hope. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I just think that I would be attacked with words and stares if I was to walk into St. Vincent de Paul. I’ve heard that my brother’s altar servers have been harassed in public by people who are against my brother. I’ve heard about what went on during the January 17th meeting. You said that nobody would harm my brother. It seems to me that you people are trying very hard to harm his character in a harsh way. Father Leger is a very good brother, man, and priest. Every decision he makes is done with very much thought and prayer.

Anonymous said...

I sent that contact information to you today. It's probably better you not call that priest and stay in the bubble. After all he is your brother, I can't really expect you to think any other way. In a lot of ways I respect that. But really, words and stares? You know there false because your brother said so?
We just report how he behaves, if there is any harm he has done that to himself. The truth hurts sometimes. No crime in reporting the truth.

I was using "unconventional" to be polite. I took into consideration that he is your brother and you seemed willing to seek out the truth no matter how painful it may be. I did it for the sake of open dialogue. I could just as easily said... some more truths you wouldn't believe or take the time to research anyway.

I have given you the tools to find the truth. Use them however you will. May God help Father Leger find his way.

My dialogue with you is now closed.

Larry Leger said...

I didn’t receive the contact information or tools that you spoke of. You either didn’t send anything at all or you sent it to the wrong address. I double checked my inbox. After all of this you still haven’t provided anything to support your accusations against my brother. As far as I’m concerned, you’re just telling lies. Why should I take your word when you have nothing to support it? Now on my brother’s side I have his word, the words of many good parishioners, a statement from the Archdiocese of Louisville, and numerous letters supporting him in the Kentucky Standard. I’m going to stay with the majority on this.

Anonymous said...

This is more of the same Larry, I have given you more than enough just here for you to find the truth. Any reasonable person can read this blog and see that. I have sent you e-mail again. I copied your e-mail address right off this page both times. A statement from the Archdiocese of Louisville, they would never admit a problem unless they had to. The words of many good parishioners is what they believe and they are one in the same with the letters to the standard. They, like you, have been led to not believe anything they hear from outside the group. They and you both believe he has done nothing wrong. I only wish you could find the courage to investigate, find inconsistencies, and ask questions where they can be answered. Get away from those that will only tell you what you want to hear long enough to understand why the community is concerned with his behavior. This is not as one sided as you want to believe. If you claim not to have received the e-mail again I will write it off as quickly as the poor excuse about New Hope. Dig Deep Larry, I know you have the courage.

Larry Leger said...

It’s not a claim; I haven’t received any e-mails from you at all. I checked my inbox again, and even checked my junk e-mail box, nothing. I went as far as checking insight’s POP/SMTP server status, and there were no outages. My e-mail address posted here is correct. For the benefit of the doubt I too copied and pasted my address from this page, and sent myself a successful test mail from another account. You did not send me anything because you have nothing to support your claims. You’re right; my excuse about New Hope was poor. I mean almost half of the letters supporting my brother in the Kentucky Standard are from New Hope!!!!!!

The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.