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Are "family annihilators" owed a Church funeral?

April 20, 2009

Pretty obviously, the term “family annihilator” is one that Catholic pastoral ministers are going to have to add to their lexicon.

Men who kill their families, and then often take their own lives, are not found only amid the unchurched or even the fallen-aways; the Sueppel family last year, and the Wood family this year, are proof of that. Both families appear to have been active members of their respective Catholic parishes, active, that is, until the day their husbands/fathers, with all the appearances of deliberate planning and sufficient awareness of the evilness of their acts, killed their wives and children before killing themselves.

I can scarcely imagine a clearer example of “a manifest sinner” who “cannot be granted [an] ecclesiastical funeral without scandal for the faithful” per 1983 CIC 1184, than a murderous husband and father.

Last year, Steven Sueppel was granted an ecclesiastical funeral alongside the wife and children he murdered. I thought that was wrong. Murderers should not be treated with the same deference as their victims. This year, the question of according Alan Wood the same funeral rites as his victims will probably be raised. I, for one, hope the answer will be No.

In any case, it is surely not too much to suggest that the canonical, pastoral, and liturgical questions raised by “family annihilator” cases are not likely to go away on their own, and that therefore canonists, bishops, and liturgists should spend some time thinking through these cases before answers are demanded of them in the midst of shock, and grief, and media spotlights.

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