Vatican: “Priests cannot absolve”

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In ‘Samaritanus Bonus: On the Care of Persons in the Critical and Terminal Phases of Life’, a recently released Church document, the pertinent question of euthanasia was once more tackled by Church theologians.

The document goes to great lengths to assert the evil and injustice of euthanasia and assisted suicide: “euthanasia … is an intrinsically evil act in every situation and/or circumstance … any formal or immediate material cooperation in such an act is a grave sin against human life” the document explains. Moreover, a person who has firmly decided on assisted suicide or euthanasia cannot receive the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of the Sick, or the Viaticum (final Eucharist).

This is because the person “has decided upon a gravely immoral act and willingly persists in this decision”. He or she lacks the necessary dispositions for the Sacraments, especially Confession, which demands contrition and a firm purpose of amendment of life for valid celebration.  The document sees the refusal of the Sacraments as a “medicinal act”, designed to allow the person affected to re-examine their decision.

The document urges priests not to give any appearance of approving the actions of a person determined to end his or her life: “those who spiritually assist these persons should avoid any gesture, such as remaining until the euthanasia is performed, that could be interpreted as approval of this action”. However, priests are also urged to remain close to people – “here it remains possible to accompany the person whose hope may be revived and whose erroneous decision may be modified, thus opening the way to admission to the Sacraments”.