Vatican issues new set of rules for Catholics who want to be cremated

Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican © Tony Gentile
The Roman Catholic Church has issued a new set of rules on cremations to its believers. The two-page instruction specifies the care and handling of the “faithfully departed” that have been burned to cinders rather than placed into the ground.

In a document released Tuesday, the Vatican said that cremation is not officially prohibited - but they’d prefer if Catholics choose burial.

If Catholics insist on pursuing a cremation, they should know church officials no longer permit the scattering of human ashes. Urns must also be kept in “sacred places” and not at home or divided among family.

The conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted,” read the new instructions. Allowances will be made but only in “grave and exceptional cases” - surely, no pun intended - which will be decided by “episcopal conference or the Synod of bishops”.

To avoid any form of pantheistic, naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding, it is not permitted to scatter  the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on earth, in water or in any other way, or to convert the cremated ashes into any form of commemorative item,” the document clarifies.

The rules, approved by Pope Francis, go on to say the Church “insistently recommends” that the ashes be “laid to rest” in cemeteries or “in certain cases, a church or an area which has been set aside for this purpose” because it showed “dignity and respect for the human body”.

The document goes on to say that a Christian funeral may be denied people planning on scattering the ashes. The Church first allowed cremation in 1963, “but has always frowned on the practice,” Reuters reported.

The Vatican may need to readdress their hardline stance on burial in the near future. In the UK at least, cemeteries are chronically running out of burial space, the BBC reported in 2015.