David Carr funeral story: A blunt priest, an A-list congregation and a strangely (still) anonymous brother

It's a simple fact of life, when reading news coverage of celebrity funerals, that the list of famous people who attended is going to be a higher priority than the state of the soul of the deceased.

So, to get to the important stuff, actress Lena Dunham did attend the funeral Mass of superstar media scribe David Carr of The New York Times. I do not know how she dressed for the occasion. Stephen Colbert was there too and lots of other folks who were included in a list in the second paragraph of the New York Times report.

However, I thought the high point of the story came much later, when the go-to priest in mass media today -- Jesuit Father James Martin -- addressed the elephant in the sanctuary, which was that Carr had lived a complex life (including his time as a drug addict, before evolving into a suburban dad) and had a complicated relationship to the Catholic church. Readers were told:

In the homily, the Rev. James Martin said Mr. Carr was “a complicated man” who had had faith as well as doubts. But he said he did not want to “claim him as a kind of prize for the church, or trumpet his faith, or even point to him as the model Catholic or the model Christian; he wasn’t.”
“But, then again, no one is,” Father Martin continued. “All of us are imperfect, flawed, even sinful.”
“And more to the point, all of us have been addicted in our own ways to different things. If it’s not alcohol, it may be status. If it’s not drugs, it may be power. If it’s not crack, it may be money. But we are also, all of us, beloved children of God, loved by God in spite of our failings -- maybe loved even more for them, much as a parent loves a child more intensely when he or she is in trouble.”

How in the world do you run that last quote lower than the celebrity list? Well, that's the question I would ask, but I know it's a minority point of view in news today.

I also thought that The Daily Beast had an interesting -- if slightly profane -- offering on the topic of Carr and faith. It centered on an unlikely dialogue between Martin, the priest, and Tom Arnold, a comedian.


... Mourners came to the podium one by one, some of them spontaneously, to paint a 3-D portrait of David as friend, mentor, critic, curmudgeon, uncle, godfather, feminist, suburban paterfamilias, and partner-in-crime.
Comedian Arnold -- who wondered, “Am I the only Jew here?” -- told the crowd he’d known Carr for 32 years, during the last 27 of which “we haven’t drunk or used drugs together,” and suggested that one measure of their friendship was that they’d once gotten into a fistfight. (Arnold claimed he won.)
Apparently out of deference to the delicate sensibilities of the priest, Arnold tried to illustrate what his pal’s personality lacked by timidly whispering a certain word. At which Father Jim helpfully repeated the word loudly: “Asshole!”

One more time, repeating a point made in my first Carr post, I found it strange that the Times didn't let readers in on the symbolic importance of the reporter's older brother, John. As I noted the other day:

In the world of religion news, and post-Vatican II Catholicism, it would be good to note that Carr's brother John was, in fact, a former seminarian and a major newsmaker in his own right. He was, for example, a hero for modern Catholic progressives -- arguably, one of the most important behind-the-scenes Catholics in American politics.

And what was that role? As The Washington Post reported several years ago, at the time of John Carr's exit from public life:

For the past quarter-century, Carr has been the most important policy adviser to the country’s Catholic bishops. ... Carr’s career is a road map for how Catholicism and politics have mixed in Washington for a generation.

John Carr was quoted prominently in the Times story about his brother's funeral yet, once again, was not -- in my mind -- adequately identified. The brother noted the importance of the setting for the Mass, the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

... The service focused on Mr. Carr as a person more than as a journalist. His brother said that “decades ago, it never occurred to us that we would say goodbye in this church” -- the church in which funerals have been held for, among others, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; the singer Lena Horne; the fashion designer Oscar de la Renta; and little more than a month ago, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.

One journalist reader sent me a note about that reference, asking a logical question: Was this David Carr's home parish, since he had confessed to the fact that he still attended Mass on a regular basis.

Yes, that would have been a good question to ask. At least, I think so.


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