A Washington Post article published on December 15, entitled, “Parents Horrified After Priest Used Teen’s Funeral to Condemn Suicide,” caught my eye. Anything with the word “suicide” in it still tends to capture my attention, even eight and a half years after my own son’s untimely death.
For centuries, suicide was considered a sin according to the Catholic Church. Those who died by suicide could not be buried in consecrated ground, meaning a grief-stricken mother who could not bear one more day of her hideous pain could not lie in peace with her dead child, or a beloved child could not be buried in the family plot. The blanket of shame that enshrouded survivors of suicide loss, was insult added to injury. It turned an already devastating experience into something even worse.
In recent decades, however, the Catholic Church has taken a more caring approach, acknowledging that suicide often stems from mental illness. There has been a willingness to de-stigmatize these deaths and to provide more compassionate support to surviving family members and friends.
Some priests apparently did not get the memo.
Full disclosure: I am a recovering Catholic. I’m not a big fan of this religion, in particular, or of organized religion, in general. I consider myself “spiritual,” with a sprinkling of Buddhist tendencies. My sense of God/dess is that s/he/it is a benevolent “something” inside of me, part of me; not something out there somewhere that watches over and judges.
Of course, we each get to figure these big questions out for ourselves. I actually admire the faith of others if and when it lifts them up, and when it does not condemn others for not seeing things through the same lens.
And so, perhaps it’s hypocritical of me to judge this priest who probably thought he was simply doing his job. I’d like to think that one of the roles of any religion is to provide comfort in troubled times. My hope is, as a result of this failure, word will spread, and other families will not have to endure this additional strain on their hearts in the face of a loved one’s suicide.