Australian church bans secular music for funerals

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LISA MULLINS: And now, music for that most solemn occasion, a funeral. Yes, this indeed has passed for funeral music, at least at some Catholic churches in Australia. But not anymore. Catholic officials in Australia have issued new guidelines that ban such music from being played during funerals. The BBC's Phil Mercer in is Sydney. What are the strict guidelines that have been issued and how come they're been issued right now?

PHIL MERCER: The Catholic Church in southern Australia wants funerals to be solemn affairs with a strong religious focus. Now the senior clergymen have banned the use of romantic ballads, pop music, rock music and raucous football anthems. And the whole point of this is to keep the funeral mass a sacred rite rather than a secular celebration of an individual's life.

MULLINS: Okay, so songs such as What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong and Ding Dong the Witch is Dead from The Wizard of Oz, did anybody actually play that at a funeral?

MERCER: Apparently so. It must be quite an unusual choice and certainly in recent times the top ten of most unusual funeral songs across Australia has included Highway to Hell by AC/DC, a very popular rock band here in Australia. Catholic officials say that those rock songs are more appropriate at a wake than a church service, but it's safe to say not everyone is happy with these new guidelines that have been issued by the Archbishop down there in Melbourne, a chap called Denis Hart.

MULLINS: What is the voice of the opposition saying?

MERCER: They got to be very careful what they say, of course. Down there in Melbourne the Archbishop is the man at the top, so they don't necessarily want to go around upsetting him, but certainly speaking to a couple of clergymen in Melbourne, there's one chap called Father Bob Maguire. He says the guidelines are insensitive and he says also that grieving families often want a funeral to reflect the life and legacy of a relative or friend who's passed away rather than simply a sanitized impersonal ritual. What Father Maguire is saying, for example, if you have a man or a woman whose passion is an Australian rules football club in Melbourne who have very distinctive and quite traditional club songs, the relatives and friends of that person might want that particular tune to be played at their funeral to really bring home the sort of passions that drove that person during their life.

MULLINS: Was there one funeral that kind of pushed the church to lay down this edict?

MERCER: I think it's just the general popularity of some of these songs. Perhaps the Archbishop was at a funeral and that Queen song, Another One Bites the Dust was booming from the speakers and pushed the Archbishop into issuing these particular guidelines.

MULLINS: Well, you got to admit it has a really good beat.

MERCER: Indeed it does.

MULLINS: Phil Mercer in Australia. Thank you very much for checking out the story for us.

MERCER: Alright, see you soon.