Crematoria denied to priests

  • Beginning in 2015, only short services will be allowed: no more than 10 minutes.
  • Mgr Léonard wants Catholics to return to the church.

The archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels no longer wants religious services to be conducted exclusively in crematoria, according to De Standaard’s weekend edition. This decision, made in agreement with Belgium’s bishops, was made public in a Catholic journal.

Mgr. Léonard wants his flock to mourn in church, the only location where Catholic mass can be held, particularly for funerals. From now on priests and deacons may only be present in crematoria for a short farewell service (a benediction, for example) that may last no longer than ten minutes.

Chris Coenegrachts, the director of the Lochristi crematorium, the largest in Belgium, thinks Mgr. Léonard’s decision will have significant consequences. “Each year we host 2,800 services. 1,600 of them, or 40%, occur with one of the 4 deacons authorized by the bishop. These guys do very good work. They talk with the mourners. They listen to memories of the deceased. A real connection is established with the church. I don’t understand why that has to be stopped.” 

The presence of priests or deacons at cremation services goes back over 30 years. In 2003, bishops made this practice official. Priests received an official authorization to go to crematoria to help grieving families. Tommy Scholtès, spokesperson for the Conference of Bishops thinks this situation has gotten out of hand. “The goal wasn’t that our priests and deacons would perform complete funeral services in the crematoria. The intention was to assure their presence. Now, people think that deacons and priests are employees of the crematoria.”

The first step in retreat happened three years ago when the Kortrijk crematorium was opened and the bishop of Bruges ended the services. The crematorium’s website stated, “A religious service during the ceremony leading to the cremation is not possible.” Only a short service by a deacon, usually a woman designated by the diaconate, is authorized, lasting ten minutes. Jan Sabbe, the Kortrijk crematorium’s director, indicates that 20% of families use the deacons’ services.

From now on, this will be the rule across the country: Belgium will align itself with Kortrijk. “We are not doing this as an act against the crematoria, but for the church,” Tommy Scholtès continues.

The measure adopted by the bishops will be implemented between now and 2015: “we don’t want to upset things.” The church wants the faithful to return to their parish churches for funerals, not to use priests or deacons whom they don’t know.

In Brussels, we are told, “4 or 5 priests or deacons, usually or mostly the same ones, perform short farewell services including the benediction of the coffin. It doesn’t last any longer than ten minutes, according to one funeral director. The services of the clergy cost €95 for a ten minute service. Sometimes, they string 5 to 10 services together each day.” A nice bundle.

M.M.

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