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Teachings of the Roman Catholic Church:

Suicide

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What the Catechism states:

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (a.k.a. the Catechism, or the CCC) is a a summary or exposition of doctrine of the Catholic church. "It serves as a learning introduction to the Sacraments traditionally used in catechesis, or Christian religious teaching of children and adult converts." 1 It was was approved by John Paul II on 1992-JUN-25, and promulgated by him on 1992-OCT-11. 1

It consists of four parts. #3 is titled "Life in Christ" which contains the following four sections 2280 to 2283 that deal with suicide:

  • 2280: 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 honor 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.

  • 2281: 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.

  • 2282: 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.

  • 2283: 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. 2

As section 2281 states, suicide is always a grave matter. As a result, many Catholics assume that a suicide is always a mortal sin that excludes the person from attaining Heaven after having committed suicide. That is not necessarily true. In order to be a mortal sin, the person:

  1. must be aware that it is a mortal sin, and

  2. they must commit the act voluntarily.

Also, as the final sentence in section 2282 implies, depression and other psychological factors may distort the person's thinking processes that they are not acting voluntarily when they commit suicide. 3

Some persons suffering from physical illnesses may find that the pain caused by their disorder and/or their lack of physical abilities are so severe that they also distort the person's thinking processes.

"Debra" posted a comment to the article on the National Catholic Register 3 saying:

"A depressed person simply cannot reason at this moment in time.  He or she just cannot find a good reason for going on any longer.  One is imprisoned by one’s own mind.  I cannot explain this feeling to the mentally stable; the depressives here know what I mean.  This is why we may think that suicide is a form of 'freedom'.  Someone here quoted one of the lines that depressed people hate the most to hear: 'God will never give us a cross which is too heavy to carry'.  Of course He gives some of us a cross too heavy!  If it weren’t too heavy, patients with depression would never contemplate suicide now, would we?  And Patt, if I were in the congregation when that priest said that suicidal people were 'selfish' I probably would have stood up and called him a moron to his face!  Depression and suicidal ideology, attempts and completions are not spiritual weaknesses. They are illnesses. Everyone who wants to kill himself has a 'mental problem'.  It is not 'normal' to want to do this.  People that kill themselves are victims and heaping criticism upon them after their death is just horrible!" 3

"Sue" posted a comment to the same article, saying:

"Clinical depression is a mental disease and we should pray for all those who have this problem.  God loves all his children, no matter what kind of mental problems they have.  Clinical depression is not always a sadness, it is hard to explain. It is definitely a mental disorder and I agree with the person who said they cannot control or think about what they do. I worked in a mental hospital years ago and I have so much empathy for them.  If they were thinking straight or had control, they would not do it. God’s love is not like ours. It is bigger and only He knows what happens to people with mental diseases. God Bless All Of Them!"

"Ann V" also posted, saying:

"Having battled major depression for years and am on medication still, if you have not experienced this “illness” you have no idea what it is like.  Just finding the right medication or combinations of medicines can be beyond belief.  I read in some Catholic site that depression is an illness, a very serious illness, and if one takes their life because of this, God would not punish this soul for this act because it is an illness and not a act against God. It is a illness of the mind, not body.  If you mind is not working correctly, would God punish you?  I truly don’t believe so."

"Don & Susan Mendell" said:

"Thanks for reminding us of the Catholic teaching which reinforces the value of our lives, while holding out hope which leads to healing and consolation for the living. We lost a 24 yr. old family member last month to suicide. The Catholic church is unerring in it’s teaching. The mystery of grace in Christ is beyond our broken human understanding. So we pray always and everywhere!" 3

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Comments by Fr. William Saunders:

He is the pastor of Our Lady of Hope parish in Potomac Falls, VA. He is also the dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. Writing for the web site catholicstraightanswers, he states:

"In the case of suicide, I wonder whether a person always has full consent of the will.  Fear, force, ignorance, habit, passion, and psychological problems can impede the exercise of the will so that a person may not be fully responsible or even responsible at all for an action. ..." 

"Only God can read the depths of our soul.  Only He knows how much we love Him and how responsible we are for our actions.  We leave the judgment then to Him alone. ... [In Section #2283 of the Catechism, the Church] offers words of great hope. ...   Therefore, we do offer the Mass for the repose of the soul of a suicide victim, invoking God’s tender love and mercy, and His healing grace for the grieving loved ones."

Two books written by Fr. Saunders:

book cover "Straight Answers," Cathedral Foundation Press; available in paperback and hardcover formats. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

book cover "Straight Answers II," available in paperback format. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Some related essays on this web site that may interest you:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Catechism of the Catholic Church," Wikipedia, as on 2018-NOV-24, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. Part 3: Life in Christ, Articles 2280 to 2283, The Vatican, at: http://www.scborromeo.org/
  3. Simcha Fisher, "What Does the Church Teach about Suicide?," National Catholic Register. 2014-AUG-12, at: http://www.ncregister.com/

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Copyright Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2018-DEC-20
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