Police chaplain 'mortified' he mistakenly gave Chicago mayor Communion at Officer Ella French’s funeral

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot receiving Communion Video footage of the Aug. 19, 2021 funeral Mass for fallen Chicago police officer Ella French shows Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot returning from receiving Communion from Fr. Dan Brandt, a Catholic chaplain for the Chicago Police Department. | CNA

A Chicago police chaplain says he is "mortified" that he mistakenly gave Holy Communion to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a non-Catholic Christian in a same-sex marriage, during Thursday's funeral Mass for fallen city police officer Ella French.

In an interview Friday with Catholic News Agency, Fr. Dan Brandt said just moments prior to Communion he was asked by Cardinal Blase Cupich, the main celebrant, to take his place distributing the Eucharist and became flustered when he saw the mayor step forward as the first in his line.

"You know something, I am to blame for that and I am mortified," Fr. Brandt said.

"I actually gave her Communion, but she was the very first one up there and I wasn't supposed to give out Communion, and at the last second Cardinal Cupich said, 'I'm going to sit out Communion, you take my spot.'

"And so, I didn't know where I was going. I mean I was totally, the whole weekend was a blur. I was going on very little sleep," the Catholic police chaplain told CNA. "And anyways I'm making excuses but yes, she came up, and I put the sacred host in her hand and I was like 'Oh!' and of course it was too late at that point. And I was like, 'Oh dear God, have mercy.'"

Fr. Brandt added that he is deeply apologetic toward those who were offended by the mayor receiving Communion.

"I apologize for any scandal that my absentmindedness may have caused. It was certainly not intentional and wish I had my wits about me. Or better yet I wish the Cardinal had just given out Communion because I was planning on going back and sitting for the next portion of the Mass and procession," he said.

"I can't apologize enough for anyone who's upset by the fact that she received the Eucharist. That is totally on me and I own it," he said. "And it was an honest mistake and I pray that your readers have the same mercy that I hope the Lord gives me."

Catholic canon law permits non-Catholic Christians to receive Communion only in limited circumstances and in the case of a “grave necessity.” Neither the archdiocese nor the mayor’s office responded to multiple inquiries from CNA seeking comment Friday.

Chicago police officer Ella French / Courtesy of Chicago Police Department
Chicago police officer Ella French / Courtesy of Chicago Police Department

Cardinal Cupich celebrated the Mass at St. Rita of Cascia Catholic Church for French, 29, who was shot and killed in the line of duty during a traffic stop Aug. 7. In his homily, Cupich called the 3-year-veteran of the Chicago Police Department a “woman of empathy for the sufferings of others” and “generous to the point of dedicating her life to making a difference in the world.” 

Lightfoot was seated in a front pew during the Mass and was the first in line to receive Communion according to video footage of the Mass, which was broadcast live on TV and over the Internet.

According to the alumni association for Washington High School, her alma mater, Lightfoot is a member of the St. James AME Zion Church in her hometown of Massillon, Ohio, which is part of a Methodist ecclesial community. The same website identifies her as a founding trustee of Christ the King Jesuit High School, which serves underprivileged African-American community members on Chicago's west side. A spokesperson for the mayor confirmed she is Christian.

Lightfoot is the first openly gay mayor of Chicago, as well as the city’s first African-American woman to serve in that post. She is married to Amy Eshleman, with whom she has a daughter.

During a press conference after Thursday’s Mass, Lightfoot, viewed by some critics as being at odds with the police department as mayor, said she hoped her presence at the funeral would be seen as a “simple, but beautiful expression of solidarity and support for the French family.”

Under canon law, for a Protestant to be given Communion they must be unable to approach a minister of their own community; express their adhesion to the Catholic faith regarding the sacraments; and be properly disposed.

More in US

Proper disposition to receive Communion includes freedom from mortal sin and actual devotion, and it is dogma that the state of grace is necessary for the worthy reception of the Eucharist.

Outside the danger of death, in addition, the diocesan bishop or bishops’ conference must judge that there is a ‘grave necessity’ for the administration of Communion.

A 1972 Vatican document that guides the interpretation of the relevant canon foresees that cases of “grave necessity” allowing for the administration of Communion to Protestants would be such situations as imprisonment, persecution, and large-scale movements of population that result in non-Catholic Christians being “scattered in Catholic regions.”

And the ecumenical vademecum issued in 2020 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity guided bishops in the discernment of ‘grave necessity,’ stating that, “Sacraments may never be shared out of mere politeness. Prudence must be exercised to avoid causing confusion or giving scandal to the faithful.”

The Communion episode came during a crowded and moving funeral Mass for French, the first female officer killed in the line of duty in Chicago since 1988.

French’s mother, Elizabeth French, who adopted her daughter through Catholic Charities, was among those who spoke during the funeral Mass. 

(Story continues below)

“Today, I am here with half of my heart,” she said. “Ella was an amazing young woman.”

She thanked all the members of law enforcement present at the funeral Mass for her daughter. 

“Ella was so proud to be a member of your family,” she said.

A second city police officer, Carlos Yanez Jr., sustained major injuries during the traffic stop where French was gunned down. He remains in the hospital.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.