Even In The Church He Did It His Way

Posted: May 19, 1998

Despite four marriages and three divorces, Frank Sinatra was a Roman Catholic in good standing and is entitled to a full church funeral, the archdiocese of Los Angeles said yesterday.

Although he married his first wife, Nancy Barbato, in a religious ceremony in 1939, and had three children with her, Sinatra obtained an annulment of that marriage. The annulment was granted more than 25 years after Sinatra's 1951 divorce from Nancy.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said the singer's subsequent weddings to, and divorces from, Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow would not preclude him from receiving the sacraments since they were civil actions unrecognized by the church.

Sinatra's fourth, and final, marriage, to the former Barbara Marx, was ``blessed'' by the church, said the spokesman for the archdiocese. The two were married in a civil ceremony in 1976.

After his mother, Dolly, died in 1977, Sinatra petitioned the church for an annulment. When it was granted, he and Barbara were remarried in a Catholic Church ceremony.

According to writer Kitty Kelley, who wrote an unauthorized biography of Sinatra, the singer's daughter, Nancy, opposed the annulment. Concerned that an annulment would brand her and her siblings as illegitimate, Kelley said, Nancy leaked news of the petition to the media in an unsuccessful attempt to derail the process.

The annulment was a secret until 1979, when Sinatra was photographed receiving communion at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

``Did Frank make the Vatican an offer it couldn't refuse?'' a headline in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner asked.

``Very often when somebody celebrated is seen receiving communion and is known to have been divorced, eyebrows will be raised by people who may not have all the facts,'' said the spokesman. ``But having several marriages does not automatically preclude you from the sacraments. Congressman Sonny Bono was married three times, and he received a church funeral.''

Bono, who was killed in a skiing accident in January, was married in civil ceremonies and was a member of St. Theresa's Roman Catholic Church in Palm Springs.

Sinatra was a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, and that's where his funeral mass will be held tomorrow. Cardinal Roger Mahony will conduct the service.

While he built an amazing career in part on his image as a swaggering womanizer, Sinatra's religious outlook is a largely unexplored subject.

It is known that after his last wedding, he arranged to have a priest, a Father O'Leary, move into his Palm Springs estate to instruct his wife on the Catholic religion. When Princess Grace of Monaco was killed in an auto accident 15 years ago, it was her friend, Sinatra, who organized and led a 50-minute memorial service for her at the Church of the Good Shepherd.

When the late Rev. Patrick Peyton in 1947 created the Family Theater, which aired shows with religious and moral themes on the radio, Sinatra was one of his players. And, in 1945, Sinatra won a special Academy Award for his appearance in the short film, ``The House I Live In,'' which preached against racial and religious bigotry. He also recorded the title song, turning it into a classic hit.

``The object of the church is to pray for the soul of the dead and lend comfort to the living,'' said the church spokesman. ``Ordinarily, a funeral would not be denied except to a notorious sinner or a Mafia don.''

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