Europe

Vatican bans cremation ashes scattering in new guidelines

A worker collects ashes after cremation. File photo Image copyright AFP
Image caption A worker collects ashes after cremation. File photo

The ashes of cremated Catholics cannot be kept at home, scattered or divided among family members, the Vatican has announced in new guidelines.

The two-page instruction by the Vatican's department on doctrine said ashes of the dead must be kept in "sacred places" such as cemeteries.

It also stressed that the Roman Catholic Church still preferred burials over cremations.

The Vatican allowed cremation in 1963 but has always frowned on the practice.

It also stressed at the time that cremation must not suggest a denial of faith about resurrection.

Countering 'new ideas'

"It is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewellery or other objects," said the instruction by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"These courses of action cannot be legitimised by an appeal to the sanitary, social, or economic motives that may have occasioned the choice of cremation."

The Vatican said it was issuing the new guidelines to counter "new ideas contrary to the Church's faith" that had become widespread since 1963.

It said the Church could not "condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the 'prison' of the body".

The guidelines reiterated that Catholics who chose to be cremated "for reasons contrary to the Christian faith" must be denied a Christian funeral.

The Vatican also stressed that "the Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased".

Pope Francis had already approved the guidelines, the Vatican said.


Shortage of burial land fears - BBC's Religious Affairs correspondent Martin Bashir

Fearing the impact of naturalistic ideas about the circle of life, where the body is regarded as no different to other physical matter, the Vatican has decided to clarify its position on what should happen to the remains of the dead.

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the head of the Church's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said ashes of those cremated should be committed to a cemetery or another consecrated place.

But Britain and some other western countries face a shortage of land in which to bury bodies.

There are concerns this announcement will not only place financial burdens on Catholic families but also increase the pressure on cemeteries, half of which are expected to run out of space within the next 20 years.


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