The Vatican clarifies guidelines on cremation

Spreading a loved one’s ashes along a beach or a special place is a common tribute for many families, but the Vatican recently issued a guideline - frowning upon the practice.

The Catholic Church first made a provision to allow cremations in 1963. The Vatican has been pretty quiet on the issue in recent years, but with more and more people turning to cremation for a variety of reasons, the Church decided it was time to issue some guidance. On Tuesday, the Vatican clarified that ashes should be kept in a sacred place.

“The church still does have a preference for the burial of the body,” said John Paul Erickson, the director of the office of worship for Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “That remains the optimal choice, however, the fact is that the church does accept that cremation in and of itself is not problematic.”

But, now clarified by the Vatican, cremation is only accepted under certain conditions.

“Provided that the remains are placed in a place which provides respect and dignity and affords an opportunity for the loved ones to come and to pray for the deceased, to remember them in a dignified and a fitting setting,” said Erickson.

Erickson says the announcement of the guidelines is timely and important.

“Just as we’d never consider keeping the body of a loved one in our own home, just as we’d never consider again, if you’d excuse me, separating the body of a loved one and spreading that body around, so too the remains of a loved one, even in cremated form, same principles apply,” said Erickson.

About 50 percent of Catholic families have cremation instead of a burial, according to Dan Delmore, a funeral director at Delmore & Gearty Funeral Homes.

“There are people who will defer to mother’s wishes and say ‘Well, mom wanted to be scattered at the lake.’ They’ll separate part of the ashes and bury part of them and do a little bit at the lake,” said Delmore.

According to Minnesota state guidelines, ashes do not need to be buried.

“We’re technically supposed to tell them based on church guidelines that’s not allowed, but based on state of Minnesota guidelines, it is allowed. Cremation in Minnesota is considered to be final disposition, so you don’t technically have to bury the ashes. It’s the church that says that you do,” said Delmore.

Ultimately the choice seems to boil down to one quality: devotion.

“We have this deep reverence for the human body and we believe that the body should remain integral in life and in death,” said John Cherek, the director of Catholic Cemetaries.

The director of Catholic Cemeteries also says that they believe the body is not so much an individual’s property, but also property of the Catholic community as a whole and that there is value in being buried with other members of your faith tradition.