Burial is best — but you can scatter your ashes if you must, rules Vatican

Believers who choose to have their ashes scattered after being cremated are entitled to a Christian funeral, the Vatican said yesterday. The ruling follows the refusal of a parish priest in the Italian Alps to hold a funeral for a local man who had asked to have his remains spread in the mountains. Father Carmelo Pellicone, of the parish of St Etienne in Aosta, told the man’s widow that a religious funeral was impossible because it was against the dogma of the resurrection of the body.

He said that scattering ashes in the countryside or at sea was a “pantheistic communion with nature in death, which is not part of our religion” – a belief held by many priests. Bishop Luciano Pacomio, head of doctrine at the Italian Bishops Conference, said, however, that this reflected an out-of-date mentality.

Father Silvano Sirboni, a noted liturgist, said that although the Church preferred burial, cremation was acceptable in certain circumstances. Writing in the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire he pointed out that the Italian bishops had issued new funeral rites in November which, for the first time, included specific prayers in the presence of ashes rather than a body, and even prayers to be read at a crematorium.

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