EDMONTON – The Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories have issued guidelines that say priests should refuse funerals for some people who have assisted suicide.
The document calls physician-assisted death a “grave sin” that contradicts the teachings of the Catholic church.
It says priests should weigh the circumstances of each funeral request, but those for high-profile assisted deaths should be refused.
It also says families who want to celebrate the assisted death decisions of their loved ones should be denied church funerals.
Scroll down to read the full guidelines.
“Death by assisted suicide and euthanasia has been made legal in Canada,” the introduction to the guidelines reads. “These grievous affronts to the dignity of human life from beginning to natural end are never morally justified.
“The legal permission now granted to these practices does not change the moral law.
“The teaching of the church on these matters is clear. Euthanasia ‘is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.'”
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith says the guidelines don’t rule out funerals for everyone and priests can come up with other options, such as speaking at a graveside service or at a funeral home.
“The ultimate aim of these guidelines is to help the faithful understand the beautiful teachings of the church on sacramental marriage, the dignity of the human person, and the inviolable sanctity of human life,” said Smith, who serves as president of the Alberta-NWT Bishops.
“We know that many Catholics, often due to the messages they receive through the secular culture, have come to some serious misunderstandings around life and family issues,” he said.
“When our people face these very difficult life situations, we want our priests and our parishes to be well prepared, offer them a listening ear, patient understanding, and good spiritual guidance – to be the kind of ‘oases of mercy’ the Holy Father talks about,” Smith added.
Shanaaz Gokool of Dying with Dignity Canada said she’s heard of people in Catholic nursing homes and hospitals having difficulty arranging assisted deaths.
She believes the guidelines are a “thinly veiled threat” by the church to followers considering assisted death.
“You tell people in the most vulnerable time in their lives — people who are frail and who are suffering — that if you want to access your charter right, your human right to an assisted death … then you’re going to have to make a choice between relieving your suffering and everything you may have believed in for however many years.
“It’s just appalling.”
The guidelines were signed by Reverend Richard Smith (Archbishop of Edmonton), Reverend Frederick Henry (Bishop of Calgary), Reverend Gregory J. Bittman (Aux. Bishop of Edmonton), Reverend Mark Hagemoen (Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith), Reverend Gerard Pettipas (Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan) and Reverend Paul Terrio (Bishop of St. Paul).
Smith believes the guidelines are the first to be issued by a group of bishops in Canada.
With files from Global News