What the Church teaches about suicide



We have all been dealing with the havoc of the coronavirus, and here on the West Coast, forest fires are causing loss of life and wide property devastation. Some people have lost everything. It has been said that God doesn’t allow things to happen beyond what people can cope with, but I’m not sure that this is true.

So if one has lost all that he owned (and perhaps even a family member) and that person commits suicide, has he committed a mortal sin? I don’t believe so; it seems to me that person was in despair and that his state of mind probably does not qualify for eternal damnation. Your thoughts? (Beaverton, Oregon)


Suicide has always been considered by the Catholic Church as a grave offense, which is one of the elements that constitutes mortal sin. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “It is God who remains the sovereign master of life. … We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (No. 2280).

But gravity of matter, of course, is only one of the three requirements for a mortal sin — the others being sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. And it is here that the Church now adopts a more nuanced approach with regard to someone who takes his own life.

When I was ordained a priest in 1966, the Church normally did not permit a funeral Mass or burial in a Catholic cemetery for someone who had taken his own life. That is no longer so.

As this same catechism (promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1992) says: “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” (Nos. 2282-83).

Commonly, then, in the present day, the Church gives the benefit of the doubt to a suicide victim and grants a Catholic funeral and burial. The Church makes the pastoral judgment that there may well have been mitigating circumstances and that the person — due to severe depression or mental illness — may not have been capable of making that decision with full freedom.


Does it count as true forgiveness if you don’t hate the person, if you pray for their well-being, yet purposely avoid them because you’ve seen enough to know that they won’t change their ways (gossiping, etc.)? (Charlottesville)


Forgiveness is essential to the Christian way of life. We have only to think of St. Stephen, the first Christin martyr. Stoned outside the city of Jerusalem, he died praying for his executioners. He took his example, of course, from Jesus, who said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Earlier, after giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus had said: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Mt 6:14). So, a willingness to forgive those who have offended us is a Christian imperative.

However, the Church does not dictate with whom you have to “hang out.” In your own case, you have done everything you are obligated to do: You do not hate the one who offended you, and you continue to pray for his or her well-being.

To continue to fraternize with that person may not only be unpleasant for you; it could also “pull you down” into the world of gossiping. You are justified in keeping your distance.


My recollection is that the text of the Mass in English was rewritten about 20 years ago — to be a more accurate translation and to eliminate sexist references. I wonder, however, if they missed something: in the Nicene Creed, our parish still prints, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” Many in the congregation, including me, simply skip the word “men,” and I believe that our priest does as well. Why was this reference to all humans as “men” not eliminated? (Guilderland, New York)


The changes in the English version of the Mass to which you refer went into effect on the first Sunday of Advent in 2011. The rationale was not so much to eliminate sexist references, but to guarantee a more literal translation of the Latin text. This approach was based on a 2001 instruction from the Holy See called “Liturgiam Authenticam.”

That document said in part, “The translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language.” It clarified that “the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.”

In my mind, the current English wording of the Nicene Creed is a mistranslation. The Latin wording is “propter nos homines,” and in Latin the word “homo” is generic; it means “person” or “human being.”

I, too, look for the day when it will be translated as such and not risk offending some listeners. Meanwhile, as a permissible alternative, often I choose instead to use the Apostles’ Creed.

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