An Anglican cathedral held a memorial service for a cat during the pandemic. What do you think?

Oddly, this rather obscure story was reported on NPR, CNN, Fox News, and the New York Post, so there is a good chance that you may already have heard about this incident.

To summarise, Southwark Cathedral, the Anglican cathedral south of the river Thames, had a resident cat which was cared for by the dean’s verger, Paul Timms. She had her own Twitter account (twitter.com/doorkinsm) and was the subject of a book, Doorkins the Cathedral Cat, by Lisa Gutwein, wife of the deputy dean’s verger. The cathedral also sells a range of Doorkins merchandise. The likeness of Doorkins is now preserved in the form of a corbel on the north side of the retrochoir.

Therefore, when Doorkins died, the cathedral held a Service of Thanksgiving. All seemed to be well until the bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, tweeted a reply to the dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn:

Is this a joke? I do hope so. If not it’s grossly insensitive to bereaved families and those ministering to them in the NW under the regional Coronavirus restrictions.

— Bishop Philip (@BpBurnley) October 27, 2020

The reaction to the bishop’s message was overwhelmingly negative, but I cannot help feeling that he has a point. With much of the country under regional lockdowns, and the whole of the country only recently released from a national lockdown, many people have been prevented from attending funerals and memorial services for their human relatives and friends. There is no suggestion that the memorial service was illegal, but I do wonder whether it was perhaps somewhat frivolous and self-indulgent to hold such a service under the circumstances at the time.

I read about Doorkins when she passed. I thought it was a sweet story.

It is obvious Doorkins was much loved by the Cathedral staff and those who frequented the cathedral. The service was obviously about helping them grieve the loss of their animal friend, not about sending Doorkins off to “cat heaven”.

I would really like to see the Catholic church go beyond the St. Francis of Assisi annual pet blessing day (which I think is a good and nice thing, don’t get me wrong), and have a service one day a year that pet owners could attend that would focus on pondering God’s creation, our stewardship of it, and the importance that these animals, gifts of God, play in our lives, and thanking and praising God for that gift. The Church has not yet reached that point unfortunately.

I am happy that “animal people” have created their own groups to pray together, NOT for the dead animal, but for the owner who is grieving; it’s pretty universally understood the animal doesn’t go to hell or otherwise end up in a bad state when it dies, but the owners are often sad or even very sad, and it is difficult for them to get support sometimes in the community. “It’s just a dog, cat, guinea pig, rabbit etc, just get another one!” As a young person aged about 22 I experienced cruel remarks from my co-workers when a beloved pet died and that was about the closest I ever came to leaving the Catholic Church. Thankfully God showed me a few things and brought me back.

The only concern I would have with this service regarding the cat is whether people were somehow gathering who wouldn’t normally be permitted at the Cathedral under the COVID rules. If it were just something attended by staff and it was aired on a livestream for whoever wanted to watch, then fine. Funerals of actual persons cannot be held via video, they would require people to gather and thus could not be held unless a gathering was permitted.

And if somebody is really so sour that they don’t think we should pray in connection with a cat because of deceased persons - whom we pray for at EVERY Mass and a lot of us also pray for them in between Masses - then they need to get off their high horse and realize like I said that animals are part of God’s creation and are important to people too, even if they don’t approve.

Rev. Philip North really needs to just get over it. Clerics do not win any support by this sort of unnecessary complaint. They just come off as nasty and cold. Edited to add, I sent him a message just now to politely tell him what I thought of him. I also saw all the people commenting on the Youtube of the livestream that they felt truly uplifted and positive about this service during a difficult time. God bless Rev Nunn, he is a good man.

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Not only does Rev. Philip North need to get over it, maybe he should think about deleting his twitter account.

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His twitter seems fairly benign, but when you’re touting your diocese as “friendliest” then you should know better than to criticize a very popular cat on the Internet. It will not go well for you, ever. That was an error of judgment on his part.

If he felt he needed to say something to the Dean of Southwark about Doorkins’ service, he should have picked up the telephone.

It appears that the service had only 30 people at it and I’m guessing that the vast majority of them worked at the Cathedral. That’s nothing to get all bothered about, as you can easily distance 30 people in a Cathedral, and anyone who didn’t like the service didn’t have to watch the livestream.

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I agree with Bishop North. It is a disgrace that a service be held in this manner for a cat. Likewise, I agree with Bishop North that people in the north of England cannot hold funerals for loved ones but in the capital they hold special services for a cat. In the summer one of my friends died. Because of the rules in force I was no able to attend. His mother was absolutely distraught as she could not be comforted by anybody at the funeral because the few who may attend have to stay 2 m apart. I think Bishop North was correct in calling this out.

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I’m sensitive to your concerns. I lost two aunts this Spring. with no access to any public Mass. I don’t know the immediate situation with Covid in England. No exceptions should be made for the staff of the cathedral remembering anything.

A memorial service for an animal would obviously be wrong, Covid or no Covid.

On the other hand if this wasn’t a memorial service, but a Thanksgiving
service, people showing gratitude to God for His creation, maybe a good thing. We used to hold services in the fall to thank God for the harvest…for
Dead plants. Not to focus on the plants, but on God’s gift to humans.

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People still cannot hold funerals even without that memorial service for a cat.

It doesn’t make the current situation better or worst.

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Right. To me the service of thanksgiving connected with the cat (it wasn’t a service FOR a cat) is the same as a livestream Mass or a livestream prayer service that the public can watch on video.

I just saw it as a kind thing to do that would provide some uplift to those watching.

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It makes a joke and a mockery of faith, albeit unintentionally, but it’s an Anglican church so it doesn’t bother me. It would bother me if it was a Catholic church.

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Animals suffer in different ways then humans but they still suffer in this world due to the current events. Just think of the millions of animals that died in Australia last year. God entrusted humans to care for the world and to care for all inhabitants of the world.

While human beings come first since they have souls and animals don’t, to deny or overlook the suffering of animals is cruel and unchristian. I see nothing wrong with this memorial service. It wasn’t a “funeral”, there was no mockery of a holy rite or sacrament. It was a nice gesture to a fellow being loved by God.

Since when it is a “joke and mockery” to thank God for his good gifts, including for our animal friends?

Do you also think the St. Francis Day Pet Blessing done by many Catholic churches is a “joke and a mockery of faith” when the priest is throwing the holy water on the attendees and their cats and dogs?

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Yes, I do.

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Well, at least you’re consistent in your insensitivity.

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We wouldn’t want to offend anyone by suggesting something was inappropriate.

Actually I live in the North of England and we had three funerals this week alone so this isn’t true in the Liverpool Archdiocese for one. Attendance is strictly limited and afaik it isn’t a Requiem but funerals per se? Still being held in Catholic churches at least.

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Ordinarily I wouldnt really care but under the circumstances of 2020 it’s disheartening. I’d love to see priests using their extra time to find creative ways to get the sacraments to people, not conduct funerals for cats.

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Whilst not an Anglican (obviously!! :grinning:) I have actually met the Anglican bishop of Burnley i.e. Rev. Phillip North and can say with hand on heart, he is a wonderful and kind pastor to his flock and much loved by his people. He is particularly interested in the rehabilitation of prisoners and I have known him travel over 150 miles to another Anglican diocese in order to attend a Christmas Carol service at a prison when the local Anglican bishop declined to attend.

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His comment wasn’t kind to me or to dozens of others who read it. He may be a prince of a guy otherwise and having an off day but I found his tweet hurtful and unnecessary, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. As I said above, it was also an imprudent thing to say, especially on the public forum rather than expressed in private to the other bishop or in a meeting of bishops. It was like he just had to take a nice gesture and ruin it for everyone.

It reminded me of the story about Michael and his dog.

Michael lived in a village in Ireland. At 15 he got a dog that went everywhere with him. Soon the locals always referred to “Michael and his dog.”

The dog lived to an unusually old age of 18 years when he finally passed away. The entire village knew and felt so sorry for Michael.

Micheal went to see Fr. O’Malley. He asked if the priest could hold a service for the dog. Fr. O’Malley said, “Oh. Michael. I’m so sorry about your dog. My heart goes out to you. But, there really isn’t anything I can do. But, you know a new church opened in town a few months ago. I don’t really know their beliefs and rules, but maybe you could check with them.”

Michael replied, 'Oh, thank you Father. I will." As he turned to leave, he turned back and asked, “Do you suppose 30,000 Euros will be enough for the service?”

Fr. O’Malley replied, “Saints be praised, Micheal!!” Why didn’t you tell me the dog was Catholic!"

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This took place in an Anglican Church not a Catholic Church and it wasn’t a funeral for a pet.

So I don’t understand your sentence on priests conducting funerals for pets. Again this wasn’t done in a Catholic Church but in an Anglican Church.

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