Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Monday 26 July |
Saint of the Day: Sts Joachim and Anne
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Ask Father Mike: What Does the Catholic Church Teach About Suicide?


Fr. Mike Schmitz - published on 03/30/15

Do people who kill themselves go to hell?

Dear Fr. Mike,

What does the Church teach about suicide? Do people who kill themselves automatically go to hell?

Your question is a very important one. Many people in our day are deeply affected by this question, both directly and indirectly. Many readers know someone who has committed suicide, and all of us are living in a country that continues to consider allowing physician-assisted suicide as part of “health care.”

Catholics must take an absolute stand against every form of suicide. Suicide is “contrary to the love of God.” It is truly evil. Now, please understand me here. In saying that suicide is evil, I am not saying that the person who commits suicide is necessarily evil. But anyone can choose to do evil actions. There are some actions which are evil in and of themselves, regardless of motivation or circumstance. Of these, suicide is one.

If a person freely chose to kill himself, fully knowing that he was saying “no” to God, and he died unrepentant, all signs point to eternal separation from God. But here’s the deal: we don’t know a lot of that information. I don’t know if his will was truly free (the person may have suffered from “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture”…these can lessen their responsibility (cf. CCC 2282). I also don’t know the person’s degree of knowledge; did he know that he was not simply “escaping pain,” but was in fact choosing something contrary to God’s love? And lastly, none of us have any way of knowing if the person repented before death. There is an ancient saying in the Church, “We don’t know what happened between the bridge and the water.” This indicates that you and I have no clue if the person we love regretted the decision and turned back to God at the last minute. There are stories of many people who survived attempted suicides, who found themselves praying that God didn’t let them die even after they jumped, or swallowed the pills, or used other means.

There is so much we don’t know. And so the Church teaches us to have hope. The Church teaches us to pray for these dearly beloved brothers and sisters.

As the Catechism indicates, things like serious mental illness and depression that can mitigate a person’s guilt in this action. We need to treat these illnesses very seriously and care for the individual. With this kind of care, I have no doubt that many lives could be saved. At the same time, the suicide rate among teens in America has increased 5,000% in the last fifty years. Chances are good that this is not due to a 5,000% increase in mental illness (although it may be a contributing factor). It seems that there is more going on here.

The way we (our modern culture) think also contributes to this problem. Someone might say, “It’s my life, and I can do what I want with it.” No it isn’t, and no, you may not. As Christians, we believe that we are the stewards, not the masters, of our lives. They are, as it were, “on loan” from God. We are not our own. No one is his or her own…in a sense, we belong to each other…as well as to God. In addition, our modern culture does not know what life “means." If we don’t know what life means, then suffering will have absolutely no meaning. But as Christians, we believe that life and suffering both have meaning. Even if a person is in a persistent vegetative state, his or her life has meaning. Because of Christ, even suffering has taken on an entirely new dimension; it can be redemptive. 

When youth, beauty, and pleasure are exalted (just look at the magazines at the grocery store; even the magazines about “growing older” feature people who look like they are in their thirties…they just have grey hair), then the lack of youth or beauty or pleasure is an evil. It is not. Old age is a blessing. Beauty is fleeting and is no way to measure a person’s worth. And the pursuit of pleasure is a dead end. These philosophies lead to despair, Christ leads to hope.

  • 1
  • 2
Mental Health
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Philip Kosloski
This morning prayer is easy to memorize
Daniel Esparza
5 Curious things you might not know about Catholicism
Joachim and Anne
Philip Kosloski
Did Jesus know his grandparents?
J-P Mauro
Reconstructing a 12th-century pipe organ discovered in the Holy L...
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been know...
Cerith Gardiner
5 Ways grandparents impact our lives for the better
Sarah Robsdottir
What we can learn from Elon Musk’s housing decisions
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.