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Canadian archbishop: Last rites can be denied to those seeking assisted suicide

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, speaks during an interview in Turin, Italy, in this April 27, 2010 file photo. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service


(RNS) A leading Canadian Catholic churchman has said that a person who plans to die through assisted suicide can be denied last rites by a priest, a view that may spark debate as assisted suicide laws proliferate and pastors are presented with a new moral quandary.

The bottom line, said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, is that a Catholic who requests assistance in dying “lacks the proper disposition for the anointing of the sick,” as the sacrament is formally known.

“Asking to be killed is gravely disordered and is a rejection of the hope that the rite calls for and tries to bring into the situation,” Prendergast said in an interview with Canadian Catholic News published Feb. 18.

Moreover, he said, “Asking your priest to be present to something that is in direct contradiction to our Catholic values is not fair to the pastor.”

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, speaks during an interview in Turin, Italy, in this April 27, 2010, file photo. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, speaks during an interview in Turin, Italy, in this April 27, 2010 file photo. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

In January, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that physician-assisted suicide should be allowed across the country under certain circumstances while giving the federal government four more months to come up with a national law governing the practice, which the Catholic Church strongly opposes.

The issue continued to percolate after a government report published Feb. 25 proposed that the mentally ill and consenting minors should also be allowed to choose physician-assisted suicide.

The report also recommended that all publicly funded health care institutions provide assisted suicide. That could put the hierarchy on a collision course with Parliament because it would include most church-run hospitals, hospices and nursing homes.

Prendergast said a priest should always visit a sick or dying person if his presence is requested, and pray for the person or try to dissuade them from assisted suicide, the news service reported.

But he said withholding the sacrament that prepares a person for the afterlife and confers a final forgiveness of sins can be a pastoral way to help people realize the gravity of their decision.

“The rite is for people who are gravely ill or labor under the burden of years and it contains the forgiveness of sins as part of the rite,” Prendergast said. “But we cannot be forgiven preemptively for something we are going to do — like ask for assisted suicide when suicide is a grave sin.”

Other Canadian bishops have recognized the pastoral dilemma of physician-assisted suicide but have not explicitly said that a person in those circumstances should be denied last rites.

“Somebody comes to you and says, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to get the needle and I would like the sacrament of the sick.’ How are we going to handle those kinds of questions?” Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton Ontario, and president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Michael Swan, associate editor of The Catholic Register.

Added Montreal Archbishop Christian Lepine: “When someone asks for the presence of a priest, whatever the situation, you always say yes.”

He compared it to seeing someone ready to jump to their death from a bridge and rushing to talk them out of it.

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • Catholics who choose to go this way already know it and will go ahead anyway….same with gay Catholics who marry, they know the church will not recognize the marriage and yet get married and are happy

  • “A government report published Feb. 25 proposed that all publicly funded healthcare institutions would have to provide assisted suicide.”

    People in unbearable agony who have no chance for recovery should be assisted in a pain-free exit from this life by professionals who know how to make that happen.

    Morality is doing the right thing for the peace and well-being of the whole person, not just the body. Releasing a person from relentless agony must be part of that.
    Religion does only for itself. It uses dire human predicaments to prop up its own claims.

    Nobody should care a whit what the priests have to say.

  • I believe and feel that God and his son, Jesus, would be more merciful and forgiving of those who take their lives because of intense and unending pain than this imperfect Monsignor, who thankfully is not the final judge in this regard. The resurrection hope of life back on earth (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15) is also a possibility for them.

  • “Last rites can be denied to those seeking assisted suicide.”

    Lasting relevance can and will be denied to those seeking to prevent assisted suicide.

    It’s astounding how often the Church seeks to inflict suffering on people.

  • Fully 50% of American cradle Catholics have left the Church–are Canadian numbers similar? In his rush to hurt those seeking assisted suicide, the archbishop will further alienate Catholics and increase the incidence of their leaving the Church forever.

  • Memo to people on unbearable pain: our rules are more important than your suffering.

    Memo to gay people: your lives don’t really matter unless you do what we say. Either way, you’ll suffer.

    Memo to mothers who cannot afford another child: God cares more about you using a pill than he does about the life lived by your cld.

    Memo to mothers with zika virus: ditto.

    Memo to Jews 500 years ago: ya shouldn’t have murdered our lord, even though without that fake murder we would be out of theology.

    Memo to witches: we’re stupid enough to believe in witches. Why aren’t you?

    Memo to everyone: you’re a deprave pustule of postulant sin. Please send money and we’ll fix it for you.

    Memo to child abuse victims: pay no attention to that ,an behind the cassock. A scandal in the church is awful. Your pain, not so much.

    Indeed, how willing they are to add a little more suffering to the world.

  • The Rites of the church ARE NOT MAGIC they are rituals that when received with faith become a means of grace. Those who willingly attempt assisted suicide are acting contrary to God’s revealed law and without faith. The Sacrament even if administered would have no effect, as the individual is knowingly acting contrary to God’s revealed Word. IF however the person, in a moment before death truly repents, they may have a reasonable hope of salvation.

  • Several years ago a couple came to the church I was then serving. They had been married in that church and now the husband was dying from a very painful disease. He had decided that when he was close to losing full control, and thus the ability to control and communicate his pain and fear, he would end his life under Oregon law. Would I preform his memorial, they asked? They asked with fear. Churches fighting Oregon’s death with dignity have suggested or outright asserted that eternal life is not available for those who end their own life, regardless of the circumstance.

    I told this man and his wife not to be afraid. God is a god of love, compassion and healing. Death is the natural end of life. Oregon’s death with dignity is not about the freedom to choose death; it is about recognizing the reality that death comes and that we can take medically appropriate steps to make that death as painless and dignified as possible.

  • Fran–We are all imperfect–and just where in his post did this “imperfect” Monsignor say there would be no hope of resurrection for people who commit suicide.
    Also as Catholic we know that our suffering isn’t meaningless, and death isn’t the end. When we suffer in this life, we are able to take that suffering and endure it for a greater good—we are able to know our suffering isn’t pointless. Just as Paul said his sufferings made up for what was lacking in Christ’s sacrifice (Colossians 1:24), our sufferings during this life or at its end can be united to Christ’s sufferings on the cross and secure spiritual graces for others.
    Jesus asks us to take up our cross and follow Him not avoid it at all cost.

  • You know you’re in a messed up cult when someone who just wants the pain to end is considered worse than a pedophile.

  • “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!”

    In his rush to save people from the fires of Hell, he is speaking the truth about assisted suicide. God bless the Archbishop.

  • You can thumb your nose at God all you like here on earth; But face facts, the Church Ministers who stay faithful to the Truth have no choice but to warn us;

    6th Thou shall not kill. And that means yourself or anyone else.

    BIBLE = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.

  • notanantiChristtroll,

    I.e.: Maintaining allegiance to superstitious beliefs takes precedence over human decency.

  • How is it ‘human decency’ to assist someone to kill themselves? And you just might be in for a little surprise someday from your lack of so-called “superstitious beliefs”.

  • Interesting your solution to eliminate pain and suffering is to eliminate the person. Well, I guess that’s one way, but in my mind, it’s the coward’s way. And what has the survivor got to lose? Nothin’. After all, it’s not their life that’s ending. Convenient. And very chilling…

  • Memo to Ben:
    People with pain, gay people, pregnant women, those abused by homosexual Priests, etc. – We are here for you, we accept responsibility for your pain but resorting to sin is never the answer. The wages of sin are always death.

  • Pedophilia was not the cause of the recent sex abuse scandal but you’re right we should be more outraged by the gay sex abuse scandal and how the liberal Bishops not only allowed these confused men into the Priesthood but covered-up their abuse afterwards.

  • “gay sex abuse scandal”

    Still trying to blame the gays, eh Ronnie? Well you better try harder because you’re getting very, very few takers.

  • Richard, with all due respect. I think you need to investigate the meaning of the word ‘ignorant’

    it can’t be used in the context you have chosen. Unless of course you are truly well versed in ignorance if there is such a thing.

    I would advise you to look up the testimony of Howard Storm and Mary Baxted. It might save you a dreadful amount of suffering.

  • Debbo..Perhaps you’re the one in denial. Of course, not all gays are abusers but the majority in this scandal certainly were. Sorry the truth hurts.

  • The word used in Scripture is afflictions,NOT sufferings Marrgie; there was /is NOTHING lacking in The Saviour’s Sufferings for the Atonement of our sins,and that is NOT what the great Apostle Paul meant.Study the issue deeper,please.Peace In Christ.

  • Marggie,

    I was referring to his refusal to give last rites, which are not basically even necessary since we can ask God directly to forgive us on the basis of the ransom sacrifice of his son, Jesus. The many miracles Jesus performed when on earth was just a preview of the worldwide healing that the upcoming millennial rule of God’s kingdom will perform for humans on earth, including resurrection back to life on earth (involving the righteous and unrighteous). It will also put an end to all sickness, disease, old age and death (Revelation 21:3,4) on earth.

  • But Carrot Cake Man, You can’t go and bend the commandments, and basically ignore them ( “Thou shalt not kill” in this case), just because the church numbers are down. Moral laws are there for a reason, and have consequences, if abused. You only have to look at what they are doing and trying to do in Belgium and the Netherlands.(allowing children to be euthanized for instance) The Genie is well and truly out of the bottle there. Just because it might be popular opinion, doesn’t make it right. This is just another attack on Gods plans from the Trojan horse that is secularism .

  • Hey, “Atheist Max” I see that you respect the value of human life as well as the “outstanding” atheists of history — Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot. Fortunately, you’re not in a position to dispense with as many other people lives as they did. (But you are trying!)

  • It is the pro-suicide people who are causing suffering— suffering by the disabled, mentally ill and depressed people who will be marginalize and coerced to “approve” their own murders. But you are not capable of seeing that, are you?

  • He is not hurting anyone. He is expressing what has been the teaching of the Church for 2000 years. That’s his job — it’s not to make people feel good regardless of whether it will mean the loss of their souls.

  • Resistance to the truth these days is not uncommon at all.
    “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.”

    ― Herman Melville

  • So, what’s next in the crazy world of liberalism?

    Murderers asking pardon before they kill someone? (Actually, these suicides are asking pardon before they kill themselves)

  • You have some serious sins/crimes that cause you to hate the Church because it condemns them. Am I close to reading your mind? You need help— please get it.

  • Reading these comments is a grave reminder of how much the influence of Vatican ll and the comments of Pope Francis is affecting the minds of the Catholic population. Bishop Sheen once said, “You may never do evil that good may come of it.” Assisted suicide is still the mortal sin of suicide and one should dread stepping into eternity with that sin on one’s soul. Study the lives of the saints and try to imagine any one of them offering such comments about God’s mercy. God is also very just and we must not be presumptuous of His mercy.

  • Laurence…I know that the truth set me free and how liberating it was! Try ‘not my will but His will be done’ and you’re never regret it.

  • Rev Dr Chuck, It is true that we have a God with an ocean of Love and compassion, Don’t forget that divine justice is equally as big. .

  • Max is arguing for a procedure that would put an end to what some people believe is unnecessary suffering. Comparing him to Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot is a bit dramatic, don’t you think?

    Stalin killed 50 million, Pol Pot killed 1.5 million. Canada has had one legal physician-assisted suicide since January.

    Not only are you being disingenuous, you’re forgetting the bits about not judging other people. I wonder, if someone rifled through your garbage or your browser cache, what would they find? And would they be as quick to judge as you are?

  • At what point has your ego become so large that you think that everyone must live according to your opinions?

    You don’t want to end your life, fine. Nobody is asking you to do it. Bit where do you get the temerity to think everyone must do as you say?

  • Here is what I don’t get about your position?

    What makes you think you can speak for everyone on the situation? Who appointed you to make such decisions for others?

    What I see here are people who have taken it upon themselves to interject themselves into decisions where they never belonged.

  • No will, Catholics do that all by themselves when they act like narcissistic busybodies and expect everyone to fall in line with their arbitrary sectarian rules.

    There is a reason most Catholics ignore the rules of their own faith. They are so divorced from reality only fanatics find merit in them.

  • And you are delusional enough to believe little malicious attacks on people is just an expression of that divine justice.

  • Many of the comments show how malicious and indifferent to people one can be when trying to uphold arbitrary sectarian rules unquestioningly.

  • You’re avoiding the question Ronnie. LCR asked how you know they’re gay. I’m waiting for your answer too. You know heterosexual males are overwhelmingly the most common molesters of children, including boys. There is no factual support for your claim that I am aware of. If you have other information, please share.

  • No YOH By Divine justice I mean you COULD face it, IF, you ignore the Commandments, and by Commandments I mean they are not for you and me to bend and twist them relative to how we see fit.