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Suicide Funerals

by Paul Turner

The Catholic church may provide funeral rites for those who die by suicide. The church recognizes the delicate situation: We do not condone suicide, but we do pray for the dead.
When someone you know takes his or her own life, you may experience more than ordinary grief. Ordinarily, Christians find comfort after the death of those we love in our belief that their sufferings are over and eternal life is theirs. But because we believe in the salvation of the just and the forgiveness of the repentant, it is natural to wonder about the eternal reward of those who die by their own hand.
In the past, the Catholic church denied funeral rites to those who committed suicide. Because suicide is such a serious offense against the sacredness of human life, the church disassociated itself from the deed by refusing to provide traditional rituals.
However, that has changed. We no longer specifically name suicide as a reason to deny a Catholic funeral. Instead, a more generally worded ruling prevails: A funeral may be denied if its celebration would cause public scandal to the faithful; a bishop makes the final judgment. In many pastoral situations, the denial of a funeral might cause a scandal to the faithful. So, although we used to forbid funeral rites for all cases of suicide, the law no longer makes that universal requirement.
Our compassion for those who die by suicide stems from understanding. We realize that the moral responsibility of the deceased may have diminished through grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or even excessive fear of hardship or suffering. We also believe that God may still offer them the opportunity for repentance in ways we do not know or comprehend.
Consequently, the church offers funeral rites for those who die by suicide, and the American edition of the Catholic ritual includes prayers for this specific situation. At the funeral, we pray for the forgiveness of the deceased and the comfort of mourners. We ask that God will reward our faith on the day when all will be made new again.

Copyright © 1998, Resource Publications, Inc. 160 E. Virginia St. #290, San Jose, CA 95112, (408) 286-8505. This article may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher.  For permission e-mail
Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.

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