Suicide and the Church

News broke yesterday of the murder of a family in Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan and the suicide of the murderer. It is certainly an horrible event which hardly bears thinking about. Alan Hawe killed his wife and three sons and then killed himself. He may have been suffering from mental illness, he was certainly suffering from a spiritual one. In a previous case In April 2007, Adrian Dunne (30) strangled his wife Ciara (24) and his daughters Leanne (5) and Shania (3), before taking is own life. The family lived in Monageer, Co Wexford. The deaths caused national shock and it later emerged that Adrian Dunne had asked a priest, in the days leading up to the killing, if people who take their own lives can get into Heaven. It would be interesting to know what the priests reply was.

Without doubt it is the case that Churchmen have tended to play down the seriousness of sin in general and certainly of suicide since the sixties. The Roman catechism, for example, is very clear in its teaching on suicide and generally speaking the Church has proclaimed it to be a mortal sin. While The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 2280-2283) makes the following points about suicide:

“Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for His honour and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.”
“Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”
“If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal.”
“Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.”
“Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”
“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.”

All very Vatican Two. It seems to me that the tone used here is very encouraging but it lacks clarity and brevity. The old Maynooth catechism has it thus;

“The fifth commandment forbids murder and suicide, and all other acts that inflict bodily injury on ourselves or on others.”

Clear and concise, and compassionate. If you believe that the Church teaches the truth, that is, if you are Catholic, what is more charitable than to make the truth clear. The 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Religion alone, and especially the Catholic religion, instructs us with regard to the true destiny of life and the importance of death; it alone furnishes a solution of the enigma of suffering, inasmuch as it shows man living in a land of exile and suffering as a means of acquiring the glory and happiness of a future life. By its doctrines of the efficacy of repentance and the practice of confession it relieves the moral suffering of man; it forbids and prevents to a large extent the disorders of life; in a word it is of a nature to prevent the causes which are calculated to impel a man to the extreme act.” Unfortunately the reality of ecclesiastical life in Ireland is that the country is enveloped in a terrible fog of confusion.


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