SEATTLE, Washington, August 29, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― The retiring Archbishop of Seattle gave permission for a funeral in a Catholic Church for an elderly, ailing, right-to-die activist who planned the day and hour of his suicide. His death was the cumulation of a day-long celebration that included a “marriage” to his homosexual partner, a party for family and friends, and mainstream media presence.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was brought into the highly publicized death of Robert Fuller after Fuller approached his parish pastor with plans for his funeral.
Fuller, who was 75 at the time of his death, went to Mass at Seattle’s St. Therese Catholic Church and had been a member of its gospel choir. After being diagnosed with throat cancer, Fuller decided to end his life on May 10, 2019. He also decided he would like to have his funeral on May 17.
“While it is clear that some of Mr. Fuller’s friends at the parish knew of his intentions, the pastor at St. Therese initially did not,” the statement reads.
“Mr. Fuller eventually approached the pastor to ask to plan his own funeral. The pastor discussed the gift of life and tried to convince him to change his mind. He made it clear that neither he nor the parish could support his plan to take his own life. Once it was clear that Mr. Fuller was not going to change his mind, the pastor reached out to his leadership to discuss the situation.”
Despite knowing Fuller was intent on ending his life, Archbishop Sartain gave permission for the funeral.
“Archbishop Sartain agreed that it is the church’s responsibility to pastorally care for those who mourn,” said the Archdiocesan statement.“With this in mind, he gave permission for the funeral with certain conditions to ensure there was no endorsement or other perceived support for the way in which Mr. Fuller ended his life,” it continued.
“The purpose of the funeral was to pray for his soul and bring comfort and consolation to those who mourned.”
Fuller’s suicide took place as scheduled on Friday, May 10. It was covered by both local and national media.
The Catholic Church teaches that suicide is against the fifth commandment which prohibits murder. The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia states: "That suicide is unlawful is the teaching of Holy Scripture and of the Church, which condemns the act as a most atrocious crime and, in hatred of the sin and to arouse the horror of its children, denies the suicide Christian burial.”
In recent decades, the Church has not forbidden a funeral to those who murder themselves, understanding that in many cases the suicidal person was not of sound mind when he committed the deed. However, with the legalization of euthanasia, bishops have been confronted with Catholics who are determined both to end their lives deliberately and to have a Catholic funeral.
Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters told LifeSiteNews that whereas the 1983 code of canon law is “flexible” when it comes to suicide of the mentally ill, it is not when suicide is done according to “state approved procedures.”
“The 1917 Code of Canon Law expressly forbade Church funeral rites to those who deliberately killed themselves,” he said.
“The 1983 Code, in contrast, does not prohibit funeral rites to suicides per se, but rather, to those who are considered ‘manifest sinners.’ While suicide is objectively gravely sinful, it is not always clear that those killing themselves do so with adequate awareness of the sinful character of their deed. There is room for some flexibility in interpretation of the law here,” he continued.
“Those who kill themselves in accord with state approved procedures, however, procedures that include ruling out hasty decisions for death made out of depression and so on, leave ministers little basis for concluding other than that they killed themselves with adequate knowledge of and awareness concerning what they were doing.”
Peters concluded that canon law requires withholding ecclesiastical funerals from Catholics who kill themselves in accord with civil suicide statutes.
News that Archbishop Sartain had personally approved Robert Fuller’s funeral knowing that he was determined to kill himself followed an uproar after a photograph of Fuller being blessed by a priest five days earlier was published by Associated Press. Both the Archdiocese of Seattle and one of Fuller’s friends at St Therese have denied that Fr. Quentin Dupont, S.J. knew at the time that Fuller had planned to end his life. LifeSiteNews’ source also stated that Dupont did not know Fuller at all. He knew only that Fuller was “dying.”