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.