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In the movie Constantine, Rachel Weisz's character begs a Catholic priest to give her twin sister a funeral, but he refuses because she committed suicide. Is this an accurate depiction of Catholicism?

I know expecting fair or accurate religious portrayals from the heathens that run Hollywood is probably expecting too much.

Wondering how accurate that is?

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Catholic practice on this issue has evolved since the 1980s. Prior to this:

The Catholic Church would not conduct funeral services for persons who killed themselves, and they could not be buried in a Catholic cemetery. However, the church lifted the prohibition on funerals for suicide victims in the 1980s. In the 1990s, Pope John Paul II approved the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which acknowledged the role that mental illnesses may play in suicide. source

To be more precise, according to Catholic commentator Trent horn:

The current rule today is that there is no impediment to receiving a Catholic funeral or being buried in a Catholic cemetery due to suicide. And that has been removed from Canon Law, it’s not in the Church’s Canon Law today as of the Code of 1983.

So the answer to the question depends on when the event takes place. According to a plot summary on fandom.com the main character was born in 1953. The event in question, the apparent suicide of a character named Isabel, takes place after Constantine has passed through his youth and adolescence and is now acting as an exorcist. It is not clear exactly when the suicide occurred, but it is plausible that a priest in the early 1980s would refuse to conduct a funeral for a suicide.

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Every time I read G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, I stumble over this idea too. That traditionally (whether it was a good idea or not) the person who committed suicide was buried apart from the rest of the faithful. It's a powerful point and a good illustration and sometimes movies (Which are art, technically) will continue to use this motif to drive the plot along.

However, the actual canon law doesn't say anything specific about suicide:

Can. 1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:

1/ notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;

2/ those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;

3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.

§2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

Can. 1185 Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.

Suicide is a sin, if a person was otherwise faithful, but committed suicide - or her or she doesn't qualify as a notorious sinner, the act of suicide is more or less incidental to the the state of the soul at the moment of death - which is a weird thing to think about and I wouldn't suggest dwelling on it too much.

But God's grace can reach people committing suicide, St. Faustina and St. John Vianney attested to this. The important thing, as with any other action taken publicly in the Church, is that it doesn't cause scandal - which leads others into sin.

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Would a Catholic priest refuse a funeral due to suicide?

In our day and age no. But it days gone by a priest would refuse to celebrate the funeral of someone who had committed suicide and the would have been buried in unconsecrated ground, once known as rogue pits. The Church has come a long way in how she views the subject of suicide.

In the movie Constantine, Rachel Weisz's character begs a Catholic priest to give her twin sister a funeral, but he refuses because she committed suicide. Is this an accurate depiction of Catholicism?

Seeing that the plot of this movie plays out in the 1980s, it may be possible that a priest might refuse a funeral mass of someone who committed suicide, since Canon Law dropped suicide as an impediment in 1983. The priest in question would have to be aware of this change. On a personal note, I have attended the funeral mass of a suicide victim in the late 1970s. Obviously, there were extenuating circumstances.

Historically, this would definitely be quite accurate. The Church in modern times however sees suicide in ways she did not in the past. In the 1990s, Pope John Paul II approved the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which acknowledged the role that mental illnesses may play in suicide. Regarding the effect of psychological disorders on a person's culpability, the Catechism states that:

2282 Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

Today, the Church has much more compassion on the victims of suicide.

In earlier times a person who committed suicide would often be denied funeral rites and even burial in a Church cemetery. However, some consideration has always been taken into account of the person's mental state at the time.

In one famous case, when Rudolph, the heir to the throne of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, committed suicide in 1889, the medical bulletin declared evidence of "mental aberrations" so that Pope Leo XIII would grant a religious funeral and burial in the imperial crypt. Other similar concessions were probably quietly made in less sonorous cases.

Canon law no longer specifically mentions suicide as an impediment to funeral rites or religious sepulture.

Canon 1184 mentions only three cases: a notorious apostate, heretic or schismatic; those who requested cremation for motives contrary to the Christian faith; and manifest sinners to whom a Church funeral cannot be granted without causing public scandal to the faithful. These restrictions apply only if there has been no sign of repentance before death.

The local bishop weighs any doubtful cases and in practice a prudent priest should always consult with the bishop before denying a funeral Mass.

A particular case of suicide might enter into the third case — that of a manifest and unrepentant sinner — especially if the suicide follows another grave crime such as murder.

In most cases, however, the progress made in the study of the underlying causes of self-destruction shows that the vast majority are consequences of an accumulation of psychological factors that impede making a free and deliberative act of the will.

Thus the general tendency is to see this extreme gesture as almost always resulting from the effects of an imbalanced mental state and, as a consequence, it is no longer forbidden to hold a funeral rite for a person who has committed this gesture although each case must still be studied on its merits.

Finally, it makes little difference, from the viewpoint of liturgical law, whether the body is present or not. If someone is denied a Church funeral, this applies to all public ceremonies although it does not impede the celebration of private Masses for the soul of the deceased.

The same principle applies to funeral Masses of those whose body is unavailable for burial due to loss or destruction. Certainly the rites are different when the body is present or absent, but the Church's public intercession for the deceased is equally manifest in both cases. - Funeral Masses for a Suicide

In the past most Catholic cemeteries had rogue pits where the Church allowed persons who died because of suicide, or in the state of excommunication. The rogue pits that once existed were outside consecrated land and not part of a Catholic cemetery.

"Denying sacramental rites to detractors has been an age-old practice in the church to settle scores," explained C.I. Issac, a historian and member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

"Earlier there used to be what was called rogue pits, dug on land immediately outside the main cemetery, to bury those branded as heretics and those who had committed suicide.... Those buried in rogue pits were denied the sacramental rites a Christian is entitled to upon death. It was the greatest insult a Christian could be subjected to."

Among those who ended up in such pits was Malayalam litterateur M.P. Paul in 1952. Paul, a torchbearer of the progressive literature movement, had challenged the orthodoxy of the church.

With time, the rogue pit became a thing of the past but what followed was a more "plebeian" form of boycott - as in the case of Mary John. - Church Rules and Burial Choice

Rogue pits is a fancy name for designating the place of burial for those who could not be buried in consecrated ground.

Rouge pits and execution cemeteries are simply terms that a cemetery that had not been consecrated for Christian burial. The dunghill of St. Gregory is an example of this also. Sinners were at one time not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground. There is no need for such cemeteries now, as civil cemeteries are not consecrated by the Church. Individual plots are blessed in such cemeteries in modern times.

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  • As with all issues facing Christianity a certain amount of compassion is required. Too much of Catholicism makes the arbiter of guilt in human hands. We as humans unfortunatelyy cannot know for certain what goes on in the hearts of others. It is better to leave that judgment to the entity that has perfect knowledge on the matter.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 9:11
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A real Catholic priest would refuse a funeral due to suicide.

The movie accurately portrays the still standing Church law which reflects the eternal truth that people who truly commit suicide commit a mortal sin and consign themselves to the eternal flames of Hell; thus all prayer is wasted on them.

The 1917 Code of Canon Law states in Canon 1240:

§ 1. Unless they gave before death a sign of repentance, the following are deprived of ecclesiastical burial:

3.° Those who killed themselves by deliberate counsel;

1983 Code of Canon Law canon 1184 states:

§1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:

3.° other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.

Of course, this law is consistently disregarded in the Conciliar Church.

Since suicide is a most grave sin against the fifth commandment—as St. Thomas says (Summa Theologica II-II q. 64 a. 5 co.):

It is altogether unlawful to kill oneself […]. suicide is always a mortal sin, as being contrary to the natural law and to charity. […] For it belongs to God alone to pronounce sentence of death and life, according to Deuteronomy 32:39, "I will kill and I will make to live."

—Catholics are not allowed to pray for those who violate it:

Pope St. Gregory II (circa A.D. 731): “You ask for advice on the lawfulness of making offerings for the dead. The teaching of the Church is this – that every man should make offerings for those who died as true Christians [Catholics]… But he is not allowed to do so for those who die in a state of sin even if they were Christians.

The saintly Pope elaborates:

Pope St. Gregory the Great, Moralia, Book 34: “And this is now the reason for holy men not praying for unbelieving and ungodly men who are dead; for they are unwilling that the merit of their prayer should be set aside, in that presence of the righteous Judge, in behalf of those whom they know to be already consigned to eternal punishment.

Such is the constant teaching of saints and theologians and this discipline cannot be overturned:

Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (# 66), June 29, 1943: “Certainly the loving Mother is spotless in the Sacraments, by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed upon all;

This discipline of the Church is not only just and sensible but also promotes good morals and the safety of souls.

Suicide contagion is a well-documented phenomenon and I can confirm from personal experience that when such unfortunate sinners were given funerals it started a string of suicides which finally ended when a group of boys threatened everyone not to come to the funeral of the next person who murders himself.

Instead of praying for the certainly damned, a Catholic should pray for souls in danger and help them understand that life is truly only worth living when it is in accordance with God's will.

Hopefully you found this answer helpful!

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    The question asks for the current teaching and practice of the "big" official Catholic Church, not of some traditionalistic communities (you: "real Catholic priest").
    – K-HB
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 18:08
  • @Glorius I think your answer was downvoted not for being inaccurate but for the fire-and-brimstone tone.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 9:07
  • @NeilMeyer I realize that played a part as well. I dislike a matter-of-fact presentation style and prefer to use strong language since it increases the chance of someone of good will thinking seriously about the subject. Any sincere Christian's goal should be to convince others of the faith, not just show it to them.
    – Glorius
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 10:29
  • Well there is the adege you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 13:38
  • @NeilMeyer Certainly obeying out of love rather than fear is better, however, Our Lord spoke of Hell much more often than Heaven, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (it's also the last step looking from Heaven of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost for that reason) and if you listen to the sermons of the best preachers such as Sts. Alphonsus, Vianney, Dominic, Leonard, etc. you will find they frequently chastise and motivate the faithful with fear of the Lord to great effect.
    – Glorius
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 15:21

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