Recently there was a news story about a man named Robert Fuller. He was a man dying of cancer who took his own life. This, in and of itself, is sad and tragic. What makes this story sting is that it was promoted in the media with photos of him being blessed in church by a priest and several first communicants who raised their hands over him in prayer a few days before his suicide. Members of the parish were present at his death, apparently not to talk him out of this evil act, but to support him. Fuller even stated on social media that a Jesuit priest told him that his decision to kill himself was morally acceptable.
I am not writing this to vilify any particular person involved. As with any fresh news story, more details may emerge later. The Jesuit priest, Fr. Dupont, who blessed him in church has clearly and categorically denied that he was the priest who gave Fuller approval to kill himself. Further, Fr. Dupont has stated that no one told him of Fuller’s intention to kill himself before the church blessing. Fr. Dupont stated that he was simply told that Fuller was dying and that this was his “last mass.” I have no reason to doubt Fr. Dupont’s statements so unless other evidence comes forth, I think it is reasonable to believe him.
In addition, I am not directing this article at Fuller specifically. While the act of suicide is always morally wrong, I will leave the judgment of Fuller’s soul to our Merciful Lord. Out of charity, I would ask that we all pray for Fuller and those who loved him. But I am compelled to address a problem that must be dealt with in the most serious fashion:
Catholics supporting moral evil.
Medically assisted suicide has been legal for many years in some parts of the country. Unlike other complicated moral issues, the Catholic Church is unequivocal in its position: there is never a morally justifiable reason for suicide. The Catechism states: “Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277)
Pope St. John Paul II stated in Evangelium Vitae “ I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Evangelium Vitae, 65)
And yet if you read the media coverage of Fuller’s suicide, it is treated with glowing sentiment. There is the focus on the music that was played or the fact that he entered into a same-sex “marriage” with his boyfriend just before he killed himself. There is a disgusting air of approval and admiration for someone engaging in an act of ultimate selfishness.
I must pause and be incredibly sensitive here. Sadly, many of us know people who have taken their own lives. The heartache that this produces is incalculable. And it is very easy to speak about the evils of suicide when you are not personally facing the nightmarish pain of slow death by cancer. As Christians, we are called to summon every ounce of Christ-like compassion for those who suffer to the point of suicide. But real compassion can only be done in truth. And the truth remains that suicide is a sin of self-importance.
But it feels like it goes against compassion to hurt the feelings of someone who is facing agony. Earlier this year, a Dutch teenager named Noa Pothoven was allowed by the Dutch government to starve herself to death, not because she was dying, but because of post-traumatic stress from being abused. When she posted her decision on social media she asked that no on try and talk her out of her decision.
How much more is the responsibility of the Christian to talk the suicidally resolved out of this path?
I am going to share something that may sound very harsh. There is a priest that I know that has had people in the past call him and tell them that they are about to commit suicide. This is not simply the case where someone has suicidal thoughts. He has had people who have the instrument of death in their hands and are planning to end their lives right after speaking to him. This priest says that the conversations he has at that point go something like this:
Priest: Are you in pain?
Caller: Yes, father.
Priest: Do you feel alone?
Caller: Yes, father.
Priest: Are you in so much agony that you cannot stand it even for another second?
Caller: Yes, father.
Priest: Okay, I want you take that feeling and multiply that by A BILLION and imagine that FOREVER, because if you kill yourself you are going STRAIGHT TO HELL!
Does that sound harsh? It should. But here’s the thing:
He has never lost a single person who called to suicide.
And how many well-meaning, nice Catholics remained pleasant with the suffering Fuller and allowed him to slip from the pains of this world to meet judgment in the next? Would your rather hurt someone’s feelings or risk their eternal salvation? Again, I am not Fuller’s judge and Christ is more compassionate and merciful than any man. But notice the scandal that this brings.
Not only does it appear that there are some Catholics who gave tacit approval to Fuller’s self-murder, but this creates horrible scandal because it makes it easier for others to follow his example. Because he entered into this horrible sin without strong public push-back from the Church, others who are in his situation might follow his example.
The example that Fuller left was one in which the self was all that mattered. When asked about his suicide, he responded, “Why should I suffer?” Most of us do what we can to avoid suffering. Christ accepted the suffering that this world had to offer. Fuller was witnessing to the world that life is simply about the pleasures you can have and when they run out, life loses its value. Even his “marriage” was not a commitment of himself to serve the another, but a final ornamentation to a life of emotional satisfaction.
But I cannot help but be horrified at those oh-so-nice Catholics who would rather endanger a soul from salvation than hurt a person’s feelings. This is not compassion. I suspect that much of it is rooted in fear, that is, the fear of appearing uncompassionate to the world. We should care less what the world thinks and more about what is right.
In Greek mythology, those who went to “hell” or Hades hopped on a boat on the river Styx to be carried away by Charon the ferryman. Christ said that the road to damnation was wide. Our job is to bring people up the narrow road. It is true that there will be people who do not listen and will continue on the path on Charon’s boat towards Hades.
But if we give support to those who are engaging in clear moral evil, then we become the ferrymen, leading them downriver on the way to hell.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson