Belfast Telegraph

Vatican should stay out of ashes debate, says ex-priest Bradley

Influential figure hits out at issuing of 'diktats' over cremated remains

By Claire McNeilly

A high-profile former priest has warned the Vatican to stop issuing "diktats that get up people's noses" after it said that Catholics who want to be cremated can't have their ashes scattered.

Denis Bradley's comments come after the Church said ashes should instead be stored in a sacred, church-approved place - not kept at home, distributed at a special spot, turned into jewellery or put in a locket.

In a new document released in time for Halloween and All Souls' Day on November 2 - when the faithful are supposed to pray for and remember the dead - the Vatican also said that Catholics who insist on the scattering of their ashes should be denied a Christian funeral.

But speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Bradley, a former Policing Board chairman, said people should be allowed to choose what's right for them.

And he urged the Vatican to stay out of the subject.

"There's no reason in the world why people shouldn't have choices," he said.

"There's a lot to be said for cremation, both economically and culturally and as a choice. I also think that the scattering of ashes is a known tradition in many religions.

"Some people like it and some people don't and I don't think it matters all that much. If the Vatican has something to say, let them say it, but don't do it as if it was a diktat. That just gets up people's noses."

Mr Bradley, who authored proposals for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles along with Lord Robin Eames, said he believed the decree authorised by Pope Francis was out of touch.

"These decisions shouldn't be taken by the Vatican, they should be taken at local levels," the Londonderry-based former clergyman said.

"There is nothing wrong with the church saying to people that they should consider burying their loved ones within a church ground.

"The word decree itself is an unfortunate word; it sounds like a diktat and diktats don't go very well in the modern world among people who are more mature and can make up their minds around these things.

"There's nothing theologically or dogmatically sacrosanct around where people are buried - that's a cultural thing that has happened throughout the years, so decrees about that type of situation would be best left to local customs and traditions."

About 75% of people are cremated after death in the UK - a figure that has more than doubled since the 1970s as a result of the cost of buying a burial plot and a dearth of space in cemeteries.

There has also been a surge in popularity of unusual ways of disposing of or converting ashes, with some companies offering to turn them into gemstones or combine them with paint or clay to make artworks.

Indeed, the document issued by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) claims cremation practices increasingly reflect non-Christian ideas about "fusion with Mother Nature".

Father Patrick McCafferty, who is based in Co Down, has voiced his support for the guidelines, which he described as "a specific reminder to Catholics of the importance of reverence for the bodies of the dead". He said: "It's an attempt to stop the encroachment of new-age mentalities, ideologies and philosophies into the Christian faith in the afterlife and what we believe happens when someone dies.

"If a non-Catholic wants to scatter ashes on the Mourne mountains, that's entirely up to them, but this is specifically a reminder to Catholics about respect.

"It is a basic reminder to the faithful and those who aren't faithful can do what they like."

The Crossgar priest acknowledged that such a strict stance could turn people away from Catholicism.

But he added: "If it does, it does. We teach what we teach and people are free to accept it or reject it and walk away from it if they wish. There's no-one forcing them to accept it. That's just Catholic teaching."

Belfast Telegraph


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