Priest who committed suicide to have Catholic funeral services

Church opposes suicide, prays for those who have taken own lives

By Pilar Arias - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - For centuries, the Catholic Church has prohibited services and burials for those who committed suicide. Has that stance changed?

It appears so after learning about the Archdiocese of San Antonio's memorial services for Father Virgilio Elizondo.

Elizondo was a once-respected local leader of the Catholic Church. He was accused of sexual abuse and was found dead inside his home Monday. The Bexar County medical examiner ruled his death a suicide. The 80-year-old former rector at San Fernando Cathedral died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

St. Mary's University Assistant Professor of Theology Andrew Getz said recent teachings show those who commit suicide may not be completely free nor completely understand what it is that they're doing.

"Suicide is no longer a mortal sin," Getz said.

Getz said a mortal sin is classified in three ways: grave matter, full knowledge and full freedom.

Canon 1184 of the Code of Canon Law states three cases a person can be denied funeral rites or a church burial.

  1. The person renounced the Christian faith, held or taught doctrines contrary to those of the church or they broke away from the church.
  2. The person requested cremation for motives contrary to the Christian faith.
  3. The person were manifest sinners whose funerals couldn't be granted without causing public scandal to the faithful.

Still, the restrictions only apply if there was no sign of repentance before death.

"(There's) very few black and white issues in the Catholic church, so it certainly is a gray area," Getz said.

An Archdiocese of San Antonio spokesman provided KSAT-12 information from the Catechism of the Catholic Church concerning the church's teachings regarding suicide. The information says suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and protect life.

CCC Section 2282 states:

"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." 

The Catechism concludes the topic of suicide with 2283 that reads:

"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."

Elizondo's services will be 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church at 9883 Marbach Road.

Elizondo was the founding president of the Mexican American Catholic College. Its current president and CEO, Arturo Chavez, issued a statement Thursday on Elizondo's death. Click here to read it.

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