Nicolo Rizzuto, a reputed Mafia don, was given a Roman Catholic funeral Monday in Montreal.
But the church has occasionally refused such rites to Rizzuto’s counterparts in the past under a set of guidelines that provide it with considerable leeway.
One Catholicism expert says that under the church’s Code of Canon Law, Mafia dons could be denied a funeral ceremony.
The church’s code of conduct states that “manifest sinners” cannot be given a funeral mass if it would result in public scandal of the faithful.
“One would think that that may raise a question mark,” McGill University’s Daniel Cere said Monday, pointing to the world of organized crime.
In the past, church officials have decided against holding Catholic funerals for other mob leaders, including John Gotti and Paul Castellano.
Both Gotti, who died in 2002, and Castellano, killed in 1985, were former heads of the notorious Gambino crime family. Gotti ordered Castellano killed and was linked to other murders.
Rizzuto was convicted of several crimes, including gangsterism, and his clan is suspected of killing many rivals over the years. But he was never convicted of murder.
Cere said the church tends to have a loose interpretation of the funeral guidelines unless the deceased has formally repudiated the faith. “My impression is that the church . . . has been reluctant to get into debates,” the religious studies professor said.