Q. I need an answer. Our son had been suffering from clinical depression since he was 4 years old. All of the doctors and all of the medications we tried over the years seemed to do little to help. One year ago, his own son died in an auto accident at the age of 24, and that seemed to be more than our son could handle. Last week we received a phone call that our son, aged 50, had taken his own life.
The priest from our church spent that evening with us. He told us that our son was forgiven because it was mental illness that caused him to take his life. Since my sister found out about my son’s self-inflicted death, she has refused to speak with us. I am wondering whether she believes that someone who commits suicide, no matter what the reason, is condemned forever.
I am writing to you because I would like to have someone who is removed from the scene tell me what the Catholic Church’s thinking is on this subject. (City of origin withheld)
A. Suicide, objectively, is a grave sin. God has gifted us with life. We are only its stewards, not its masters. But in reminding us of that, the Catechism of the Catholic Church in No. 2282 is quick to note that the moral responsibility for a suicide may be diminished because the inner turmoil a person was going through precluded sound reasoning.
The catechism goes on to say in No. 2283 that “we should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”
In contrast to older versions of the Code of Canon Law, Canon No. 1184 no longer lists a person who died by suicide as someone who should not be given a Christian funeral.
Moral judgment in such cases is best left to God. The church’s approach to the tragedy is pity, not condemnation, and your parish priest had a sound basis for the comfort he offered you.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.