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 CNS Story:

ITALY-CREMATION Jan-9-2008 (460 words) xxxi

Italian church won't object to scattering of ashes, newspaper reports

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Although the Catholic Church would prefer that those who die be buried in the ground, cremation is acceptable and, in certain circumstances, the church in Italy will not object to a person's ashes being scattered, reported the daily Catholic newspaper Avvenire.

The Italian bishops released their new translation of Catholic funeral rites in November, for the first time adding prayers to be recited at a crematorium and for a funeral celebrated in the presence of the deceased's ashes rather than a body.

The texts, Avvenire reported in a series of articles Jan. 9, were relatively unknown until a secular newspaper reported that a priest in northern Italy refused a Catholic funeral for a man who had asked that his ashes be scattered in the mountains.

The Diocese of Aosta later issued a statement saying that although the priest had hesitated, in the end there was a Catholic funeral and "church funerals will be celebrated for all the faithful, including those who have chosen the scattering of their ashes as long as the choice was not made for reasons contrary to the Christian faith."

Until 2001, Italian law prohibited the scattering of ashes. The Cremation Society's international statistics noted that in 2005 just under 9 percent of Italians who died were cremated; the percentage in the United States for the same year was about 32 percent.

Father Silvano Sirboni, a pastor and liturgist, wrote in Avvenire that while cremation was an ancient practice the spread of Christianity brought with it a growing desire to be buried in the ground as Jesus was.

Cremation was introduced into Italy in the early 1800s under Napoleon's rule, "for hygienic reasons," but became popular among opponents of the pope's temporal rule over Rome and surrounding territories, Father Sirboni said.

Cremation became a "sign of aversion to the church and its doctrine," he said. Consequently, the 1917 Code of Canon Law denied a Catholic funeral to those who had chosen cremation.

In 1963, the Vatican issued new norms permitting Catholic funerals for those who wanted to be cremated as long as they had not chosen cremation as an expression of disbelief in the Resurrection or in other Catholic doctrines, Father Sirboni wrote.

The Italian bishops' pastoral guidelines, issued along with the new translation of the rites, said Catholic funerals should be denied to those who request their ashes be scattered if they are motivated by "a pantheistic or naturalistic mentality" which denies the existence of one God, who is separate from his creation.

Father Sirboni said this guideline was meant to "dissuade people from certain choices" and to encourage priests to discuss the choices with a family and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.


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