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German bishops warn against alternative burials

"Grieving and remembering requires rituals and concrete places," said conference president, Cardinal Karl Lehmann. "Foregoing structured mourning and remembering of the dead makes it harder to come to terms with the loss."

Lehmann was speaking this week to his fellow German bishops, who had expressed concerns at increasing changes to burial traditions that have taken place across Germany in recent years. These include the trend towards anonymous burial -- burying urns containing ashes in unmarked parts of cemeteries without headstones -- as well as "green burial", the increasingly popular new-age way of laying the dead to rest often described as a more ecological choice.

These alternative ways of dealing with the dead also include scattering ashes in what are known as "peaceful forests."

According to the church, the practice is a throwback to a pagan, pre-Christian age -- and therefore firmly frowned upon.

To many, rising funeral costs also make it a cheaper choice, and the short supply of burial plots is also a factor.

Deutsche Welle says families rent a plot for a period of up to 25 years, and when the time period is over, they'll be approached by the local church or civil authorities about a rental renewal. If there is no next of kin, they can't be found or they choose not to renew the rental, the plot is reallocated and re-used.

Cardinal Lehmann said the church should step up efforts among urban communities in particular, where, he stressed, "people have a shocking relationship to their dead and simply want to dispose of them."

These efforts are expected to include allowing priests to perform burials in non-ecclesiastical robes, in the hope that even people who consider themselves non-religious will decide to have Christian burials.

The bishops also discussed the need for the Catholic Church to allow Muslims to be buried in its cemeteries.

Church Warns Against Alternative Burials (Deutsche Welle 17/2/05)

German Bishops Conference

Australian Bishops to revise funeral rite guidelines (CathNews 19/1/05)
Irish archbishop issues guidelines to keep funerals Christian (CathNews 12/11/04)
South African AIDS toll forcing funeral costs rethink (CathNews 2/9/04)

18 Feb 2005