The Irish Roman Catholic Church, in issuing guidelines for requiem masses for hunger strikers, has stopped short of ruling that death by self-inflicted starvation is suicide, while attempting to dissociate itself completely from political or paramilitary movements involved in such deaths.
The guidelines, made public after the funeral of Irish Republican Army terrorist Bobby Sands on May 7, emphasize the need to carry out the spiritual and pastoral responsibilities of the church while at the same time avoiding "the danger of having the church's liturgy abused or exploited for political purposes. A church spokesman in this country said the document was issued to Irish pastors "to prevent confusion over how these things would be handled."
"The church teaches that suicide is a great evil, but there is some dispute about whether or not political hunger striking is suicide, or more precisely, about the circumstances in which it is suicide," the directive issued from Dublin states.
It points out that "only God can judge the true intentions and motivations of any man, and Christian burial is almost never denied to suicides today." It adds that if the confessor judges that a dying penitent "is properly disposed to receive the last rites, then a Christian burial will be given. It does not follow from this that [the confessor] approves of what the hunger striker is doing. . . ."
The statement adds that "in arranging funerals, the parish clergy will deal only with the next-of-kin or undertakers, never with paramilitary organizations." No "flags, emblems or other political symbols" of paramilitary groups while the body is in the church for the funeral mass. If this is not agreed upon in advance, "permission for the funeral will be refused," the directive said.