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Vatican not happy about scattering of ashes

October 25, 2016

Ashes from cremations cannot be scattered or kept at home, says the Vatican in new guidelines. Only sacred places approved by local clergy are allowed. Half of all remains are cremated in Germany.

Krematorium Sarg Kerzen Mitarbeiter
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S.Gätke

Vatican doctrinal chiefs reacted to increasing use of cremation in majority Christian nations by issuing new guidelines on Tuesday, insisting that burial remained the preferred method.

Cremation amounted to a "brutal destruction" of the deceased's body, said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, which first legalized cremation in 1963.

"Ashes must be laid to rest in a sacred place", like a cemetery, a church or an authorized place of worship, said the Congregation, in an edict signed by its head, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller of Germany.

Scattering of ashes - on a lawn, at sea, or over a cliff - or keeping "the departed in a domestic residence," was not permitted, it said, adding that "New Age" ideas of fusion with Mother Nature were "contrary to the church's faith."

Not forgotten, not private property

The Vatican said its stance was to ensure that the dead were "not excluded from prayers" of family and community and were not forgotten or disrespected.

"The dead body isn't the private property of relatives, but rather the son of God who is part of the people of God," said the edict.

"We have to get over this individualistic thinking," said Müller.

Hope of resurrection

For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has argued that burial best expressed the hope of resurrection.

Charlemagne, also known as emperor Charles the Great, outlawed cremations in 785 in his Edict of Paderborn.

For reasons of hygiene and economy, cremation came into vogue in German regions from the 18th century.

The Cremation Society of Great Britain said cremation rose to 55 percent in 2014. In the United States, the rate had jumped from 26.2 percent in 2000 to 48.6 percent last year, it estimated.

The Vatican edict also insisted the remains be kept together, contrary to the historic Catholic practice of divvying up saints' bodies for veneration.

ipj/rc (AP, KNA, dpa)