Is “Suicide” A Bad Church Word?

I received a request from one of our students this morning: could we pray for a hometown friend who committed suicide? We are very careful about naming people (I was sent the name) in the prayers of the faithful. Lacking the person’s approval (or a family’s, in the case of death), we don’t do it. I added the following petition to the line-up:

For those who have succumbed to inner darkness, especially those who have committed suicide, we pray.

Earlier this summer, “rape” was flagged as an inappropriate word for a liturgical audience that included children. Do you think “suicide” deserves the same treatment?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Is “Suicide” A Bad Church Word?

  1. I expect the problem with rape is that it involves sex, so I wouldn’t expect suicide to have the same problem.
    Suicide might be controversial because of the traditional teaching that it’s a mortal sin and suicides are therefore damned: that’s the only problem I would anticipate.
    I might suggest tweaking the wording to “especially those who have died of suicide” (rather than committed) to reinforce the mental illness paradigm over against the mortal sin paradigm. And I would add “and those who grieve for them.”

  2. crystal says:

    I think it’s important for Catholics to speak about suicide, given the history of the idea that people who die of it go to hell and can’t receive church burial. Fr. Ron Rolheiser has written a lot about suicide. Here’s one of his posts …

  3. Mary says:

    I don’t think we should be using the s-word, except in 1-1 conversations between trained health-professionals and people who are having self-harming thoughts, and in pastoral conversations between ministers and families where someone has taken their own life. Every time the word is used publicly, it makes it seem more normal and it plants the idea in someone’s mind. So – absolutely pray for those who have succumbed to inner darkness and those who love and mourn for them. Pray that we may be honest in sharing our emotional journey with wise people. Pray that we as a community behave in a way that includes and cares for people in mental and physical distress. Just don’t use the s-word.

  4. crystal says:

    The S word, though, is part of life – it;s in the news regularly, as in the recent death of Robin Williams. Perhaps if people do talk about it more openly, those who are in distress won’t be so ashamed of having those thoughts that they dare not even mention them to anyone else?

  5. Jenny2 says:

    I expect the problem with rape is that it involves sex

    Whereas, of course, it’s really about power and control. Which is why it’s so important to drag it out from under the sacristy carpet into the light of day, and show it up for what it really is.
    As for those shocked gasps of “Not in front of the children!”, well… one of the major factors contributing to the shameful history of child sexual abuse both in the Church and elsewhere is that children literally didn’t know what was happening to them, and didn’t have the words to name and describe it. And if they did, few adults would listen, because children and adults Didn’t Talk About That.
    Knowledge is power. Children need to know what *can* happen, so that if it *does* happen to them, or to a friend, they know what to say – and know that they’ll be heard and believed. Ignorance is not innocence. It’s dangerous.

  6. David Annable says:

    I mostly agree with Mary there is good reason to be careful about the discussion of suicide. Research has generally shown that incidents of suicide and even just accidental deaths are known to increase after a prominent suicide. Some people who are considering suicide can be spurred to doing it based on the belief that in death they will get the attention / others will be sad for them in ways that the person did not perceive as getting in life. For others, suicide will just seem like a more acceptable option.

    General discussion of suicide may not be as problematic, but we have to avoid it becoming normalized. Suicide is difficult to deal with because we have to discourage the act of suicide, but yet have great compassion and not stigmatize those who try to commit suicide, those who have committed suicide and their families and friends. So I would be uncomfortable publicly naming a person as having died via suicide in a public prayer, but I would be usually be ok with a general prayer for those considering suicide. I would also try to find a way to publicly name the person in prayer if the community routinely (as it should) pray for all of it’s recent dead, but without any additional fanfare or notice and if the parish does apply lots of fanfare (I’m not sure what that would be, I should add) to those who have are mentioned as having died then in that case I would recommend not doing it for those who committed suicide.

    One of the greatest challenges with suicide is memorials especially when it involves children/teenagers. I’m a school psychologist and in schools following suicide a very, very careful line has to be drawn between allowing students to have an appropriate chance to remember their friend and not building up a memorial that other students considering suicide might “want” for themselves.

    These challenges are part of what makes suicide so insidious. You ignore it altogether and you hurt those who have lost someone loved. You give attention to it and you may very well increase the odds of another suicide. Plus, you need to make those who feel depressed and possibly suicidal comfortable enough to seek help for themselves while at the same time discouraging them from believing that suicidal is something acceptable. It’s a balance that is almost impossible to find.

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