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Ask the Register: is suicide always a mortal sin?

Q. I’ve followed the debate about “assisted suicide,” and I understand why it is wrong. But I wonder about the sin of suicide. Is suicide always a mortal sin? Can a person who commits suicide be saved?

A. God is the author of all life— and no one has the right to take his own life, which is gift for himself, and for others, in the providence of God’s divine plan. Willfully taking one’s life can never be an objective good—suicide always undermines God’s will for a person’s life. Of course, taking a life is a serious matter, and so, objectively, suicide is a serious sin.

But a person’s responsibility for the act of suicide is another question. In some cases, a person of sound mind might commit suicide for a particular reason. But in many cases, suicide is motivated by mental illness or psychological disturbances. In that case, while the act of suicide is still gravely and objectively wrong, we can not know whether a person is actually responsible for freely choosing the act.

In paragraph 2282, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”

In most cases, we know very little about the state of a person’s soul at the time of death. The same is true for a person who commits suicide. We know that they committed a grave evil—but we do not know why, or under what circumstances. We can not know the extent a person committing suicide was responsible for his choice. What we do know is that God is merciful. When a person commits suicide, we can pray for his soul, do our best to provide love and comfort to his family, and hope in the mercy of God.

Write to Ask the Register online or at 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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