Editor’s note: Today’s guest editorial was written by Father Bryan Ochs, pastor of St. Rose Catholic Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, St. Mary’s Church and St. Catherine Church. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
As the pastor of several Catholic Churches in our area, I believe it is my duty to share my disappointment that The Daily News printed an article from the Associated Press titled, “In the Face of Death, The Party of a Lifetime.” (Aug. 27, 2019) One reason I am disappointed is that the article and accompanying photo made it seem like the Catholic Church endorsed the sad and misguided decision by Mr. Robert Fuller to commit suicide.
The photo specifically showed a priest blessing the man, easily giving the impression to many readers that the priest was supportive of the act of suicide. This is far from the truth. Since the article’s publication the priest in the photograph, Fr. Quentin Dupont, has stated that he had no idea that Mr. Fuller intended to take his own life. He knew the man was sick and that his life would be ending soon, but he did not know that he planned to die by suicide.
In an interview with America Magazine, Fr. Dupont stated, “I certainly have no desire to question the church’s teaching on the sanctity of life. I believe that life is a gift. I believe that it is a gift from God and an opportunity every day to learn from God and love as God is trying to teach us to love though scriptures and the examples of Christ and the saints. I feel terrible that there is an insinuation that I, or a member of the clergy or religious order or this archdiocese, would think otherwise or would make a public statement otherwise.”
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I am also troubled by the article because speaking of suicide in a positive manner often has unintended consequences for the public. Glorifying suicide in any case causes others to take their own life rather than seeking help. This is called “The Werther Effect.” The Werther Effect is a well-documented sociological phenomenon in which suicides spike after a suicide is covered by the media. People who are vulnerable to suicide see the positive spin in the media and are more likely to commit the act themselves. Running an article in our local newspaper glorifying a man’s suicide puts men and women in our own community with suicidal ideations at greater risk, and I hope that we will not see stories like this in the future.
Suicide is an issue of personal interest to me. Several years ago I lost a loved one to suicide. Furthermore, as a Catholic priest, I often counsel men and women struggling with suicidal ideations. Occasionally, I have to minister to the family and friends of those who have taken their own life, and they are some of the saddest situations I have encountered. Drawing on these experiences, I can assure you, suicide is not good. It is always a tragedy and should always be talked about as a tragedy. I want to encourage anyone considering suicide not to be fooled by the story of Mr. Fuller and the way his story was told, and to seek help immediately.
Finally, as the pastor of several Catholic Churches in the area, I want to state clearly to anyone who may have been confused that the Catholic Church considers suicide to be gravely immoral. This can seem harsh knowing that so many who commit suicide are undergoing terrible suffering. To judge their actions as immoral or sinful seems to many to be insensitive. I understand that, but I also know that using such strong language has saved lives.