Catholic Courier

Posted: December 21, 2009

Last Updated: August 14, 2014

What is the church's stance on suicide?

Q. Would you explain the Catholic Church's position on suicide? My wonderful wife took her own life 15 years ago, and every day I think about her salvation. She was a good wife and mother while she lived. Our pastor assured us that our Lord would bring her home. Still, my children and especially I myself feel responsible that we did not do enough to prevent this tragedy. (Illinois)

 

A. I'm sure you know and have probably been told often that the reaction of you and your children is not uncommon. When struck by a catastrophe like your wife's death, which we cannot make sense of no matter how hard we try, we feel we must have done, or not done, something within our power to prevent what happened. To attempt to explain such actions this way, however, is futile and unhelpful.

Priest advocates pastoral approach to families of victims

I believe it would be personally useful to understand the Catholic Church's approach to suicide, and I hope you take consolation in what your priest said. He reflects the same theology as the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it says we each have responsibility for our own lives, but we should not despair of those who take their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God has ways of providing for them, and the church always holds them, as it does all the deceased, in its prayers (No. 2283).

Much Catholic understanding of these situations is reflected in the church's funeral policies. Canon law lists among those who might be deprived of Catholic rites "manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funeral rites without public scandal of the faithful" (Canon 1184).

Are people who commit suicide really "open sinners" whose Christian burial would give scandal?

Today bishops and other pastors generally believe just the opposite. The scandal would be, rather, if Christian burial is refused. They, as all the rest of us, are painfully aware of our limitations in knowing what really happened spiritually to the one who died, not to speak of the particular care we need to exercise toward the loved ones left behind.

Taking one's own life is a serious matter. But how much was the individual capable of genuine reflection on what he or she was doing? How much true consent of the will was there? Clearly, we cannot know.

I have had the sad experience of dealing with suicide many times in my 55 years as a priest. Circumstances surrounding these deaths gave strong hints to everyone who knew them that the deceased were hampered mentally or emotionally, often to a severe degree, at the time of death.

Sometimes those hints are apparent, with erratic behavior pointing to some crippling psychological dysfunction. Sometimes they are less obvious, and the self-destruction contradicts every experience with that person. To all appearances, something inside just snapped, and we'll never know what that might have been.

In other words, the church makes no judgment about the individual's relationship with God. We simply place all our trust in God's mercy and love for the one who has died and for those terribly hurt by the death.

So the encouragement your priest gave you was based on solid Catholic belief about God and what we understand today about such suicides as your good wife's. You have every reason to hope, even be certain, that she is in our Lord's loving presence and care.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Father John Dietzen, the author of this Catholic News Service column, died March 27, 2011.

If you or someone you know is dealing with severe depression, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with a counselor online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Comments

DEXTER BARNES
Understanding & Compassion for the loved ones left behind is what is needed,which our society lacks!!! I,Pray GOD grants us this in abundance.
March 25, 2011, 3:39 AM
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Lori Clarke
There still is a stigma of mental illness and suicide in society today. I think the Catholic Church need to be move involved with these issues. From the Pope on down, they should preach to their parishioners there should be no stigma with mental illness. That it is just like a physical illness. Especially now with all the soliders coming home from war in the Middle East with both physical and mental illnesses. There are many soliders who risked their lives in the war, survived, but came home with a mental illness and ends up committing suicide. Many are Catholic. Their families were probably taught the old way - that they committed a sin by taking their own life, will not have a Catholic burial, and will never go to heaven, no matter how good they lived their lives before the act of suicide. The Catholic Church must get the message out there so that maybe if one of their parishioners is contemplating suicide, s/he can come to the priest for counseling without the stigma of mental illness. Also, if a parishioner's family member or friend committed suicide, the priest will be able to comfort s/he with the Catholic Church's new stance on suicide and God's compassion he has on the person who committed suicide. May God, Jesus, all the Saints, and Angels Pray for us!!! and Help us!!!
October 29, 2011, 12:33 PM
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John G
I am struggling terribly in my life and have suicidal thoughts because I am in excruciating pain but do not really have any pain medications. I also suffered greatly with truly horrendous anxiety in my life. Please pray for me anybody who reads this.
September 22, 2012, 7:27 PM
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Nan
Dear John G.~and anyone else who is suffering from anxiety and despair: This summer, our community suffered the tragic loss of two young people----cousins---- who took their own lives, two weeks apart. They were the sons of some of my brother's best friends, one of whom I also know very well. I went online to try and find comfort and advice on how to deal with all the emotions I felt, and found thisarticle, and another related article in the Catholic Digest, to be enormously helpful. I pray that you can find the help you need by contacting your parish priest, and local mental health center. The priest can provide spiritual counseling; the mental health center can provide psychological counseling, with the fee adjusted according to income. There are also pharmaceutical assistance programs to help with the cost of your pain medications, if finances is an issue. Your doctor or social services person in the town you live in can help. I have chronic pain from many orthopedic surgeries, and am allergic to almost all pain medications. I listen to meditation tapes and music help alleviate the pain, which you can get from your library. I also start my day with prayer...and do deep breathing for anxiety. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful, caring psychologist I see every week for my anxiety and depression. I also have a strong family and friend support network. I know I am luckier than most in that respect. I will pray for all of you.
January 23, 2013, 11:22 AM
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Life
My brother recently committed suicide and every breath I take I feel guilty. I beg you not to think of doing such an awful thing. Someone out there loves you, and if they don't make it known, then I say I love you.
February 19, 2013, 10:20 PM
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Tee
John, Hang in there, God loves you very much, please talk with someone it helps. The more you talk and get to the route issues of why you feel what you feel, you will have the opportunity to uncover the issues that make you not want to live. Know that the Joy of the Lord is your strength, God will give you strength day to day to help you endure life on life terms. It appears you wrote this statement sometime ago, I pray that you are well and hanging on to God's unchanging hands. God bless,
April 14, 2013, 10:59 AM
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Karen
John G, I'm going to Mass tonight and I will offer tonight's Mass up for your intentions and pray for your health. Be blessed my brother in Christ! Love ya man!
February 8, 2014, 6:59 PM
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John
Please John do not fear. Jesus is with you as I write this and wants you to be free from your anxiety but this means putting your faith in him. I too suffer from terrible anxiety but I pray Jesus help me. You are a child of God and he loves you. I feel your pain and I have been there. You are needed in this world do not evil tell you otherwise. I pray you will know that Jesus is by your your side just call his name. Whatever sins you have committed he has already forgiven you. May God grant you peace and love. Your friend in Christ John
February 17, 2014, 1:34 PM
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Reyna
I hope you are doing better and God has angels around us ..
August 14, 2014, 12:45 AM
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Diana Mantese-Tutt
Dearest John: I most certainly pray for you after sending this. I, too live (?) w/constant pain. Then we get depressed, etc. we find ourselves FEELING useless. Any prayer you offer such as Peace on Earth, or "pls God, hold my loved ones in your hands could be THE MIRACLE we are seeking personally or for the world. My prayer life due to illness has changed, so now I talk to God thru the day-I let Him know I believe in him & just hold a thought for a particular person or situation. I know you have the gift of prayer in you & miracles also. You are needed!
October 6, 2014, 4:52 AM
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Aida
Dear John G: Please be assured that I will be praying for you. I also struggle with suicidal thoughts. I only hold on to life because of my love to Christ and the fear of damnation of my soul if I were to kill myself. God is merciful and will hear our prayers. He never gives us more than we can bear.
September 29, 2012, 10:54 PM
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pellicle
Aida " He never gives us more than we can bear." Sometimes it can be pretty darn close though...
April 11, 2013, 3:02 AM
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Rachel
Me too
September 19, 2014, 9:46 PM
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Shannon
Dear John & Aida, I pray that you both will find a way to reach out to someone for some help. Even your family doctor should be able to help you find someone to talk to. You are not alone. Many have travelled the difficult road you are on. I am happy that you posted in this forum, but please reach out again!
October 24, 2012, 10:08 PM
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Monique
I have many friends and family that have commited suicide over the years. I have contemplated it myself. When people say "Suicide equals Hell" I don't argue with them - I just pray for them and their growth and understanding. I wish they to never have to have that phone call. I pray for my friends and family that they have found the peace and love in the Holy Trinity that they did not have here for whatever reason. And may peace be with you all!
November 13, 2012, 5:11 PM
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Regina
This article brings me much peace as my brother took his own life two days ago. No tonly pray for him but for those left behind who struggle to understand Gods role in this
December 5, 2012, 7:52 PM
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Francis Xavier
I know your brother is in God's arms.
January 24, 2013, 1:20 PM
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Jason
A dear friend of mine commited suicide this morning, without any warning signs or tendencies. My initial reaction was of course sadness but as I have had time to digest the news I am angry with him for what he has done to all of us, fiends and family alike - he has stolen time from all of us. He took away the future we all had together. This may or may not have been God's pan. If it is God's plan, then why? If it was not God's plan, then did he spit in the Father's face? I don't want to go on thinking that he will be denied the Kingdom of Heaven, but my catholic upbringing leads me to believe that his suicide is an unforgivable sin. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
December 17, 2012, 6:11 PM
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Kathleen
I am a catholic too. Dearest Jason , please accept my condolences. My husband's brother took his life just a year after we married , 2 years ago his cousin hung himself and now I find out my sister has taken an overdose. Where I live many people are taking their lives. It is sad and devastating. I have been reading many sites on this as I am in grief over my sister. Please know , God has the ability to forgive and only He knows all the circumstances in each individual case. As father says , God is the judge , but He is all compassion and mercy. Pray for your friend and may God grant you peace of mind and the ability to surrender your friend into His merciful hands. Kathleen
December 22, 2012, 2:18 PM
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Dorothy
Unless you have suffered from depression, you don't understand. I am almost 65 and have had depression since I was 19. Think of being in a deep dark black pit. You want to climb out, but you get no where. Worse, you don't believe you deserve to be out of the pit. You don't believe you deserve anyone's love and feel that the world would be a better place without you in it to screw it up further. So many times I am alone and want to end my life, but I'm still here...in a way, I am staying alive because I believe I deserve to continue suffering. I am not in physical pain, just emotional loneliness. My husband died 19 months ago...we didn't have a good marriage but I stayed in it anyway because divorce would have upset my mom and my brother. I have never, nor will I ever be able to, put myself first. I don't deserve it. I hope this helps you understand what a depressed person feels...and as far as telling them how they would hurt others if the died, the pain of depression is so deep that dying is the most important thing--nothing else matters but ending the pain. Think of this when you get angry with depressed friends....maybe you will understand the pain more.
March 22, 2014, 11:58 AM
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Laurie
I happened upon this site by googling "suicide and the Catholic church". Why? Because I continue to contemplate the "act", most recently, I think about it every day. I am 53 years old and have experienced many struggles in my life; work, family, friends, the Church, anxiety, depression etc. I have sought and received counseling for various reasons, and many times. Yet, I still feel as if my life serves no purpose so why am I here. I don't think of my life as bad, necessarily, in that I don't 'want' for anything, however, I find myself sad and lonely (even with much family and friends around me). Tonight, as I sit here typing this message, I just want to stop living but I fear I will burn in hell for eternity.
October 29, 2014, 9:46 PM
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John J Putnam
I have tried suicide in the past, very reluctantly. Fear of hell, being damed. I think of myself as a poor Catholic but still try to be faithful. These days because of poor financial status I think of suicide as a way to end the misery of living a poorly life. I think on the same lines as a terminal ill person thinks about just put an end to it with some dignity. I keep on trying in life hoping that it will improve and I can have joy from beng alive and think darkly. I have the option to commit suicide or continue and I keep finding things in life to give me reasons to continue living. My faith gives me reasons, as poor as it may be. Along with other things that come in daily life. Who knows, something might happen tomorrow that will change everything, possible. For all with suicidal thoughts as myself, don't give up today and tomorrow just might be the day everything changes. I don't think we should give up on hope and faith.
January 19, 2013, 9:46 AM
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Mary Jewell
John G, I pray this Scripture over you bc you are indeed fearfully and woderfully made! You can know that You are made in our Creator's glorious image. Psalm 139:14 reads; "I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works, and my soul knows very well." In the original Hebrew text, the word 'fearfully' means: with great reverence and heart-felt interest and respect. The word 'wonderfully' means: unique, set apart, uniquely marvelous. Remember this verse, because the total truth is that He cares and loves you with an acute intensity that cannot ever be measured.
January 21, 2013, 1:39 AM
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Rosa D
I want totell everyone that the person committing suicide most likely does not want that choice and is in agony concerning it, and regarding the ones they leave behind. The depth of despair is so overwhelming to them at the moment. Please understand the complicated depth of what the person who has committed suicide is experiencing when they do it. Do not take blame upon yourself, or anger at the person you have lost. Seek God for your own peace and pray for the person you lost.
February 25, 2013, 7:45 AM
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Alicia
My son commiteed suicide, he was 18. I cannot begin to describe the devastation i felt when i found him. I gave all my sorrows and pain to God.I pleaded with him to please let me know that he was with him. My the grace of God he did. He sent different ways and people to show me. I have no doubt that he was saved.God is a merficul and compassionate God.I went thru alot of trials and guilt but the only way I have been able to handle this, is by prayer and staying close to God.Retreats,communion and trust in God.My son had alot of faith.was active in the youth group at the church would encourage kids to go with him and to go to church.I don't have an explanation for what he did. I do believe he was attacked by the adversary and caught him in a weak moment,but i have peace given to me by God's love.
March 6, 2013, 10:40 PM
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Withheld
Suicide is a unconious thought that plagues us even when we try to go past it. We are in such great agony both emotional and physical, on a daily basis and our avenues of hope, love and faith have met a dead end. We do not choose to experience a non meaningful life and our ability to deal with it all, has vanished.
March 10, 2013, 4:21 PM
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mary
that's it! "a non-meaningful life" I couldn't put words to the problem but your comment spells it out wonderfully - hope and love have hit a dead end and I'm hangig on to my faith - tks
August 16, 2013, 11:23 AM
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Steven Bolanc
Please seek medical attention for the chronic pain issues. I a thinking along you same lines and I am on pain medication. I was in a horrific accident but the worst hadd been contracting Lyme Disease. My pain now is unimaginable and nearly uncontroable. The only comfort I find is in Christ and my wife who suffers because of my conditions. I know that it will take me hopefully sooner then later. My wish is for the suffering to end. Get help and take the rest to the cross.
April 24, 2013, 3:48 PM
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Taylor Redrick
Steven i COMPLETELY feel your pain! I contracted lyme disease myself at 23 :( It is a painful and miserable thing to deal with...especially if it becomes chronic. Bad decision after bad decision also lead me to experience more health issues :( Now i have 2 to deal with. I have experienced some relief in lyme symptoms with various treatments so if you are interested please let me know i might be able to help. God Bless and take care.
June 6, 2013, 11:07 PM
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Joy jacovino
Does the Catholic Church still consider suicide a mortal sin or not? Please reply, Thank you.
June 16, 2013, 5:35 PM
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Gina
Amen Mary, Many Saints have suffered illnesses, some causing their deaths, trying to deter them from there purpose, Gods will. This amount of pain suffered only brought them closer to Him, bringing about Great changes, that today can be seen but not noticed anymore. John G though your suffering you know Jesus so intimately. think on His Walk to Calvery, we have our crosses to bear, we are no Saints, but we too have brought about change in our own little way. when you cover your pain with a smile as to not make a loved one worry, when you do something for someone and it takes you a year to recover, little things its all about the little things. Jesus Trust Us more than we Trust ourselves, but do We Really Trust in HIM. Maybe that's where we all go wrong. GODS PEACE BE WITH YOU ALL.
August 4, 2013, 11:13 AM
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No one
I recently lost some to suicide that I loved dearly... I know my savior Jesus is showing him the ropes in paradise right now. My Jesus is merciful and understanding.. And my love might have given up hope here on earth but knew there is some greater.. And we all will see him there sooner or later. In my tragedy if have learned a lot and one is understanding and compassion....I will miss him... But I know walking along Jesus is a lot better than here...
August 25, 2013, 1:11 AM
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Denise M
I have always been a single parent, my son and I were a team. He struggled with depression and anxiety. He was being treated for PTSD. My son died 6 weeks ago. My son did not commit suicide but his mental illness caused him to turn to alcohol at times to try to make his pain go away. I am so distraught and not sure how to go on with my life without him. We were a team just the two of us and I do not how to deal with living without him in. My thoughts of ending my own life have been daily. The loss of my son is unbearable my heart is in a million pieces. I found my son body and that haunts me every day since his death. I pray to God every night to not allow me to wake the next morning to relive another day of heart felt grief. My son was a good man always giving to others, helping supporting anyone who needed him. He was the best son a mother could have. He was seeking assistance from our local VA and was on medication. I cry 20 out of 24 hours a day, my heart aches and I have been thinking about ending my own life so we once again be together. I am a good Catholic and raised my son the same. Our faith in God has always been strong and prayer was very important in both our lives. I continue to pray daily to God to help me with my pain and grief. I know I can't have my son back unless I join him in heaven.
September 1, 2013, 6:52 PM
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Mark
I still cry for my Brothers suicide. Today I don't think he was ill, in traditional sense, but shamed into believing he was evil.
September 14, 2013, 1:10 PM
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Corpus
I read that Father Dietzen has passed and find comfort in his eternal life with our father... Surely someone is monitoring the blog I understand the church's current view on suicide and burial with sufficient knowledge of the psychological impact, especially upon our youth. My problem is with a local parish which has established a shrine to a young man who from the pain of bullying took his own life. This shrine is erected upon parish property and troubles me each time I pass it. Why do we cave to what is politically correct, when perhaps if we continued to teach the biblical sin the child would have reached out to parents, the rector, or someone else trusted who could have led them to professional help. I don't personally appreciate this message of support being communicated to my child by the parish. If this is the new direction of the church, can we please beautify Merton, as many of his writings are fabulous and healthy for individual reflection.
November 15, 2013, 2:33 AM
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karlie
This weekend I attended services for a young man who also lost his life to moment of deep despair. It was clear that this man was loved by many in thr community. I didn't know him. I only went to offer support to mutual friends but I was heartbroken all the same. It stirred up in me my own struggles with taking my life. I learned recently that passive suicide was wayI went about it most often. I have lost count of the active attempts as well as passive ones and like Denise have for years prayed to God to take me. I fear too that i am incapable of taking my life..as if i am meant to tough out this torture. Then obviously i amimmediatley wracked with guilt for having those feelings.Over the years I've suffered several nervous breakdowns due to stress and trauma from when i was younger and have become increasingly aware the pain and greif that have to deal with and i feel that i put this burden on my friends and family.I feel like it would be easier if they didn't have to deal with the possibility of another break and my death would be temporary pain .something they could atleast begin to heal from. ,fear of separation from God is what I am most afraid of.this is a terrible feeling so my empathy extends to all of you out there. I'm in a lot of pain and the brave face isn't cutting it anymore. Prayers please. God bless peace be withu.
January 12, 2014, 12:30 AM
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John
While I certainly agree with the position set forth in Fr. Dietzen's answer, we must remember that, prior to the Second Vatican Council, and especially during the Middle Ages, it treated the family of the suicide with callous contempt and disregard. It denied Christian burial to anyone who "knowingly and deliberately" committed suicide. It (at least tacitly) supported civil legislation which caused the suicide's property to escheat to the Crown, thereby depriving the family of its means of support. If the church is truly concerned about giving scandal through the performance of funeral rites, why did it give Christian burial to Edward Kennedy, a man who divorced his wife and remarried and who advocated for the legalization of abortion?
March 13, 2014, 11:53 PM
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Jim Groner
It is sad to read comments from individuals concerning suicide and the loss their families suffer due to this tragedy. I understand this implicitly as I feel as though I have succumbed to this mentality. I can state for my part its not something which is chosen/selected instead it spawns from a sense of indecision and being able to turn to someone. I feel as though crisis centers only prolong one's suffering. As a result it is a reaction Not a decision. Its also made in solitude when all others who could have helped did not help or were to busy to help. As a result the victims family suffer a loss. What a shame.
May 8, 2014, 3:08 AM
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Eugene R. Reising
I am at the stage of my life, 81 yrs old, and have determined that there is no sense in going on. I was raised as a Catholic, but broke off at age 21, now after 60 years felt a need to return. Severe disabilities, next to no help from the VA, I feel it is time to go. Read Exodus, Job, Psalms and 1 Corinthians. Am more confused than ever. So, the debate goes on with me. End it or??????
August 30, 2014, 11:58 PM
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Mr Reising
Mr. Reising, Thank you for posting your expression of grief. I am 59 years old and I am in a life situation that is similar in some ways. I have lost everything that has mattered to me as I've been dealing unsuccessfully for over twenty years with bipolar depression. I was a faithful catholic for many years but I just left in 2001 after losing my business, my wife, my parents, my home and my three children. I live alone now in daily agony but I still pray for His mercy and healing perhaps out of fear and habit. I thought perhaps you would consider praying for me as a possible distraction from your understandable grief. Consider again allowing God to take you in His own time according to His will. I sense that your prayers in particular would be powerful in helping another person such as me and I will pray for you. Paul
September 2, 2014, 1:35 PM
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sue
I pray for you, John. I ask that God hold you close and speak to your mind, body and spirit and bring you love and peace. You are worthy of life and I will be a prayer warrior for you. Please look for counseling through the city you live in. Depending on your financial state, you CAN find mental health and medical help as well. There IS someone out there that will help. Look online in your county. You matter. Hang on!
October 4, 2014, 7:20 PM
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Diana Mantese-Tutt
God is our True, Perfect, All loving Father, Daddy, Papa. Do you really think HE would forsake you? A book written by a priest about parental & heavenly love as being so strong a mother would march to the gates of Hell & rescue her child. I love that! Yet, I too, struggle w/feelings of not being "good enough". My nephew shot himself in the head on family rural property. I know L. was out of his mind w/despair & God swooped L. right into HIS loving arms. Your friend was SICK! God bless
October 6, 2014, 5:10 AM
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Living on a prayer
I am so moved by the honesty of everyone's words written with such despair. I too, am living with severe depression and grief. I lost my beloved son to an accidental chemical overdose 5 months ago, and I am unable to come to terms with my loss. I think about suicide every day. I don't want to hurt my husband or my family but I can't live with this pain. I just want to be with my son. He is my only child and life has become unbearable. I believe God will open his arms and embrace me the way I know he's embraced my son. Through our faith, all is forgiven.
October 18, 2014, 4:20 AM
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Catholic Courier
Dear "Living on a Prayer", please talk to someone at your parish or contact a suicide prevention hotline. You can speak to a counselor toll-free at 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
October 20, 2014, 10:29 AM
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