(Law & Religion UK) CofE services after suicide not what headlines imply

In summary, the rationale behind the PMM is:

funeral services of suicides conducted by Church of England clergy may be in contravention of Canon B38; and
removing this canonical bar [on the use of “the rites of the Church of England” in these circumstances] “would send a very positive message to society at large, particularly if presented in the context that it was actually recognising current practice.”

Not quite the “legalization of suicide” or a “U-turn on funerals” of the headline; essentially an alignment of canon law with current custom and practice that will have little perceptible impact on the families of those involved. If clergy adherence to canon law were a major concern to the Church, infractions such as these are not necessarily the place at which one would start. As the Revd Gavin Foster has observed[1]:

“the requirements of Canon Law were perceived by clergy to be distant, ”˜other’, far away and irrelevant to the everyday life of the Church. [Anglican] clergy seemed to be only vaguely aware of the requirements of canon law and would frequently (and quite often knowingly) breach them.”

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Eschatology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Suicide, Theology

9 comments on “(Law & Religion UK) CofE services after suicide not what headlines imply

  1. Stephen Noll says:

    Without weighing in on the issue itself, I would note that the rationale given here is rather similar to that made in 1973 to justify the liberalizing of the marriage canons in the Episcopal Church. Slippery slope, anyone?

  2. BlueOntario says:

    “Not quite…”? This justification is absurd.

  3. driver8 says:

    Yup – who could possibly think that changes in canon law are effective means of communicating anything to “society at large”? And if the canon is not leading to poor pastoral practice – which it is not – nor is at the center of problematic clerical discipline cases – which it is not – then why is change being proposed?

  4. David Keller says:

    I must tell you I have written four responses and have deleted them all. This is my fifth response. People don’t wake up one morning and say oh, gee I can’t decide if I will be normal today, or if Ill have mental illness today and kill my self. If you have ever dealt with the issue you wouldn’t be able to talk about suicide as if it were some academic exercise, governed by canon law. It is a horrible tragedy from which many of the living never recover. The Bride of Christ has no authority to tell families of mentally ill people that the dead are not embraced by the bridegroom, because you simply don’t know that. In fact, it makes more sense to me to believe Jesus loves those who are sick to the point of suicide all the more. I fail to see how embracing families in tragedy is a slippery slope.

  5. Ross Gill says:

    I agree totally, David. Depression is a disease with a significant mortality rate from which as you say “many of the living never recover.” Too easily we can forget that funerals are as much for the living as they are for the dead.

  6. driver8 says:

    I have dealt with suicide several times in my ministry – indeed been present when a man committed suicide in front of me (a story for another time) and then supported his family through their grief. The CofE’s canon law did not prevent such support and IMO revising canon law will make no difference to pastoral practice.

    Looking just slightly forward, however, one might consider an area in which a revised pastoral practice is actually desired my many – namely assisted suicide…

  7. MichaelA says:

    Driver8, those who hold irrational and alarmist fears that permitting full burial rites for suicides will lead to “assisted suicide” need not worry.

    Here in Australia, there have been no restrictions on burial rites for suicides for as long as I can recall. And that in itself has had zero effect on the euthenasia debate.

    They are two separate issues.

    In fact, I think there is a good argument that the CofE Canon Law gives impetus to the assisted suicide advocates, because it demeans the authority of the Church in the eyes of the public, hence its voice is less listened to.

  8. driver8 says:

    1. Do you have any evidence that burial rites are being denied or that clergy are being disciplined for providing such? My own view is that the proposal seems to address a problem that doesn’t exist. I wonder then which problem is it looking to address?

    2. My limited experience is that the British public have slim to no knowledge of ecclesiastical law – so it’s slightly surprising to hear a suggestion that it affects their judgment of anything – but if you have evidence otherwise, it’d be interested to see it.

  9. Ad Orientem says:

    Seriously? A church that purports to ordain openly practicing homosexuals and women finds the idea of giving church funerals to suicides in some way controversial?