'Gravely sinful acts': Edmonton archbishop defends no funerals in assisted deaths

Edmonton Catholic Archbishop Richard Smith is defending the church’s decision to refuse funerals to Albertans who have chosen to die by assisted suicide.

Church says priests should not conduct official rites for people who have 'high-profile' assisted deaths

Edmonton Catholic Archbishop Richard Smith is defending the church's decision to refuse funerals to Albertans who have chosen to die by assisted suicide. (CBC )

Edmonton Catholic Archbishop Richard Smith is defending the church's decision to refuse funerals to some Albertans who have chosen assisted dying.

The Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories issued new guidelines  that say priests should not conduct ecclesiastical ceremonies for people who have died in "high-profile" assisted deaths.

The guidelines also say that families who want to celebrate the assisted-death decisions of their loved ones should be denied church funerals.

"The priest and the church have, as our ultimate concern, the salvation of souls and mercy and compassion can never be separated from telling the truth," said Archbishop Richard Smith in a Friday interview with CBC News.

"What the church teaches very, very clearly … to die by assisted suicide, euthanasia, these are gravely sinful acts contrary to the will of God."

Smith said the guidelines are "nuanced," and there a few rare exceptions where those truly repentant for the "sinful act" may be granted funerals by the church. 

"If family was absolutely aghast, was absolutely against this, and really needed the assurance of the church's prayers, prayers for God's mercy upon the deceased," said Smith. 

Still the possibility ...

"Or if there was some evidence that the person, prior to death, had repented … that's something, where for the sake of the family — when we are aware that there is no sense of scandal in acting contrary to the faith of the church — where a funeral can be contemplated." 

The church does say that while "official funeral rites must be denied," Smith said there is still the possibility of a memorial mass for the person, simple prayers at the graveside, or a liturgy held at the funeral home.

The decision to hold one of these rites is at the discretion of the priest, but Smith said their duty to salvation must come first.

"We don't want to be abandoning people or abandoning families," Smith said. 

"We understand it's a tragedy, and we want to be as compassionate as possible. But when we talk about denying an ecclesiastical funeral to someone, it's because they … have made choices contrary to the teachings of the church." 

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca