Fr. Z in a morbid rant

Maybe it is just because I have not been feeling well, maybe I am just feeling morbid.  This story got my attention to the point I thought I would post it.


Cremation by water approved by Church [The writer not be aware that "cremation" by water is not possible, since Latin cremo means "to burn, consume by fire".]
Published: August 13, 2010

The world’s first water cremation centre on the Gold Coast is offering a liquid alternative to cremation and burial, using a process it hopes will revolutionise the funeral industry – and the process has been approved by the Catholic Church. 

Aquamation Industries’ John Humphries says the service, at the Eco Memorial Park at Stapylton near Dreamworld, is currently the first of its kind, but he expects around 30 centres around Australia will offer the option within 12 months, reports AAP in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Aquamation is a more natural, ethical and environmentally friendly alternative to cremations and uses water instead of fire to return a body to nature, Mr Humphries said.

"And within a year we would expect you would be able to have this done anywhere in Australia."

The process, called alkaline hydrolysis, relies on the same natural forces by which which a dead animal is returned to nature in the bush, he said.

"So we’ve put this totally natural process into a stainless steel tube where the body is washed for about four hours; [Sorry, but breaking down a body in four hours doesn’t sound "natural" to me.  And how is fire not "natural"?] it’s the same natural breakdown of tissue, just at a faster rate, and even the Catholic church has now approved it," he said.  [It has?]

Mr Humphries said the equipment he invented was based on an experimental unit in the US that uses extreme pressure and temperature to destroy the infectious remains of cattle with mad cow disease.

He said nature invented the process, and his company has "simply re-designed the equipment so the water breaks down the cells and brings the body back to the chemical component it’s made up of, leaving only white chalky bones which are returned to the family in an urn, like ashes."

Aquamation costs about the same as cremation, but without the 200kg of greenhouse gas emissions produced in a cremation, he said.

"It’s expected that in America, within about 10 years, there won’t be cremations because the public reaction to this process is just overwhelming, Mr Humphries said.

He said the technology was also an answer to new European regulations that state mercury pollution has to be reduced at crematoriums by 2012.


And it’s so green!

And on another morbid note, did you hear the one about the monks who make coffins?  They are going to like this new water thingy.   But then again, they make not have a livelihood long before that if the State of Louisiana has anything to do with it.

In the National Catholic REGISTER Tim Drake has a story about how the state is trying to nail down the lid on a community of monks who make their living making and selling coffins.

State Goes After Monks for the "Sin" of Selling Caskets
Federal Lawsuit Launched
by Tim Drake

Can the government restrict the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Saint Benedict, La., from building boxes?

Yes, says the state, if those boxes are for the deceased.

In 2007, the monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey started St. Joseph Woodworks for the purpose of building simple wooden caskets as a means of supporting themselves. [The Trappists at New Mellbray do this too.] Monks in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota have been in the casket-making business for years.

Before they were able to sell even a single casket, the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors told them that their sale of caskets violated state law, which says that you cannot sell “funeral merchandise” unless you’re a licensed funeral director. Were the monks to sell their caskets, they would risk both fines and imprisonment.

In order to sell caskets legally, the monks would have to apprentice at a licensed funeral home for a year, take a funeral industry test, and convert their monastery into a “funeral establishment,” installing equipment for embalming.

“We are not a wealthy monastery, and we want to sell our plain wooden caskets to pay for food, health care, and the education of our monks, said Abbot Justin Brown. [I would say especially monks, since monks developed the foundation of our modern market system.]

This morning, the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice is holding a press conference on the front steps of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of the monks. They are announcing a federal lawsuit to fight against the state funeral board’s attempt to shut down their casket-making business.

“A casket is just a box and you do not even need one for burial,” said Institute for Justice senior attorney Scott Bullock. “There is no legitimate health or safety reason to license casket sellers.”

The Institute for Justice says that the only reason the state of Louisiana is preventing the Abbey from selling its caskets is to protect the profits of the state’s funeral directors. [O my.  Sure the funeral industry would never do that!]

“Economic liberty is a constitutional right that matters to everyone, even monks,” said Jeff Rowes, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. 

“The monks’ story is just one example of a national problem in which industry cartels use government power to protect themselves from competition,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. “Protecting economic liberty and ending government-enforced cartels requires judicial engagement – a willingness by the courts to confront what is often really going on when the government enacts licensing laws supposedly to protect the public.”

There’s a great video overview of the case go here.  To learn more, visit the Institute for Justice’s website.

Memento mori.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike says:

    I know the feeling. I drove my daughter this year to her private Catholic school, crossing the Potomac River every day into VA, and then back to my school in MD. On several occasions, I ended up crossing over a turn off directly behind a large truck carrying those huge cement thingys that encase the caskets.

    Made me feel like Ishmael in Melville’s novel. If I were a single man, I would take to ship, see the world, clear the mind with bracing seas, clean air, distant horizons.

    Oh, never mind!

  2. A few years back, Louisiana also banned local wineries from selling directly to retailers, thus putting family owned wineries out of business. Goodbye Muscadine wine.

  3. Mitchell NY says:

    The over regulation is so rampant and in the end just pushes people through stress, heart attacks, and high blood pressure to purchase those gov’t approved boxes before we would normally ever need them. Hopefully a compassionate judge will approach this case and see it for the harm it does to the Monks simple lifestyle.

  4. Jack Hughes says:

    Ok that is it; get thee to a Monastary or convent all you who value sanity, the pelican state has clearly lost its marbles, and as for being liquified I am not going to make the Lord’s task of reuniting my Body and Soul difficult on the last day – being liquified would mean he’d probebly need to create an entirely new body.

  5. Leonius says:

    If they wont let us have catholic caskets made by monks the can shove their unholy caskets and we Catholics will get buried in winding sheets alone, it was good enough for Christ and its good enough for me.

  6. Leonius says:

    And give the monks the money saved as a gift to.

  7. Latter-day Guy says:

    “Aquamation”? Not nearly as cool as the fremen water-reclaiming in Dune.

  8. Latter-day Guy: You had to remind me of that! That will probably be the next step. But you are eerily right.

    And, by the way, Soyent Green is people.

    And, by the way, Tabula delenda.

  9. Clinton says:

    Mr. Humphries of Aquamation Industries claims that the Church has approved this newfangled disposal process? I’m surprised that
    whoever wrote the article didn’t ask him to back up that statement.

    As for the predicament of the Louisiana monks, I think it highlights the unfortunate tendency our legislators have of enlisting
    industry figures and lobbyists in writing regulations and legislation and then adopting such suggestions uncritically. Were I an
    unscrupulous industry advisor, naturally I would try to promote laws and regs that would shut out possible competitors.
    I hope the publicity surrounding the monk’s difficulty will encourage the Louisiana legislature and its State Board for Funeral Directors
    to revisit those laws, because they seem to be, well, stupid.

  10. wanda says:

    I see you beat me to the Soylent Green is people thing. I’d be afraid that the green czar and the eco-maniacs would think of some brilliant use for the liquidy-people like, mixing it in fertilizer, adding it to cement, mixing it in paint, Lord only knows.

    I would much rather buy one of the monks skillfully, thoughtfully made caskets than the ones from the funeral home. I’m sure it would cut into their profit margins, hence these monks must be stopped!

    Yep, tempus fugit, memento mori.

  11. Clinton says:

    Perhaps the monks could offer benefactors a casket as a ‘thank you’ gift for donations over a certain amount? It’s not as
    though they’re actually selling them then, and the law doesn’t say you cannot make a present of ‘funeral merchandise’….

    re: the fremen water reclaiming — I had the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ melt-a-nazi scene more in mind.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    A few thoughts…

    First: If the Church had approved of this water-thing, wouldn’t we have heard it from another source, rather than the business that provides the service?

    Second: What exactly is the result of this process? Certainly not ashes. Sludge?! Ugh! Give me a good old fashioned burial, preferably above ground, any day!

    Third: Over 10 years ago, when I was in a parish youth group, on display one day was a large rectangular pine crate. It was explained to us that it belonged to the retired priest who lived at the parish, and every member of his order had one of these to use when traveling… everything he owned would be packed up in this, and when he died, it would serve as his coffin. A year or so later he died, and at the vigil (wake), I saw that he was indeed in this very same “crate”. Does anyone know what religious order has this custom?

  13. Not only is the state involved in killing unborn life, preventing it via contraception, destroying family life via all kinds of legislation within families, with parents who are not married and “same sex marriage”…now we can’t even get put into the ground to “rest in peace” with these shenanigans…’memento mori,’ is exactly right!
    God help us…we can’t even die and be laid to rest in peace!

  14. teaguytom says:

    I can’t believe the politicians are actually trying to put an end the the monks for making coffins. For petes sake they are handmaking wood boxes for the dead, not making rocket fuel. Our country has really sunk low when we have to require people to be licensed to make coffins to bury the dead.

  15. greg the beachcomber says:

    I think I’ll leave the plop, plop, fizz, fizz to Alka-Seltzer.

    Sign me up for the pine box.

  16. LarryD says:

    There was a story about this process several months ago about how Belgium is looking at using this rather than cremation. According to that story, not only is there a powdery white residue, but a slurry gooey substance that…and I’m not making this up…that would be flushed into the septic system, or given to family members to be used as fertilizer for the garden.

    From an article in Obit Mag:

    For the fire phobic, there is now alkaline hydrolysis, which returns the body to its ashy state via a mixture of water, heat, pressure and potassium hydroxide, a compound often used to make liquid soaps. The process — now being marketed here and overseas under names like “bio-cremation,” “resomation” and “water resolution” – is already used by medical and veterinary schools.

    It works like this: The corpse is placed in a stainless steel pressurized tube that is then filled with the key ingredients and heated to 330 degrees. After a few hours, all that remains is the skeleton – so soft that it can be ground into ash by hand – and a greenish-brown liquid composed of amino acids, sugars and salts.

    I’m no expert, but it seems the CathNews story is leaving out that detail of the liquidy bit.

    I blogged about it here: Belgium: Here’s An Idea! Let’s Flush Our Dead!

    Oh – and Bishop Lori has already spoken out against this process due to the liquidy bit. So I’d have to say that the Church hasn’t officially made any statement on this garish (IMHO) process.

  17. Tricia says:

    “Before they were able to sell even a single casket, the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors told them that their sale of caskets violated state law, which says that you cannot sell “funeral merchandise” unless you’re a licensed funeral director. Were the monks to sell their caskets, they would risk both fines and imprisonment.

    In order to sell caskets legally, the monks would have to apprentice at a licensed funeral home for a year, take a funeral industry test, and convert their monastery into a “funeral establishment,” installing equipment for embalming.”

    You’re kidding.
    Costco sells caskets!|20595&lang=en-US&whse=BC&topnav=
    Why give these monks a hard time when Costco can do it without meeting the above requirements?

  18. Jerry says:

    @Tricia – “Why give these monks a hard time when Costco can do it without meeting the above requirements?”

    Only if you live in one of thirty one states or the District of Columbia (see list in the FAQ).

  19. JonM says:

    Unfortunately, this is a story played out often.

    As others have pointed out here, and stated by Sen. DeMint of South Carolina, legislatures let industries/interest groups write law and then the former vote.

    According to DeMint, 95% of bills passed are not written by Congress.

    Of course this process would similarly play out on the state level.

    Encouraging locally integrated business would ensure a more productive, happy, and naturally equitable society.

  20. Mike says:

    I just watched Soylent Green. What a period piece of complete stupidity!

  21. JonM says:

    I missed the part about liquefying the dead.


    I know that cremation is allowed by the Church, but it was my understanding that the criteria for this is that the remains kept in a special, permanent, and fixed place. Further, this could not be done as a sign against belief in the resurrection, that is our awaited time of soul reuniting with body, indeed a glorified one.

    Considering flushing remains down the sewer seems to contradict this, in spirit and letter.

    Personally, I see this as another indication of the severely eroded state of Christianity in Europe.

  22. TravelerWithChrist says:

    They should consider “free with a donation”, and suggest a donation amount. At least for lower cost items, the income is actually better.

    My question for the liquid ‘sludge’, how do they remove the water??? If the washing process takes 4 hours, surely the drying of the sludge would take quite some time, without the use of fire, as they are advertising…yep, al-natural. Nothing like being in a superduper waterfall, hurricane, or something of the sort…cant think of anything natural with high pressure water.

  23. aaronwillms says:

    I think it is important to point out that the monks at St. Joseph Abbey also run a college seminary that is used by several southern Dioceses. I will actually be there in a week. Hopefully this wont interfere.

  24. AJP says:

    Re: “water cremation,” it’s utterly ghastly. But it just goes to show how environmentalism has really become a full-on religion for so many “secular” folks in the West. Just as Christians must sacrifice wordly pleasures and goods from time to time for the glory of Christ, environmentalists must sacrifice other goods – like respectful treatment of one’s body, a permanent resting place for loved ones to visit – for the greater glory of their “god.”

    I wouldn’t worry about it as far as the Last Judgment/Resurrection of the dead is concerned. There’s a great passage in City of God where Augustine spends a few chapters speculating on how the resurrection of the body will work for people whose bodies have been burnt up, “dissolved in water” (i.e., shipwreck victims), even eaten by a shark!

    This ghoulish “water” cremation won’t and can’t thwart God’s will. What is so terrible about it is how it is one more thing in our culture that denies the 4 last things, denies the resurrection of the body, creates an almost Gnostic, anti-incarnational picture of the world, and subsequently leads many souls astray.

  25. Ellen says:

    I really don’t want to be buried. I don’t want to be cremated either. This water thing looks beyond weird. There are times, I think I might want to go the route of the Towers of Silence like the Parsees (but I still want lots of prayers for my soul).

  26. robtbrown says:

    After St Thomas died at Fossanova, the flesh was boiled off his body to preserve the bones as relics.

  27. Latter-day Guy says:

    This ghoulish “water” cremation won’t and can’t thwart God’s will. What is so terrible about it is how it is one more thing in our culture that denies the 4 last things, denies the resurrection of the body, creates an almost Gnostic, anti-incarnational picture of the world, and subsequently leads many souls astray.

    Don’t sugar-coat it, AJP, tell us what you really think!

    I’m not sure that “water-cremation” (or any other kind of cremation) is intended to thwart God’s will. It’s not as though their slogan is “Helping you stay dead, no matter what God says!” And how does it deny the resurrection any more than any other process that leads to the breakdown of the body? By the same logic, you could argue that anything less than total preservation in formaldehyde denies the resurrection by destroying the body –– through the destruction may be very slow –– yet I doubt you have laid plans for your eventual taxidermy. (If I am wrong on that last point, I totally want details!)

  28. ghlad says:

    Stupidest thing by far about this liquification process is their claim that it’s “greener” than cremation. The carbon atoms in our bodies will eventually be released to the atmosphere one way or another. It’s called a carbon cycle for a reason. When an animal dies, it can be either burned, consumed by microorganisms, or liquified as they describe, which will eventually return the carbon molecules into the life cycle anyhow. In all three cases there is a zero-sum – we eat carbohydrates, protein or fats, incorporate them into our bodies, and then breath out CO2 waste or die, and pass the carbon along.

    Also, does anybody else think the name “Resumation” is a term specifically coined to mollify the hysterical fear of death that the godless possess?

  29. Jane says:

    We have Catholic crematoriums in Sydney. I find it revolting. The water thing sounds strange. I hope for a bit of normality when I depart this life and lots of prayer for my soul. I think that the monks should be allowed to sell their caskets.

  30. Will D. says:

    Will someone kindly explain what’s so un-green and un-natural about being planted six feet under when the time comes? Preferably in a nice, wooden coffin made by the Trappist monks?

    It seems like all these other methods are considerably more complicated and less green.

    And it doesn’t surprise me in the least that Louisiana requires a license to build coffins, they require a state license to be a florist, for crying out loud.

  31. AJP says:

    Latter-day Guy,

    No I’m not planning to be taxidermied :) Simple burial will be just fine (preferably in a simple monk-made casket, so I must make sure not to die in Louisiana!)

    What bugs me about this water cremation is that it sends the message “once you’re dead, your body doesn’t matter.” There is a very strong belief in contemporary American culture that the body is just a shell, that we are fundamentally spirits, and that once we’re dead the body we last had doesn’t matter any more. Get rid of it as soon as and entirely as you can. It can be burnt up and scattered with no final resting place. It can be turned into sludge and used as fertilizer.

    Obviously this is false and entirely opposed to basic Christian doctrine. Matter matters and that includes our bodies. It especially includes the body someone “has” right before he or she dies. There is going to be a special relationship between our resurrected bodies and the bodies we have right before our deaths. After Jesus’ resurrection, His body still had the wounds of the passion. Now in our case we have no idea how exactly it will work out – will our resurrected bodies be made of exactly the same atoms our earthly bodies were before we died? will our resurrected bodies be the same size? look the same? Those questions are unanswerable this side of eternity.

    Perhaps you’d be surprised by how many people – Protestant and Catholic alike – don’t even *know* about the resurrection of the body. Many professed Christians have a basically gnostic view of the after life. While this is due to many failings of many people, one thing that sure as heck doesn’t help is the whole culture that surrounds funerals and burial nowadays. The practice of scattering ashes is especially dangerous in this regard.

    Burial – including burial of cremains – does not send this message. I don’t think it’s due to any special thing about burial itself – it’s just how our culture has developed. But given that burial has always been associated with a traditional Christian outlook towards death, whereas water cremation, scattering ashes, etc have always been associated with a secular or New Age non-Christian outlook towards death, it’s pretty easy to see which practice is preferable.

  32. AnAmericanMother says:

    So long as you’re planted in a nice plain wooden coffin, no problem.

    Your body (and the coffin) will just decay over time, and in most cases there’s very little left after a few years.

    The problem comes with embalming, vaults, etc. which interfere with the natural processes. That’s not green at all. The archaeologists like it though, gives them something to work with.

  33. Jack Hughes says:

    A nice stone Mausaleam would be nice; feet facing East awaiting the coming of the Son of Man in Glory with his Angels

  34. robtbrown says:

    A nice stone Mausaleam would be nice; feet facing East awaiting the coming of the Son of Man in Glory with his Angels
    Comment by Jack Hughes

    A few years ago a priest friend and I stopped by La Val Sainte, a Carthusians monastery in Switzerland. In the porterie there was a postcard showing a monk being buried. The body was on a stretcher with the cowl pulled down to cover his face. The stretcher was at about a 45 degree angle to slide the body into the grave. No mausoleum. No coffin.

    Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.

  35. robtbrown: How I wish I could be buried likewise…the statutes here in WI might prevent it…nevertheless. One can always hope!

  36. CycledLife says:

    Cremation poses public health risks especially to the unborn and small children through the emission of mercury.

    Burial impacts groundwater. Placing unsterile bodies in the ground is not a thoughtful practice, nor sustainable. It is risky business.

    CycledBurial(TM) allows the soft parts of the deceased and their bones to be safely returned to the earth. 100% of the body can be buried without the cost of cemetery.

  37. Sarah says:

    Wow, sounds a lot nicer than the reality: ‘alkaline hydrolysis’ means ‘toss dead body in a vat of boiling lye for a few hours’.

    No thanks.

  38. Jerry says:

    @CycledLife – “Cremation poses public health risks especially to the unborn and small children through the emission of mercury.”

    What is the source of the mercury? If 100% of the body is buried with your process, isn’t the same mercury introduced into the ground, and thus potentially into the ground water?

  39. bookworm says:

    While we’re on the subject of burial practices…

    In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was common practice among some immigrant and African-American communities to “rent” burial plots since many people were too poor to buy plots outright. If a family could not afford to buy a plot, they agreed to make payments over a period of time — usually around 20 years — and if the plot was not paid for by the end of that time, the body could be moved to a common grave and the plot reused for another burial. Or they could simply agree from the start that the burial would be only for 20 years and the body would later be moved.

    Unfortunately this practice is open to some abuses. Some of you may recall the scandal that occurred last year concerning the Burr Oak Cemetery near Chicago, where cemetery owners are alleged to have dug up bodies and dumped them in other parts of the cemetery. This is an historically African-American cemetery originally opened in the early 20th century. Apparently, some burials were performed under financial arrangements like those I mentioned above, and the bodies were later moved, but due to poor record keeping, families dying off or moving away from the area, management turnover, and egregious neglect by later owners, people lost track of who was buried where and under what arrangements. Later management then took advantage of this confusion to fraudulently “resell” grave sites.

    A good story explaining this situation can be found at this link:

    There have been a number of other scandals (for lack of a better word) involving badly neglected or vandalized (commerical) cemeteries in my area and as a result I hear more and more people, even in my own family, saying they’d rather be cremated and scattered so as not to take the chance that their gravesite will end up in a squalid condition. I am not sure how to reply to that. How is burial more “respectful” than cremation under these circumstances?

  40. John Fannon says:

    Jessica Mitfords ‘The American way of Death’ excoriated the American Funeral Industry. Amongst many tales of corrupt practices, on the lighter side she recounts a little ditty sung as a TV ad to the tune of Rock of Ages

    “Chambers caskets are just fine
    Made of sandalwood and pine
    If your loved one has to go
    Phone columbia six nine oh
    If you loved ones pass away
    Have them pass the Chambers way
    Chambers customers all sing
    Death oh death, where is thy sting”

    After 40 years I still cant get it out of my mind.

    In the UK there is now a vogue for cardboard coffins (sorry caskets). I wonder what the US FDs say to that?

    But it’s easy to mock; we’re just laughing at death, really. Having experienced our share of death in the family, I have found that the funeral directors in the UK have been invariably excellent and sensitive to the feelings of the family. No doubt it is the same in the US

  41. Allan S. says:

    God can ressurect anything he wants, so I doubt He’s concerned with what we do too much. I have no theological basis for that statement, but I’m sure the Church would not approve cremation if it was a problem.

    I have made my own funeral arrangements, and for personal fianancial reasons I will be cremated and my ashes buried in a woooden box (urn) made by the monks. So, way ahead of you!

    Hoping I won’t need it, of course – not for a while!

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