After a prominent archbishop commented to journalists last week that he would hold the hand of a person dying of assisted suicide, two priests and a cardinal offered their perspectives to Catholic News Agency on what a priest ought to do if faced with a person wishing to commit assisted suicide.“Sitting there holding their hand as if it is no big deal is a huge mistake. I think it’s in fact quite cruel… I think we need to as a culture think more about preaching about why suicide is wrong,” Father Pius Pietrzyk, chair of pastoral studies at St Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, told Catholic News Agency.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, made headlines by saying he would be willing to hold the hand of someone dying from assisted suicide, and that he does not see that as lending implicit support for the practice.
“In this sense, to accompany, to hold the hand of someone who is dying, is, I think a great duty every believer should promote,” he said, adding that believers should also provide a contrast to the culture of assisted suicide.
Paglia spoke at a December 10 press conference preceding a two-day symposium on palliative care, being sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life and the WISH initiative, part of the Qatar Foundation.
If faced with a situation of a person who is resolved to commit assisted suicide, priests must continue to do whatever they can to dissuade them, Pietrzyk said, and remind them that their eternal soul is at stake.
Beyond that, he said, a priest must do anything in his power to stop a person from committing suicide by any means, even if it means subjecting themselves to civil punishment.
“We stand up for life even at the cost of civil punishment,” Pietrzyk said.
“To do otherwise is to deny the sanctity of life. To sit there passively and stroke someone’s hand instead of actively trying to prevent them is to deny the dignity of their life, is to deny the gift that God has given them in their life. We as a Church refuse to do that.”
He said it is a good idea to invite those family members of the person committing suicide who are opposed to the decision to come together and pray.
He said he thinks priests need to remind the faithful from time to time, whether in catechesis or in homilies, that committing suicide is gravely immoral and that the people who do so risk their souls.
“There’s no question that, at least in this country, the suicide rate has increased. And I think, again, this false sense of mercy is what’s behind it… I think our failure to condemn suicide has led and will continue to lead to a greater number of suicides.”
The above comes from a Dec. 18 story in the Catholic Herald (U.K.)