Did Canadian Bishops “sacramentalize” direct killing, euthanasia, assisted suicide?

Did you hear that the Bishops of the Atlantic region of Canada, the Atlantic Episcopal Assembly (Archdioceses and Dioceses of Antigonish, Bathurst, Charlottetown, Corner Brook and Labrador, Edmundston, Grand Falls, Halifax, Moncton, Saint John (NB), St. John’s and Yarmouth) veered towards sacramentalizing euthanasia?

They insinuate in a pastoral letter that people who intend to commit the mortal sin of killing themselves with the help of a medical doctor can be given the “last rites”, Sacrament of Anointing. They adopt the vague but prevalent language of “accompanying”.

My emphases and comments:


In the pastoral care of those who are contemplating medical assistance in dying, [assisted suicide… euthanasia… objectively a grave sin… one of those moral absolutes that are so under fire for the last few years…] we must remember that the purpose of pastoral care is to communicate the compassion of Christ, His healing love and His mercy. [mercy… at the expense of truth?] Furthermore, we must take into account the suffering person’s emotional, family and faith context when responding to their specific requests for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, the reception of Holy Communion and the celebration of a Christian Funeral.

The Sacrament of Penance is for the forgiveness of past sins, not the ones that have yet to be committed, and yet [Did you hear the slight whoosh as the door opened?] the Catechism reminds us that by ways known to God alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance (CCC, no. 2283). The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is for strengthening and accompanying [?] someone in a vulnerable and suffering state. It presupposes one’s desire to follow Christ even in his passion, suffering and death; it is an expression of trust and dependence on God in difficult circumstances (CCC, no. 1520-3). The reception of Holy Communion as one approaches the end of this life [The title of this letter is: “A Pastoral Reflection on Medical Assistance in Dying”.  It is not about just anyone who is dying.] can assist a person in growing in their union with Christ. This last Communion, called Viaticum, has a particular significance and importance as the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection (CCC, no. 1524).  [Viaticum for those contemplating death by doctor. Riiiiight.  How about the Apostolic Benediction?]

As for the Church’s funeral rites, there are a number of possibilities available. However, in discerning the type of celebration [‘Cause that’s what funerals are for, eh?] most pastorally appropriate to the particular situation, there should always be dialogue with the persons concerned which is caring, sensitive and open. The decree of promulgation of the Order of Funerals states that: “By means of the funeral rites it has been the practice of the Church, as a tender mother, not simply to commend the dead to God but also to raise high the hope of its children and give witness to its own faith in the future resurrection of the baptized with Christ” (Prot. No. 720/69). As people of faith, and ministers of God’s grace, we are called to entrust everyone, whatever their decisions may be, to the mercy of God. To one and all we wish to say that the pastoral care of souls cannot be reduced to norms for the reception of the sacraments or the celebration of funeral rites. Persons, and their families, who may be considering euthanasia or assisted suicide and who request the ministry of the Church need to be accompanied with dialogue and compassionate prayerful support. The fruit of such a pastoral encounter will shed light on complex pastoral situations and will indicate the most appropriate action to be taken including whether or not the celebration of sacraments is proper.


It is inconceivable to me that such a letter would have gotten past the rest of the Canadian Conference, or the Nuncio, or the CDF, or for that matter the guy who runs the gas station at the corner of Faith St. and Charity and who goes to Mass on Sundays.  What were they thinking?

The Sacrament of Anointing, a “sacrament of the living”, is to be, if the person is compos sui, received in the state of grace.  

Remember that conditions for mortal sin include 1) grave matter, 2) full knowledge, and 3) deliberate consent.

With the full understanding that there are different grades and gravities of mental illness which can be tricky to account for, if a person who is sui compos plans suicide in a concrete way, that person is probably not in the state of grace.  If you are entirely mistaken about the nature of an act you probably aren’t guilty for the sin committed.  If you are truly nuts or so emotionally distraught or fearful or under compulsion from outside that you can’t make proper choices like a human being, you are not culpable for objectively sinful acts.  Moreover, if someone who is sui compos doesn’t have a firm purpose of amendment when making a confession (“Father, I thought about suicide, but I changed my mind. I won’t think about that sin again.”) she cannot be absolved and she cannot receive the Sacrament of Anointing either.  It is entirely irresponsible of a priest about to administer Last Rites to a person who is conscious and sui compos not to provide also the opportunity for sacramental confession even in the briefest way permissible.  The only way a priest should absolve a person is if he is convinced that the person is truly sorry for sins, even if it is impossible for the person to express sorrow clearly in words.  If the person contemplating suicide isn’t sorry for contemplating suicide and isn’t able to say that she won’t do it any more, the person can’t be absolved.

BTW… see Sam Gregg’s piece on moral absolutes over at CWR.

At First Things there is piece about this horrid situation.

It’s an appalling document. In a pastoral letter, ten Catholic Bishops of the Canadian Atlantic Episcopal Assembly shirk their responsibilities as teachers of the faith. The issue is doctor-assisted suicide, which is now legal in Canada.

Readers can’t know to what degree the document’s apparent rubber-stamping of the culture of death was intended by its authors, or to what degree it simply follows from sloppy thinking and careless rhetoric. [True. It could be more that than a “rubber stamp” of the culture of death.] But the bishops’ failure to condemn suicide in plain terms is unmistakable. What’s more, the bishops adopt the circumlocutions of the Canadian government, which instituted the new suicide regime, along with the antinomian clichés of the current pontificate. One is left with the strong impression that the bishops do not merely wish to avoid condemning the practice of doctor-assisted suicide. They want the Church to accommodate herself, smoothing over any conflicts between Catholic teaching and the culture of death.

The bishops adopt the euphemism “medical assistance in dying,” pronouncing it “a highly complex and intensely emotional issue which profoundly affects us all.” It’s so complex, indeed, that we’re to practice “the art of accompaniment” that Pope Francis recommends, which means “prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit,” and not “judgments about people’s responsibility and culpability.” Suicide? Who am I to judge?

The worst aspect of this document, however, comes in the way the bishops tacitly sanction a grotesque misuse of the sacraments. They observe that a priest administers the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick “for strengthening and accompanying someone in a vulnerable and suffering state.” Earlier in the document, the bishops have been keen to stipulate that a person asking for a doctor to end his life is not to be judged culpable, but instead “accompanied” as someone who is “suffering.” The implication is straightforward, even if not explicitly stated: It is permissible, perhaps even desirable, for a priest to anoint a Catholic who is about to receive a deliberate, self-willed, death-dealing dose of medication.


There are 9 ways to participate in the sin of another person. You can be guilty of the sin committed by another

  1. By counsel (to give advice, one’s opinion or instructions.)
  2. By command (to demand, to order, such as in the military.)
  3. By consent (to give permission, to approve, to agree to.)
  4. By provocation (to dare.)
  5. By praise or flattery (to cheer, to applaud, to commend.)
  6. By concealment (to hide the action, to cover-up.)
  7. By partaking (to take part, to participate.)
  8. By silence (by playing dumb, by remaining quiet.)
  9. By defense of the ill done (to justify, to argue in favor.)

One can argue about how directly you must be involved to be guilty of the sin and also to incur the censure.

Can. 1397 One who commits murder, or who by force or by fraud abducts, imprisons, mutilates or gravely wounds a person, is to be punished, according to the gravity of the offence, with the deprivations and prohibitions mentioned in can. 1336. In the case of the murder of one of those persons mentioned in can. 1370, the offender is punished with the penalties there prescribed.

It’s the age of ambiguity.  Let’s make the whole question of moral absolutes so muddied, so confusing, so shaky that no one really has to struggle against sins and win.  No.  Now the whole concept of a moral absolute has become so obfuscated that people have even less reason NOT to excuse their immoral actions that result from that deadly, but O so human, justification: “I really struggled with this… before I did it.”

These days we are being told through winks and innuendo that a person doesn’t have to have a firm purpose of amendment in regard to sin.  No, no!  You can continue to sin and the Church will accompany you, mercifully.  A word now going out of style in Italian, “accompagnatrice”, means, well…. “escort”, in the bad sense.  So, a priest who did that – who set aside the necessity of a firm purpose of amendment in regard to mortal sin – would be a … what?

I, for one, still believe in Hell.  I won’t go down that sidewalk because I don’t want to go to Hell for leading people astray.  That’s exactly what priests risk if they lead people astray from the truth and Catholic teaching.

The moderation queue is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Good grief. What next? The really frightening thing about this is how quickly some bishops are capitulating to the culture of death. Accommodate, accommodate, and never challenge it. Isn’t it pastoral to remind people that hell awaits them if they go into eternity by deliberately committing such a grave sin?

  2. Many things are offensive about this document, but one in particular is the use of euphemism: “medical assistance in dying.” Doesn’t that sound so nice? [They talk about palliative care in another place.]

    What galls me is that, in addition to prettying up something evil, it also contaminates and defiles something else that can be described as “medical assistance in dying”: namely, the provision of comfort care and pain relief to a dying person. And this is exactly what the advocates of enlisting doctors in patient murder and suicide have in mind. They want people to think that injecting a deadly potion into a patient, with the intent of killing him or her, is exactly the same as providing pain relief, with no intent to kill, to someone who is near death. Injection, followed by death, what’s the difference?

    Further, they want people to think that those of us who oppose doctor-induced-death are against pain relief; we’re so heartless, we want people writhing in pain, while we hold relief at bay. I think there’s a real chance many faithful Catholics will get that notion in their heads, that forcing people to suffer is what they are being asked to defend. It’s pretty clever, and diabolical.

  3. Plebs Sancta Dei says:

    It is becoming increasingly apparent that a new religion, under the disguise of Catholicism, is being developed around the world by elites within and outside Mother Church. I pray that they be exposed in such a way that people might really see it. If we continue to only read bits and pieces of this–take this case of “sacramentalizing” euthanasia for example–then they will have a greater chance of succeeding in their evil plot. We, the plebs sancta Dei, need to publicly challenge this wicked nonsense!

  4. Alanmac says:

    The devil is afoot in CAnada and especially active in Atlantic Canada where even the Catholic Bishops are his pawns.

    [NB: The Devil is always in action everywhere. All bishops will be special targets everywhere because every one of them are hated by the Devil is a special way.]

  5. capebretoner says:

    Sacramentalizing euthanasia while desacramentalizing the Church with their replacing of parishes with so called “pastoral zones”. It’s almost ironic in a way as their great plan, in the end, will pretty much make their “services” redundant. Please pray for us & for our priests…

  6. Benedict Joseph says:

    Is there any longer a reason to refrain from articulating the truth?
    There is a vast populace of the clergy who have abandoned the Faith.
    They reveal themselves without shame, believing that we won’t recognize what transpires before out eyes, and best of all, we will not identify what is happening.
    These men have abandoned the Faith for a confection of speculation they identify with theological reflection, but which is exactly the opposite, since it does not attempt to articulate the truths of the Faith in clear and coherent language, but seeks to undermine and render them false.
    What good is salt when it has lost its flavor?

  7. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    This is horribly disturbing.

  8. chantgirl says:

    There is a mentality that seems to be sweeping all across western civilization right now, that it is not enough to love people; we now must love their immoral decisions too. We can see it in the gay “marriage” debate, in the divorced&shacking up Communion debate, in the transgender debate, in the debate over forcing others to pay for contraception/abortion, and in the euthanasia debate.

    It’s not enough to love the sinner, and hate the sin. Now if you even call the sin a sin, you’re an unmerciful, rigid, bigoted hater.

    Now it’s going to fall upon the poor priest chaplain who shows up to give Extreme Unction, only to find that he’s dealing with a premeditated suicide, to explain to a patient and family why he he won’t administer the sacrament. He will likely have the words of Pope Francis and the bishops thrown in his face for trying to stand between a person and damnation.

  9. Peter in Canberra says:

    But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?

  10. acardnal says:

    Don’t the bishops know that “accompanying” someone can be dangerous . . . especially if that someone is walking toward the edge of a cliff?

  11. Prayerful says:

    There have been close to thirty German bishops handing out abortion certificates, including Cardinal Lehmann. It was saddening that this longtime supporter of abortion was given a Cardinal’s hat in 2001. A lot of bishops in this Conciliar era fully support the liberal left social and economic agenda. This pastoral letter is utterly unsurprising.

  12. Jeannie_C says:

    Please don’t lump the Atlantic region bishops with those of the rest of Canada. In Alberta our Bishops wrote a letter in which they made clear the Catholic Church’s teachings on these topics to the point where we are informed we may not receive the final Sacraments if we plan on committing murder in this fashion. Nor are we permitted a Christian funeral/burial. I don’t know what those Maritime bishops are thinking but I sure do hope someone in a position of authority sets them straight on the matter.

  13. rtattersall says:

    Father, I work in management at a large secular long term care facility in Canada. Our Board has approved permitting so-called Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) to take place in resident rooms, albeit no staff or affiliated physicians are directly involved – the act is “outsourced” to another provider. The Board was heavily influenced by a legal opinion that legislation regulating LTC homes treats the facility as the residents’ “home”, and that no facility has the authority to ban this procedure in a resident’s home. This is under the (medicalized) guise of “personal autonomy”.

    Prior to the Board’s decision, I opposed this evil within management, and participated on a committee to ensure conscientious objectors are protected (nobody else was terribly aware or even understood the issue), and was at least gratified that no person will be required to participate or facilitate this act. I removed myself from all discussion regarding processes or “how to make it work”.

    In my role (human resources, not clinical) I have no direct or indirect involvement in the event such a death takes place – a physician will visit the facility to commit the crime, and leave afterwards. I have raised concerns with our CEO directly, and provided a lengthy letter outlining objections to the impact this will have on our staff. I did not provide a religious apologetic, although I identified myself as a Roman Catholic and explained that I will not involve myself in any way in enabling anything that supports this act. However, the CEO suggested the Board has “moved on” and is not likely to be interested in re-opening their decision. He has promised to pass along to the Board Chair that there are members of the management team who are strongly opposed – I know my boss is also a practicing Catholic, and opposed as well.

    I discussed my lobbying actions with the priest in my parish, who confirmed I have not done anything inappropriate. I am concerned that if I “abandon the field”, there will be nobody to raise concerns or speak for those who can’t or won’t speak for themselves.

    Father, please pray for me, our staff, and our residents.

  14. ejcmartin says:

    As a parishioner in one of the diocese listed, I can assure you the silliness goes beyond that, way beyond that. Pray for us.

  15. TWF says:

    This is shocking. Here on the West coast, Archbishop Miller has strongly and vocally condemned euthanasia at every turn. His pastoral letter against it was front and centre on the archdiocese’s website for some time before and after the legalization. I have strong hopes for BC…Vancouver has always been a solid, conservative archdiocese and currently all but one of the BC suffragan bishops are former Vancouver priests (and two of them are former Vicars General of Archbishop Miller).

  16. MikeToo says:

    I have a horrible vision of a millstone. We need to pray foe our shepherds. All of them.

  17. PapalCount says:

    This is madness. In Canada of all places? The Low Countries…Germany…France…
    Where do we find the True Church today?

  18. John the Mad says:

    These bishops from Atlantic Canada have just signed their names to a document as bad as the infamous Winnipeg Statement. What an utter disgrace. As a Canadian Catholic I reject this. I refuse to be a coprophagian.

  19. marcpuckett says:

    These Atlantic Bishops are being the opposite of ‘rigid’, I think, so I suspect that Authority is smiling rather than aghast. I hope I’m wrong.

    [Pure speculation, of course.]

  20. Orlando says:

    Many of the Princes of the Church of today remind me of the Pharasies during the reign of Pilot, more interested in worldly cares and currying favor with the powers of Rome then defending our Savior. They were wrong then and are wrong now. The Truth is always right.

  21. Momoffour says:

    Thank you for the 9 ways Fr. Z! There is so much ignorance of being complicit with sin. Loved the door/whoosh comment. God bless you!

  22. ejcmartin says:

    On a side note, many Atlantic Canadians go to Alberta, where the bishops have unambiguously condemned assisted suicide, to work in the oil patch. So if they head home for their medically assisted suicide they will receive the reward of eternal bliss in heaven, if they stay in Alberta they be damned forever in the fires of…. (we are not allowed to say that word in Atlantic Canada).

  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    I read about this the other day and left a long comment at the, What’s Wrong with the World, blog.

    The word, accompany (and it’s conjugations), occurs nowhere, NOWHERE, in the New Testament in the sense used by these bishops or the Pope – nor is it so used in the Summa Theologica. Christ never followed anyone. He said in five separate passages that we should follow HIM. Apparently, these bishops want to make us the leader and Christ the follower (for one who accompanies is lead by another). This is idolatry written in mumbles of vagueness.

    I am so angry that I am tempted to use bad language. Cowards! They render the Cross of Christ a vain display of strength in suffering. May they be confounded by the witness of Faith.

    Stand up to the politicians. Excommunicate them. Speak out. For the love of the dying, be their strength, not their executioners. Harden your words, not your hearts.

    Even Arians wouldn’t do this.

    The Chicken

  24. APX says:

    Many things are offensive about this document, but one in particular is the use of euphemism: “medical assistance in dying.” Doesn’t that sound so nice? [They talk about palliative care in another place.]

    The actual legal term used in the Canadian legislation legalizing euthanasia and medically assisted suicide is “medical assistance in dying”. Canadians have to be very careful with legal terminology now when signing medical documents and writing up legally binding documents regarding end of life care. Defining terms was important before, but now one’s life depends on it.

    There is such a huge contrast between the three page ambiguous document released by the Bishops of Atlantic Canada and the 34 page directive issued by the Bishops of Alberta and the NWT.

    Atlantic Bishops’ Document:

    Alberta and NWT Bishops’ Document:

  25. Joe in Canada says:

    one small point: Halifax and Yarmouth are now one diocese Halifax-Yarmouth.

  26. Traductora says:

    Thank you! I was appalled by this – and you’re right, even Joe the Catholic gas station guy would know it’s just not right – but I’m more appalled by the lack of comment and the fact that nobody in authority in Rome seems to have said anything about it. Interestingly, the bishops in other parts of Canada have come out firmly against this doctor assisted suicide. But thanks to AL, each diocese has become its own little church, free to make up its own doctrine and practice. I guess that’s why we haven’t heard from Rome.

  27. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    God bless rtattersall.

  28. AnnTherese says:

    Sadly, the way health insurance and Medicare will go now, there will likely come a time when treatment for the elderly and sick wont be an option. When medical personnel and/or family members will choose for the person (or put substantial pressure on them to choose for themselves) to “compassionately” end their lives rather than treat them. Then, I hope the person will have at least the comfort of the Sacrament of the sick before they are euthanized or left to die.

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  30. Fr Tim Moyle says:

    Not all Canadian bishops have failed in addressing the euthanasia issue. Our bishop, +Bishop Michael Mulhall of the Diocese of Pembroke issued an excellent letter on the subject.


    Fr. Tim

  31. OldLady says:

    Ironically the Church used to be known for it’s adherence to doctrine and for it’s backbone. But the prevailing culture has chipped away at it under the direction of the Evil One. We need more fire and brimstone please. Some old fashion preaching and catechizing. “Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm”. This slide into disgrace breaks my heart, more people lost to lies. The culture of Me has overwhelmed society with propaganda. Now we have priests just like them.
    In a society where college students need coloring books, safe spaces and avoid emotional triggers, the Truth may not be heard even when spoken clearly and directly. But we need to hear that Truth, even if just one soul listening “gets it”. One good priest or bishop saves countess souls. We need you now more than ever. ” Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls” ( Sister Maria Consolata Betrone).

  32. Daniel W says:

    Fr Z uses a beautiful phrase that sounds straight out of a moral theology manual: “under compulsion from outside.”

    During this pontificate, I have been falling in love again with those manuals, and wondered if any erudite readers out there might be able to source a manual that uses that or a similar turn of phrase.

    Cheers in anticipation

  33. cl00bie says:

    Isn’t this what Pope Benedict XVI talked about when he referred to “the dictatorship of relativism”?

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