CofE to allow full funerals for people who commit suicide

The Church of England has decided to change its rules to allow full funerals for people who died by suicide.

The church’s General Synod voted overwhelmingly in favour of the change, by 262 votes to 5, with six abstentions.

Church officials said the reform will bring ecclesiastical law into line with the 1961 Suicide Act in the United Kingdom, which decriminalised suicide.

The change is also meant to signal the Church’s compassion for the vulnerable.

Synod members heard that many clergy do give burial services to suicides and had done so for years despite the letter of Church law.

The law effectively prohibited a service to those “of sound mind” who take their own life.

The Book of Common Prayer, dating from the 16 century, stated that the funeral service may not be used “for any that die unbaptised, or excommunicate, or have laid violent hands upon themselves”.

Suicides were often buried outside a consecrated churchyard or on the north side of the church, without the benefit of the Prayer Book burial service.

Synod member Rev. Michael Parsons said that up until 1882 a suicide could only be buried in a churchyard between 9pm and midnight and “without rite”.

Rev. Parsons said the new law will be seen as a very positive pastoral step.

He added in a paper for the synod that the Church law “may lie behind a widespread public perception that suicide is the unforgiveable sin and hence the Church will disapprove”.

“There are public memories of real or imagined Church hostility.

“Yet pastoral practice has for many years been much more sympathetic and the vast majority of clergy today would wish to minister to the family in every way possible.”

He noted that it was odd that the Church would bury murderers, child abusers, gangsters and rapists, but not suicides.

Senior clergy and officials will now consider how to change the rules.

They will also consider whether to allow full funerals for people who have not been baptised.

Sources

News category: World.

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