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Time to head off confusion in Canada


Regarding the Christian burial of suicides the Pio-Benedictine Code differed from the Johanno-Pauline Code in that the former law expressly listed suicides as among those “public and manifest sinners” ineligible for ecclesiastical burial (1917 CIC 1240), while the current law refers, in pertinent part, only to “manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful” (1983 CIC 1184). Because, however, Catholic tradition has long recognized self-murder as objectively gravely evil (CCC 22802281), there is no doubt that Catholics who kill themselves risk deprivation of ecclesiastical funeral rites (including a funeral Mass, per c. 1185) even though suicide is not expressly mentioned in the new law.

That said, something has changed in the Church’s approach to pastoral issues raised by suicide. Her recognition of the depravity of self-murder remains, but her awareness of the impact that various psychological factors, including a sense of loneliness, isolation, abandonment, and so on, might play in diminishing one’s personal, subjective culpability for having committed suicide (CCC 2282) is at work, too. I know of no canonist or moralist who holds that a Catholic who, on his own and often with little warning to others, simply and suddenly kills himself, should be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. To the contrary, such persons should be prayed for (CCC 2283) and a Mass intention for such a one may be accepted (c. 901).

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