"No scholar I know, nor myself, a street scholar on Saint Francis, see any causal connection between Saint Francis and dead animals," she wrote in an email from Italy, where she spends summers and, on Friday, attended St. Francis' Day of Pardon at the original Porziuncola in Assisi for the 41st time.
McLaughlin said he "did anticipate the theological discussion, but we never looked at it as a theological exercise. … We always looked at it as a way to minister to the families."
St. Francis, the thirteenth century founder of religious orders dedicated to the service of the poor, believed all creation mirrored the love and beauty of God. Murals inside the national shrine's main church depict him blessing the birds and taming the once-fierce wolf known as Gubbio.
While some try to narrowly interpret the saint, McLaughlin said, he is "many things to many people. Some people identified through poverty, some identified through animals."
Snider, who inherited the project this month from the former rector, said he gained "a lot of confidence" after receiving his first query, from a dog breeder concerned about the fate of her cremated pet remains.
Joan Jensen, who breeds and shows Pembroke Welsh corgis, said a friend picked up a pamphlet about the project and passed it on. An inactive Catholic, Jensen hopes to participate — the pet columbarium will be open to people of all faiths or no faith.
So far, she has the cremains of 11 dogs in boxes in her San Francisco home (there is no yard in which to bury them) and three living dogs who will likely meet the same fate.
"I hope this materializes," she said. "I hate to think of my pets' ashes in the garbage."
Snider takes the criticism in stride, stressing with a smile that there will be no burials or funerals for pets — only prayers for the living if they seek them. St. Francis Rest is located under the stairs protruding from the church, not in or under the church, he has noted, so doesn't violate canon law.
"Everything we are doing and will do is presented to the archbishop," he said. "You could hand gold bars out in the middle of the street and someone would complain that you were blocking traffic. You've just got to roll with it."