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Canadian bishops take different stands on sacraments for Catholics planning assisted suicide

December 14, 2016

Two groups of Canadian Catholic bishops have issued instructions for pastors regarding the pastoral care of people planning assisted suicide. One group of bishops tells priests that Catholics planning suicide cannot receive the sacraments; the other group leaves that question open.

Citing the teachings of Pope Francis, the Catholic bishops of the Atlantic territories write that people considering suicide “deserve our compassionate response and respect.” While the decision to commit suicide is contrary to Christian morality, they note that the individual may be suffering from depression or other emotional difficulties that prevent a full consent of the will. The bishops conclude that ‘the pastoral care of souls cannot be reduced to norms for the reception of sacraments or the celebration of funeral rites.”

Instead, the bishops of the Atlantic territories say that those planning suicide should be “accompanied with dialogue and compassionate prayerful support.” That dialogue, the bishops write, “will shed light on complex pastoral situations and will indicate the most appropriate action to be taken including whether or not the celebration of sacraments is proper.”

In a sharply contrasting document, the Catholic bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories argue strongly against accepting an individual’s choice of suicide. They, too, urge pastors to show compassion and understanding for those contemplating suicide, but they emphasize that such people should be made aware that “euthanasia is a grave sin.”

“If the penitent, having been made aware of the gravity of the situation, is open to learning the Church’s teaching on this issue, and open to reconsidering the decision, the priest can absolve,” the bishops write. But if the individual is determined to go ahead with planned suicide, the priest cannot give absolution. Similarly, if a Catholic asks to be anointed before suicide, the bishops write, the priest has “the duty to implore the sick person with gentle firmness to turn away from this determination in repentance and trust. If the person, however, remains obstinate, the Anointing cannot be celebrated.”

The statement by the bishops of the Atlantic region, encouraging pastors to use their judgment about administering the sacraments, was signed by Archbishops Anthony Mancini of Halifax-Yarmouth, Martin Currie of St. John’s, and Valéry Vienneau of Moncton; and Bishops Brian Dunn of Antigonish, Anthony Daniels of Grand Falls, Claude Champagne of Edmundston; Richard Grecco of Charlottetown; Peter Hundt of Corner Brook and Labrador, Robert Harris of Saint John, and Bishop Daniel Jodoin of Bathurst.

The statement by the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, instructing priests not to administer the sacraments to people commited to suicide, was signed by Archbishops Richard Smith of Edmonton and Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan; and Bishops Gregory Bittman of Edmonton, Mark Hagemoen of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, Frederick Henry of Calgary, and Paul Terrio of St. Paul.


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  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Jan. 02, 2017 3:52 AM ET USA

    "Pastoral care of souls cannot be reduced to norms"? Why the h_ll not? Why do these bishops implicitly disbelieve in humility? How long will it be before "compassionate pastors" start bringing the sacraments to abortionists?

  • Posted by: MAG - Dec. 17, 2016 5:32 PM ET USA

    What a great service has been performed by Bishops of the Atlantic Territories. They have publicly affirmed they no longer believe in the Catholic faith. One need no longer be confused by their robes and miters. They're not Catholic, and they want us to know it.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 15, 2016 3:35 PM ET USA

    I'm with the Western Canadian Bishops.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Dec. 15, 2016 10:16 AM ET USA

    I don't know. How many of these are a case of "Grandma's senile - let's put her to sleep"?

  • Posted by: Terri11 - Dec. 15, 2016 12:20 AM ET USA

    Is it possible that by receiving the sacraments, a soul might turn away from assisted suicide because of a new inner peace that the sacraments could bring?

  • Posted by: WNS3234 - Dec. 14, 2016 10:14 PM ET USA

    I wonder how this will turn out if this breech if left standing. "Compassion leads to the Gas Chamber" and is already used to permit -- regrettably and sorrowfully, of course -- procured abortion, voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. There is a trajectory to this line of irrational reasoning and the conclusions land outside of the limits of proper Christian Morality. Curran et allia. rehabilitated?? Oyyyy, what a mess.

  • Posted by: aclune9083 - Dec. 14, 2016 10:02 PM ET USA

    This is the legacy of empowering local groups of bishops to review and reinterpret church teaching formerly grounded in Christ's clear message, applicable to all. Satan, the father of lies before all time, does his evil work by dividing and conquering.

  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Dec. 14, 2016 6:55 PM ET USA

    I fully support the Alberta bishop -- and the Swiss bishops before him. Would a priest absolve a person who is resolved to kill someone else? Of course not! Neither should he absolve or administer a sacrament to someone planning to commit assisted suicide.