Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Catholic Church Won't Even Let People Kill Themselves

Suicide is a difficult subject. I've been meaning to write a post about it, and what I read in this morning's news encouraged me to get started.

Another family's dead, and it looks like a murder-suicide. This sad situation is as good a place as any to start. I'm going to take a look at what happened to the Lupoe family before going into a more general look at what the Roman Catholic Church has to say about suicide, hope, and families.

I think it's a good idea to remember that the Church and its rules aren't just an intellectual exercise: they're about people.

Murder, Suicide, and the Blame Game

The father of a family in Wilmington, a Los Angeles suburb, apparently shot his wife and kids, sent what the Los Angeles Times called "...a bitter, rambling two-page letter to a local television station blaming his employer for his actions...." and then killed himself.

The body count was seven: two adults; five children.


The Mercury News (Silicon Valley) says that some locals "...blamed the Lupoes' deaths on a dismal local economy. They cited a suicide note left by Ervin Lupoe in which he describes the 'horrendous ordeal' that he and his wife endured after being fired from their jobs as medical technicians at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center West Los Angeles.

" 'Their employer led them to this,' said Carmen Adame, who told city officials she believed Lupoe, like many in her community, was being forced to work under unreasonable conditions. ..."
She may be right: Unreasonable working conditions and unreasonable employers really do exist. And, they are a real pain to deal with.

'The economy' and "their employer" may have added to the stress Mr. Lupoe felt: but it looks like he was the one who pulled the trigger. This won't seem very 'compassionate,' the way the word is often used, but I think Mr. Lupoe may have had something to say about whether or not he killed all those people.

Nice House, Nice Family, Not-So-Nice Job

Ervin Lupoe seems to have had issues with the hospital that had employed him and his wife. Most of the letter he faxed to KABC-TV gives his version of how he got fired.

The suicide letter's text, as posted on MSNBC, begins with:
"To start off about this tragic story, my name is Ervin Lupoe, my wife Ana Lupoe, my eldest daughter Brittney Lupoe-8yrs, my twin daughters Jaszmin, Jassely-5yrs, my twin boys Benjamin, Christian 2yrs 4mo...."
The letter ends:
"...So after a horrendous ordeal my wife felt it better to end our lives and why leave our children in someone's else's hands, in addition it seems Kiaser Permanente want's us to kill ourselves and take our family with us. They did nothing to the manager who stated such, and did not attempt to assist us in the matter, knowing we have no job and 5 children under 8 years with no place to go. So here we are.

"Ervin Lupoe

"(Handwritten:) Oh Lord my God is there no hope for a widow's son!"
In between is a discussion of how unfair Mr. Lupoe felt it was that he and his wife were fired.

Is There No Hope for a Widow's Son!

The "widow's son" may have been Mr. Lupoe: He was raised by his mother. She's having a rough stretch in her life right now: Brittney, Jaszmin, Jassely, Benjamin, and Christian were her only grandchildren.

If the widow's son is dead, his options are mighty limited.


While we're alive, though, the Catholic Church has quite a bit to say about hope. (And has been criticized for it: a different topic.)

For example:
"The Holy Spirit, who instructs us to celebrate the liturgy in expectation of Christ's return, teaches us to pray in hope. Conversely, the prayer of the Church and personal prayer nourish hope in us. The psalms especially, with their concrete and varied LANGUAGE, teach us to fix our hope in God: 'I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.' As St. Paul prayed: 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.' "
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2657)
There's more (Catechism, 2658), but you get the idea.

Widows and Orphans

A "widow's son" has hope, particularly if people pay attention to what the Catholic Church (and most Christian churches) teach.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not blaming anyone here. 'I only know what I read in the news,' about what happened to the Lupoe family, and the community they lived in.

From what I've read, Wilmington is an industrial town near the Port of Los Angeles, about 50,000 people live there, and it's got one of the highest unemployment rates in America.

County Mental Heath Programs and Catholic Teaching

A counselor at the County Mental Heath ACCESS call-in center said that things were worse now than she'd ever seen,
" 'Because the people that we're dealing with now, they have always had [money]. They went to school, they were able to get jobs. Now the jobs are not even out there.' "
That County Mental Heath ACCESS call-in center is part of what the Catholic Church says we're supposed to do about widows and orphans. Sometimes peoples' families can't take care of them. When that happens, neighbors and the rest of the community are supposed to step in and help. (Catechism, 2208, 2209)

This isn't just a Catholic thing. I think most Christian churches recognize what Jesus said about loving our neighbors in Mark, Chapter 12:
"One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, 'Which is the first of all the commandments?'

"Jesus replied, 'The first is this: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.' "
(Mark 12:28-31)
Yes: there is hope. Providing you're willing to accept the possibility.

Suicide - It's Not Always Someone Else

Somebody very dear to me killed herself, over thirty years ago now. I am sure that some people reading this post have had similar experiences. Some may even have considered killing themselves.

So have I, a few times. Each time, on consideration, it didn't seem like a very good idea: and now I'm rather glad I came to that conclusion.

Suicide and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church doesn't approve of people killing themselves. That could be seen as another way that the Vatican wants to meddle in people's personal lives: imposing their values on others.

I see it as God acting through the Roman Catholic Church, to keep people from hurting themselves and others.

It's My Life, Isn't It?

Not according to Catholic teaching. (You don't have to accept what the Church teaches, by the way: but I'd recommend that you do.) I don't own my life, God does. I'm just the steward.
"...We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of."
(Catechism, 2280)

Killing Myself Only Affects Me?

It doesn't work that way. Suicide
" gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.."
(Catechism, 2281)
It's the idea that Donne wrote about: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent...." ("XVII. MEDITATION." from Project Gutenberg's Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne) According to the Catholic Church, we don't live in isolation. We are connected to others - and to God.

You Mean, I Can't Even Help Someone Commit Suicide?

Don't be silly: We have free will. We can do anything we want. We be destructive, or constructive: It's our choice.

But, a Catholic "can't help someone commit suicide," in the sense that the Church quite definitely says that 'no' is the correct response to that choice.
"If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law....."
(Catechism, 2282)

Catholic Teachings on Suicide Don't Take Today's Science Into Account?

If you count psychology as a contemporary science: wrong.
"...Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide."
(Catechism, 2282)
The Church has been around for almost two thousand years, and is based on teachings and records that are much more ancient. We've learned a little bit about what it's like to be human along the way.

Note, though: It's "can diminish the responsibility" - not "remove responsibility."

(Before moving on: "Scandal" has a particular meaning in a Catholic context. "Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil...." (Catechism, 2284)

Catholics Believe Suicides Go to Hell, Right?

This might be a surprise:
"We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives."
(Catechism, 2283)
In the news:


askcherlock said...

As a Catholic I do have a difficult time with this precept on suicide. My brother, who suffered desperately from depression for most of his life, made his suicide a fete accompli on his fifth attempt. He truly loved the Church, but I had a very difficult time finding a priest to even attend his wake and say a prayer. My brother was too tender for this world. Judged in life for having depression; judged upon his death after suicide. I still believe he will be forgiven. Thanks for bringing awareness of this issue to the fore.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


My pleasure. I am very sorry to hear that you had that experience. You, your brother, and your family, have gone through a very hard time. And, possibly, still are.

I was diagnosed with major depression recently, and am no on medication. Thank God, I was able to deal with suicidal impulses. I can understand, from the inside, how someone might not.

Priests are human beings - and they sometimes don't have a complete understanding of what the Church teaches. Neither do I, for that matter.

I hope - and pray - that you and your family will get the comfort and help you need, and that you will meet your brother in Paradise. While my wife and I were at it, I asked the same for my family.

Hope to see you there - but not too soon.

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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.