More Catholics Choosing Cremation

Article excerpt

The somber image of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s ashes being cast from the deck of a Navy destroyer captured the public's imagination yesterday, even as news photographers and television cameras were kept away.

It also brought into focus a growing practice.

Roman Catholic Americans are increasingly cremating the remains of their loved ones.

A Notre Dame Parish survey conducted in the early 1990s found 17 percent of Catholic funerals included cremation, forbidden for Catholics 40 years ago.

The trend is fueled by the costs of burial as well as the difficulties of moving bodies in an America where families are increasingly mobile and dispersed, said Sister Ann Rehrauer, who works on issues of liturgy and rites for the National Council of Catholic Bishops.

Even so, church officials stressed yesterday, there are some lines that may not be crossed.

"People have done strange things with cremated remains," she said. "We want the cremated remains to be treated with the same respect as corporal remains."

Catholics cannot scatter their ashes in the wind, from atop a mountain or over water, she said.

That doesn't mean the church bent its rules for the Kennedys.

Since Kennedy's remains were disposed of in a Catholic rite overseen by three priests aboard the USS Briscoe off Martha's Vineyard, Mass., the ashes were either poured en masse or dropped into the water, said Rehrauer.

Not very long ago, cremation was unheard of in the Catholic Church.

Not until 1963, the year an assassin's bullet struck down President John F. Kennedy, did the Vatican allow the faithful to be cremated.

And even to this day, the church has a preference for burial. But it is up to individual Catholics to make their own decision, Rehrauer said.

A traditional aversion to cremation in Christianity, Judaism and Islam stems from concerns that such destruction of the body might interfere with the divine promise of resurrection.

Such a prohibition still is maintained by observant Jews, Muslims and some Christian faiths.

A second concern came out of the fact that Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as other pagan religions cremate bodies. …

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