Catholic Funeral Disrespects Deceased Teen


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The other day, I stumbled upon this article from the Washington Post about the inappropriate behavior of a priest during a funeral mass for a young man who had committed suicide. The priest met with the family, as is typical before a funeral mass, in order to prepare a homily that would honor the deceased. The parents expressed that they wanted to celebrate their son’s life, but the priest had other ideas.

The priest spent much of his homily speculating that the deceased might not make it into heaven because he had committed suicide, using that word upwards of 6 times. (For full details, see the article linked above.)

The Catholic church has not been historically kind when it comes to suicide. From my own memories of growing up Catholic, I can recall the pastor of my former parish giving a homily about sin, in which he advised that all sin except for one is forgivable, and that one sin is despair. As I grew up, I came to understand he was referring to suicide. The Washington Post article corroborates my memory:

For centuries, the Catholic Church has struggled with the religious implications, and societal stigma, of suicide. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the church began taking a more benign approach to suicide, allowing parishioners who had taken their own lives to receive a Catholic funeral and be buried on sacred ground in Catholic cemeteries. In the 1990s, Pope John Paul II approved the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which acknowledged — for the first time — that many people who die by suicide also suffer from mental illness.

I suspect the Catholic Church of doing this to other families. We’re only hearing this particular story because it was so egregious that the family complained publicly. There may well be other cases -not so cut and dry, but still on the cusp of inappropriate, and they may be more common than the church might like to admit.

On a tangiential note, in my last post I mentioned the weakness of church leadership when it comes to questioning old traditions and practices. The Washington Post article brings an example of this: the church’s teaching on suicide changed for the better as of the 1990s, yet priests are still preaching that suicide leads to hell.

The article quotes a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago and explains:

Though it has been decades since the church adopted a more compassionate view of suicide, there remains a disconnect between some outlier priests and their parishes. The Rev. Charles T. Rubey said he has seen it within the Archdiocese of Chicago and during his 40 years as director and founder of the LOSS program, Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide.
“There are still some priests who view suicide as a mortal sin,” Rubey said. “That has been categorically denied by church leadership.”

If the Pope-approved catechism statement on suicide isn’t enough to make this needed change, especially with the present-day understanding of mental health, it really calls the church’s credibility into question. This kind of thing can really push people away.

My thoughts are with the family of the deceased – this is incredibly difficult, made more difficult by the way it was handled at the funeral, and I hope the church is more punitive toward the offending priest than the article says they will be. The church needs to set a clear example that this will not be tolerated. Otherwise, I guarantee it will continue in another parish in another town, and other priests may be emboldened because he got away with it. This is their pattern of behavior.

Happy thinking,


5 thoughts on “Catholic Funeral Disrespects Deceased Teen

  1. Holy crap! I’m *floored* to read that the church ever took a more “benign” stance on suicide. I’m 45 and I went to church regularly until 4 years ago (daily mass for many years when I could). Our 5000 member urban church still teaches suicides go to hell. They also don’t give much credence to mental illness, as mental problems come from the devil or from possible demon possession. I’m not kidding about this….when my own son was diagnosed with autism 4 years ago the priest told me he was likely demon possessed.

    These are the kinds of things that confuse the shit out of me. As a Gen-Xer, the internet did not exist in my younger years and google didn’t have a lot of information until I was in my 30s. If your priest didn’t mention certain things the Pope said (and ours never did), you didn’t know about it. When the internet did get going I wasn’t in the habit of consulting it for religious purposes…I didn’t look up a single religious issue online until my deconversion at 41.

    Basically the priests had the power to teach anything they wanted to and there wasn’t a lot of consistency between the parishes. I hope young people still mired in religion will have better access to information than I ever did, and will be able to make good decisions accordingly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I’ve never heard of someone in recent history thinking autism was demon posession. That’s a truly awful thing to hear, especially from an authority figure. In a way this story about the funeral is a sign that believers are standing up to the church leaders and demanding change, as much as it’s a story of awful, misinformed doctrine causing harm. Maybe the priests’ power is eroding, and the availability of information is empowering people in a positive way as you hoped.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So I researched this a little more and discovered some interesting things. The family is calling for the priest to be removed from the priesthood. Now when you read what the priest actually said, he didn’t say a single thing that went against catholic doctrine. Of course what he said was tactless, compassionless and inflammatory…but his words were about how god can forgive suicide and save the person from eternal hell (and he stressed how suicide is a sin, but a forgivable one through the blood of christ). This IS consistent with current church doctrine.

        I don’t understand how you can ask a priest to be removed for teachings consistent with the church. It seems the real problem the family has is that they don’t agree with the church that suicide is a sin to begin with, and they’re instead focused on blaming the priest. I suppose this is how the religion survives….blame the priest and you never have to examine the religion (or god). I’m surprised were not seeing articles about this side of the topic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Appreciate the research, Violet, that does add a whole different angle. I think from personal experience that many religious people cherry pick what they want out of a religion. I guess with recent scandals in the church the media were quick to side with the family against the priest. Still, part of me thinks it would be good for the church to take any action that would clearly disavow this non-compassionate approach. Things like the wishy-washy “Love the sinner, hate the sin” teachings.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely it would be good for the church to condemn the many inflammatory things they’ve embraced in the past. But to do so they have a rather large problem: the bible and all it’s intolerant malarky would suddenly be shown to be fallible. The church wouldn’t survive, and so they can’t change.

        Believers will continue to be blind if we let the basics of church doctrine remain unexamined, so I’m in favor of pointing these things out. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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