NY Church Bars Flags on Vets' Coffins
August 06, 2009
STILLWATER, New York -- It was an unusually cold day in March 2007 when Florence Moll laid her husband to rest.
George Moll had died unexpectedly in his bed at age 75 after a life of service.
He served aboard the USS Allagash during the Korean War, worked 31 years for railroads and volunteered at veterans groups in Stillwater and Mechanicville for decades.
A dedicated parishioner of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, he lit a candle for an ill relative the evening before he died.
But his funeral service at St. Peter's -- his lifelong church -- upset his widow and family. Priests at the parish formerly allowed American flags to drape coffins in the entryway of the church before replacing them with cloth coverings known as palls. However, the new parish administrator at the time, the Rev. James Kane, strictly enforced a Catholic church rule that all non-Christian symbols, including flags, not rest on or near coffins in churches.
The veteran's casket left the church without an American flag around it, Florence Moll said. "They had to put the flag on in the freezing cold near the hearse," she said. "I thought it was a problem, and I was really disgusted."
The "church vs. American flag" issue, as one observer put it, has re-emerged two years later in neighboring Mechanicville, where Kane recently was assigned to The Church of St. Peter the Apostle and Assumption/St. Paul.
The city, about 5 miles from Saratoga National Cemetery in Stillwater, has a large population of veterans who are Catholic. Residents say coffins with American flags were permitted to enter and depart the church's vestibule in the past, and the change is emblematic of Kane's inflexible style of leadership.
"The flag is the symbol of the freedom we fight for," said Mary Lou Anatriello, a lifelong church member who buried her parents at St. Paul's. "This type of demand is hurtful."
In a short phone interview, Kane said he was simply following policy set by the Roman Catholic Church and Albany diocese. "I wish you God's peace," he said before hanging up.
Catholic funerals throughout the world follow a universal order, said Ken Goldfarb, spokesman for the Albany Catholic Diocese: "Only Christian symbols may rest on or be placed near the coffin during the funeral liturgy. Any other symbols, for example, national flags or flags or insignias of associations, have no place in the funeral liturgy."