What is the Catholic Church’s Position on Suicide?

By Marta Alves


q    Introduction

A friend wrote me a letter last winter telling me about a good friend, who had committed suicide.  It seemed that she had been fighting depression for sometime.  My friend, a good non-Catholic Christian woman wanted to know what the church’s position on suicide was.  It seemed that her friend was in Christian ministry and there were many people left with unanswered questions.

This article is the result of the research I conducted to answer her question, from a Catholic to a non-Catholic point of view.

q    God is a merciful God

We know that God is a merciful God.  When a person commits suicide they are not in control of their mental faculties.  Depression is an illness that left unattended can sometimes lead people to contemplate suicide.  God cannot condemn someone who did not know what they were doing.  The Lord’s mercy is never ending.  When someone commits suicide we pray to the Lord for them and their family.


q    The family of the victim is in need of consolation

The family of the victim of suicide is in need of love, support and consolation.  There are many questions, and some may go unanswered.  We as Christians live with the hope of resurrection.  In consoling the family, we have to remember that the victim was sick, he or she probably did not know what they were doing.  He or she did not realize the hurt caused to their family and friends as a consequence of their action, therefore we need to pray to God to have mercy on his or her soul.


q    We pray for the eternal rest of their soul

We pray for the eternal rest of their soul.  In the Catholic faith we pray for the faithful departed. 

Let’s pray.

Dear Lord Jesus,

We pray for -----------.

Lord, you know his/her soul, you made them, they are Yours.

Lord, in a moment of desperation blinded by despair they departed from us.

Please, Lord by the merit of Your cross and resurrection, humbly we ask for Your mercy.

Have mercy on their soul, and help their family and friends.

Heal them from this deep wound and sorrow.

Only You, the Healer, can restore them and make them whole again.



Remember, O LORD, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;

according to your love remember me,

for You are good, O LORD.

Ps 25:6-7



q    What is the Catholic Church's position on suicide? 

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church1:


2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.

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

2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.1

q    What is the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church can be defined as a compendium of Catholic beliefs.  In the 2,000 year history, many have come before us, reading the Scriptures and interpreting it in the light of the Apostles: What would they have done if faced by a given circumstance.  The saying “What Would Jesus Do?” is very popular in the United States and that in my opinion is exactly what has guided the Catholic Church in the interpretation of the Scriptures through the centuries.


q    Salvation Concept may differ in the Catholic Church and in our Separated Brethrens

In talking to Protestant denominations there is a chance that the Catholic ways of looking at the concepts of sin, forgiveness and salvation may differ.  As a Christian, we do not want to add to the hurt of a family of a victim of suicide, but offer them hope and consolation.


q    Jesus opened the door of heaven…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,  
that  whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

 John 3:16 (NIV)


Jesus opened the doors to heaven to those who believe in Him, but as Christians we have to live as God asks us.  In our lives, we keep the Ten Commandments, and follow the teachings of Christ:


"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"  
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart  
and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matt 22:36-40  


q    Human beings have free will

We know that we are sinners, through Jesus Christ our Lord we are saved, but we have to keep the commandments.  I have to keep the law of God.  The day I die, I will face God and I will be accountable for every action I have done.  Human beings are born good and with a free will.  In using my free will I have chosen at times to walk away from God, and at that time I have sinned.  God is always ready to forgive me, all it takes is for me to ask for His forgiveness and have true purpose of not doing it again. “Lord, I am truly sorry for my sin, and I commit myself to sin no more.”  As Catholics we go to the sacrament of Penance, and confess our sins out loud in the presence of the priest to Jesus, and in out loud voice commit ourselves to sin no more.


q    Suicide is a mortal sin

To kill oneself is a violation of the fifth commandment.  It is a mortal sin.  “Thou shall not kill.”  The Catholic Church teaches that is a mortal sin to kill.  The Catholic Church stands in defense of life from the moment of conception to the time of natural death.


q    God is the only one that can judge us

To commit a mortal sin an individual has to be knowledgeable that the action is a sin; has to be knowledgeable that God doesn’t want for him to do it, and knowing that willingly disobeys God, committing the sin anyway with what I would define as an “I don’t care attitude.”


q    To commit a mortal sin you have to be mentally healthy

To commit a mortal sin, an individual has to be mentally healthy, to know that is a mortal sin; that God does not want for him to do it; and at that moment say, “I do not care, I will do it anyways.”  Allow me to elaborate on that thought.  It is inborn in our human nature to protect our lives.  To go against that natural tendency, the mind has to be “crazy”, not able to reason, or so clouded by confusion and despair that the conclusion to the reasoning is faulty.


q    The Catholic Church offers and allows Christian burial to the victims of suicide

The Catholic Church offers and allows Christian burial to the victims of suicide.  God alone can be the judge of an individual’s actions. We cannot stand as the judge of a person’s soul.  We do not know their final thoughts, desires, regrets, or prayers.  As a church we offer funeral masses for the diseased, as prayers for their souls, and let God be the judge.  We condemn the sin, but minister to the person who committed the sin.  It is a reality that in doing so we are helping the family cope with a situation that is totally out of their control.


Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God;  

save your servant who trusts in you.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  
You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.  

Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy.  

Ps 86:1-6  


q    We face God at the time of our death

When an individual dies, he faces God in an individual judgment and God sends the individual to heaven, to hell or to purgatory.  To hell He sends those who have turned away from Him with their free willed actions.  It is said that God does not send anyone to hell, but the decisions of the individual through their life paved the path to hell.  A continual denial of Christ in life is what sends someone to hell.  To heaven He sends those who have being faithful to him, although sinners, they are repentant and truly sorry for any wrong they may have done.  To purgatory go those who repentant of their sins and forgiven need some more time of purification to enter heaven.  I will explain purgatory, this way:

Let us consider a hypothetical situation: If a terrible criminal in his death bed were to repent of all his past sins, dies repentant and faces God is his final judgment; God will forgive him but will send him to purgatory for final purification, before the criminal now forgiven can enter heaven.  On the other hand you have Mother Theresa, she died and went to face God for her final judgment.  She was repentant of her sins and she was a faithful servant of the Lord all her life.  She had suffered a lot on this earth, you can say she suffered purgatory on this earth.  She would go straight to heaven.  The path to heaven is just a step away for his holy ones.

q    What does the Catholic Church teach about Purgatory?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church2:

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.604 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.605

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.606

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."607 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.608 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.609


q    What about final judgment?

Now I can almost hear your next question:  What about the final judgment?  At the final judgment, our physical bodies will rise and unite themselves with our souls for eternal bliss in heaven, or eternal damnation in hell.

When someone dies we pray for God to have mercy on their soul.. Every opportunity of repentance was given on earth, and at the end of their lives, judgment is between them and God.  We know that God is merciful, always ready to forgive, so with great love we entrust the souls of the deceased to the mercy of God almighty.


q    We entrust a victim of suicide to the mercy of God, and we pray for their eternal joy and peace.

 To a Protestant the concept of purgatory is a foreign concept.  The concept they teach in many churches is once saved always saved, but as Catholic we say we are saved by the Grace of God and ours is a constant reminder that we are to avoid temptations, because in the road of life, even when we walk as Christian our pride and free will can take us away from God by our decisions. 


q    God is always ready to forgive us.

As baptized Catholics, the Sacrament of Penance give us the opportunity to reconcile to the Lord when we sin. According to the Cathechism of the Catholic Church 3:

980 It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church:

Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers, "a laborious kind of baptism." This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.523


We are to remain faithful to God in every day of our lives and always remember that God is ready to take us back anytime, all it takes is the repentance for our sins and the true commitment not to sin again.  When we go to the sacrament of penance our consciences are wiped clean.  The sacrament gives us graces to persevere in striving for holiness.


q    United in Christ we stand

In talking to our separated brethrens, we have to keep in mind that our faith is in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone rests our unity.  We need to pray together through the pain of death and the joy of life.  We Christians, Catholics and Protestants, are all brothers and sisters in Christ with more things in common than things that alienate us.  We live in the same country, speak the same language and are building together the society we live in and the one our children will inherit. So let us do what the apostle Paul ask:  "first of all, supplications, prayers, petitions, acts of thanksgiving be made for all men.... For this is good and agreeable in the sight of God our Savior, who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1-4).


We are made in the love of God, let us treasure our lives as the greatest gift that God has given us.  Let us dedicate our lives to Christ every morning and lead lives in according to the law of God.  For those loved once who have departed this world before us, let us pray to God for their eternal rest.


As children of God, let us remember that we have been purchased at a price so let us glorify God in our bodies. 4  Let us give glorify and praise to God with our lives, waiting patiently until God Himself may call us to His throne of grace.


1        Catechism of the Catholic Church.  #2280-2283

2        Catechism of the Catholic Church.  #1030-1032  
604 Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820; (1547): 1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000.
605 Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7.
606 St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4, 39: PL 77, 396; cf. Mt 12:31.
607 2 Macc 12:46.
608 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274): DS 856.
609 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41, 5: PG 61, 361; cf. Job 1:5.

3        Catechism of the Catholic Church.  #980

523 Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1672; Cf. St. Gregory Of Nazianzus, Oratio 39,17: PG 36,356.


      4   1 Corinthians 6:20



Excerpts from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America Copyright © 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  Used with Permission.


Excerpts from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Modifications from the “Editio Typica” Copyright © 1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  Used with Permission.


                                                                                                                         April 6, 2001



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