Friday, November 26, 2010

Archdioceses clarify church teaching on cremation, burial of remains

While cremation is not prohibited unless it is chosen for reasons "contrary to Christian teaching," the Catholic Church prefers that the body of a deceased person be buried in accord with church custom, according to statements issued by two U.S. archdioceses. 

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., said that even when cremation is chosen, the cremated remains of a deceased individual must be treated with respect and integrity.

Cremated remains only may be buried in a cemetery or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium, they said. 

The prelates issued their statements recently to clarify church teaching on cremation and proper burial of the dead. Both prelates said scattering cremated remains is not permitted under church teaching. 

"Especially to be condemned are the practices of scattering the ashes, enclosing them in jewelry, dividing them among relatives as keepsakes or doing other bizarre things with them," Archbishop Sheehan wrote in an All Souls' Day statement. 

"Such practices do not give honor to the body and, indirectly, are an affront to our belief in the resurrection of the dead." 

Keeping ashes at home so that family members "may feel close" to their loved ones "shows a lack of faith in the communion of saints, by which we are spiritually united to the departed, in a way far more marvelous than keeping their remains on a shelf in our house," Archbishop Sheehan said.