Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Priests are obligated re Last Rites for the dying

April 4th, 2020, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Fr. Chad Ripperger Exorcist and Theologian

LifeSite News interviewed Fr. Chad Ripperger regarding a bishop’s inability to forbid a priest from offering the Last Rites.

The exorcist and theologian said priests are under an obligation to give the sacraments to Catholics in imminent danger of death “regardless of what their bishop says.”

With Catholics in ‘turmoil and anguish’ over unprecedented bans on confession, cancellation of public Masses, and the locking of churches due to the coronavirus pandemic, LifeSiteNews asked Fr. Ripperger for his comments and recommendations.

See full article here: 



3 Responses to “Priests are obligated re Last Rites for the dying”

  1. Diane Harris says:

    If ever there were a moment to point to, saying “Here is an excellent reason for celibacy” — this corona virus and the need to attend to the dying — is just such a moment! It isn’t just one more sick call in the middle of the night. Rather, it is a call from which there may be (2 weeks later) no return. Would the dying person get what his or her soul needs if the priest had six young children and a wife in the rectory? I think not.

  2. christian says:

    I think so, if that priest was a holy, dedicated priest with compassion for the dying. (To answer your last line in your April 5, 2020 8:52 P.M. post).

    Diane- Just because a priest is celibate does not mean he would be automatically willing -and come- at all hours, to give Last Rites to a dying person. Just because a priest is married or married with children, does not mean he would not be willing -and wouldn’t come at all hours to give Last Rites to a dying person. You can’t make those generalizations; you have to look at the priest themselves.

    I am aware of some celibate priests who have a compassionate duty to the dying and are willing -and come at all hours to give Last Rites to the dying. I think very highly of them.

    BUT- From the perspective of a healthcare professional, I, as well as other healthcare professionals that I know, (when able to reach a priest), have personally encountered celibate priests throughout the years, who have refused to come to see a dying patient to give Last Rites when called for that patient, even when that patient was close to death and had begged to see a priest. Unfortunately, this was very common. The usual answers given were, “I’m busy and can’t come”, or “—– —— was given the Anointing of the Sick last month (or last week) when I made rounds, so there is no need for me to come.” (Pretty much implying they’re good to go). For those priests who state they’re busy, or too busy to come, what could be more important than offering aid and solace to person facing death and giving them the Last Rites of the Church to prepare their soul? From my earliest days as a Catholic, it was impressed upon me that administering Last Rites to the dying was considered a pastoral emergency and of utmost importance. For priests who made the disclaimer that the patient had already received the Anointing of the Sick at another time within the month or longer, during rounds were looking at it from a purely legalistic manner, not from a compassionate manner to offer comfort and moral support to a patient afraid and anxious as they face death, seeking Absolution and Prayers of the Church. It was and apparently still is, the practice of many priests to round Catholic patients in the hospital or nursing home, going down a list giving patients the Anointing of the Sick when it’s convenient for them so they wouldn’t be called at an inconvenient time to come and see the patient and anoint them.
    The concept of Final Anointing, Absolution, and Prayers of Church, known as Extreme Unction or Last Rites, appears to be lacking among a lot of priests.

    In the 1990’s, the priest pastor at the church I was attending at the time, complained about people calling the rectory for him past 4:30 P.M. He also stated he shouldn’t have to deal with anyone coming to the rectory past that time also. I know he didn’t like evening parish committee meetings or parish group meetings and put an end to some of them and seldom showed up to others. He insisted that priests shouldn’t live in a rectory next to a church, but in an undisclosed private residence. He said the phone number to that private residence should also be undisclosed. He stated it was unhealthy for priests to live on the same property as the church. He stated priests should be able to have a normal workday like other people and be able to return to their private residence once their workday is over and have the evening to themselves without being disturbed. He stated he shouldn’t have to take any church-related phone calls past his workday, in the evening or during the night. I stated as a healthcare professional, I was regularly called at all hours including late at night and early morning hours to cover a sick call or staffing shortage, or to come in for a sick patient and do 1:1 coverage. He responded, “Well, that shouldn’t happen; they shouldn’t be doing that!” I stated that does happen with physicians, nurses, and many healthcare positions. I said being called at all hours happens in all vocations and occupations involving service to others and public service. I don’t think he cared to hear that.
    He told me for my information, there were already priests who live in private, undisclosed residences with undisclosed phone numbers, and it was growing movement among priests throughout the United States. I learned that he was correct about the growing movement of priests living in undisclosed residences with undisclosed phone numbers after reading an article in the 2017 Lenten Edition of Shared Treasures written by Fr. Alan Hawkins entitled, “Father.”

    Fr. Alan Hawkins, a married Catholic priest with children, wrote about his experience covering calls not only for his own parishioners, but for parishioners of the other Catholic parishes in his area whose celibate priests lived in undisclosed residences with undisclosed phone numbers. When these other priests couldn’t be gotten hold of by their answering services, he was called since his family residence was listed and they knew he was a Catholic priest. Fr. Alan Hawkins mentioned that he never wanted to enter a debate about celibate priests versus married priests, and was grateful for having been given a Pastoral Provision, but after hearing ongoing talk about celibate priests being more willing and able to care for the dying at all hours over married priests, he felt he needed to address it.

    An Excerpt from “Father” by Fr. Alan Hawkins:
    “It is said that married priests would want to live “outside the rectory”. Having lived in rectories/presbyteries all my life, I cannot imagine why this would be supposed. But, as it happens, this could certainly be said of almost all the celibate Catholic priests, both diocesan and religious, of the city in which I ministered for almost 33 years. With one exception, the clergy of the other six Catholic parishes in that city all live anonymously (in the sense that their homes are not in any obvious outward sense “rectories”) at some distance from their churches – and, since they very rarely wear clericals (unlike me!) they readily disappear into the local background.”

    “In the English Anglican pastoral tradition, priests do not have “offices” but “studies”. Parishioners who come to them for spiritual direction, or for any other need, are thus welcomed into a home rather than into a place of business. His personal home is not regarded as being off-limits to parishioners in the way that, say, a doctor’s home would be to his patients. His telephone number – because it is the home number of a family – is not unlisted; and his people can, and do, call him at all times of day and night. Obviously, we hope that that would not be abused; and, generally, it is not. On the other hand, it is impossible to find anything other than a highly-protective answering service if one calls any of the other parishes in this area outside office hours.”

    “Anyway, and for what it is worth, I can provide a stack of anecdotal evidence which testifies to the 24/7 availability of the married priests as opposed to the extraordinary difficulty of finding other priests to deal with pastoral emergencies at night and on public holidays. Let me provide two (out of countless) true examples of what this has meant in practice.”

    “First, on one Christmas Day some years ago I had finally finished a long series of Masses (of the Vigil, at Midnight, at Dawn, of the Day) at about noon. I was no longer young, and I was contentedly but truly exhausted. Knowing this, my son had assisted me as server/Eucharistic minister at this final Mass of the day, and had smoothed my way as far as possible. As we got home afterwards – looking forward, of course, to family lunch, the opening of gifts and so on – the telephone rang. It appeared that a young man had committed suicide that morning, and that a priest was sought. They had called every other parish in the area and could find no one. Eventually they called me because my family telephone number is listed, and I could therefore be found. Because of my exhaustion, my son drove me to the house where the tragedy had occurred. This was not a family from my parish – but, as it turned out, the young man had been at high school with my son, who knew him and his family fairly well. Here, therefore, there was an immediate human, personal, pastoral opportunity which came about because of the “family” context in which my priestly ministry is exercised.”

    “The second story is more recent, concerning something which happened on the eve of a recent Thanksgiving Day. There was a young parish family who live almost directly across the street from my home (itself, of course, adjacent to the church). This family had a toddler, and they were fairly early on in a pregnancy with twins. Suddenly on that Thanksgiving morning, and without any warning, the woman gave birth at home to one of the two babies. Sadly, the little one lived only for a few minutes (but, happily, was baptized in that short time). The mother, with her husband caring for her, was rushed to the hospital where the second child was born. My wife took the toddler and cared for him for twenty-four hours until relatives arrived. When, late in the evening, the husband returned home from the hospital, my family shared our late dinner with him. Then, when he could not bring himself to clear up the after-birth and blood-spattered bed room, my son went over and did so. Forgive me: I find it hard to imagine a celibate priest being able – even if willing – to offer the kind of care that this priest’s family and household provided on this occasion.”

    I, as a healthcare professional as well as others, have experienced problems throughout the years, getting some priest Chaplains and some priests-on-call to come to see a patient and give Last Rites particularly when it falls near suppertime and beyond. I encountered this more recently with a priest-on-call for a hospital in regard to a friend. [Regarding meal times: For a better part of my healthcare career, there was no time for lunch or supper, as well as time for a break due to staffing and the extreme demand of the floor, along with acute situations that arose among patients. On occasions where I had been able to sit down and eat, there were times I had to leave my food and run to take care of an emergency. I worked double shifts fairly often.]

    Regarding the availability and timing of Last Rites:
    In the early 1990’s, my mother was dying of Cancer in a local hospital. The Catholic nun chaplain visited her and talked to us. I requested that my mother receive Last Rites. The priest Chaplain at that hospital was on vacation and there was no other priest assigned to cover for him. My parish priest pastor was away at a Conference out of state. The rectory staff at my mother’s parish told the nun that the priest pastor of that parish was away and not available. Meanwhile, my sister and I prayed the Our Father with our mother. That nun continued to call over a two day period, every rectory in the Diocese of Rochester for a priest to come and give Last Rites, without success. She eventually found out that the priests in the Diocese were at a Priest Convocation and no one was left to handle calls for the hospital. (Obviously, the administration of Last Rites was not a concern for the Diocese of Rochester at that time, as they gave vacation to a hospital chaplain without assigning another priest to cover for him, and they had all the rest of the priests in the Diocese attending a Priest Convocation without assuring priest coverage for the sick and dying).

    My mother died around 8 A.M. on a Wednesday. After an entire day of calling around for a priest, the nun eventually found a retired priest in the evening who said he would come later in the evening to administer Last Rites. We waited along with our father with our mother’s body, from morning to late evening, until the elderly priest came to give her Last Rites. He then said to us, “I know it’s tough, just before Christmas,” and left.

    It was tragic enough, my mother dying young from Cancer after fighting so hard and suffering so much, experiencing such an extreme amount of pain, but then to find out in a hospital with an assigned priest Chaplain, that Chaplain was on vacation and there was no covering for him, so there was no priest at the hospital to give Last Rites. And then to find out that there were no priests around in the Diocese to give my mother Last Rites while she was still alive because they were all at a Diocesan Priest Convocation. Then for us to have to wait with my mother’s body from early morning to late evening until a priest came to give her Last Rites, around 12 hours after she had already died.

    I questioned then and I find myself questioning now, why the Catholic Church has the sacrament of Last Rites when not everyone has access to it or is able to receive it out of no fault of their own, and why some people can receive it while they are still alive and others have to wait to receive it hours after they have already died.

    To sum up my point, you cannot judge a priest regarding their availability and willingness, and their resolution to show up in good time to give Last Rites to a dying patient based on whether they are celibate or married, or married with children. It depends on the individual priest and their level of duty to their calling and their level of compassion for people, in addition to how easily and readily they are able to be contacted. Let’s pray that those priests who have not been so willing and resolute to administer to the sick and the dying in hospitals, nursing homes, other healthcare facilities, or at home, will gain a new found commitment and zeal in administering the sacraments to the sick and the dying. To those priests already committed to administering the sacraments to those who are sick and those who are dying, let’s pray that they continue in their commitment and zeal.

  3. Diane Harris says:

    Thank you, Christian, for your amazingly detailed description of problems and challenges in the priestly responsibility to attend to the sick and dying. You have dimensioned something far beyond my understanding or imagination, which makes me all the more grateful for good, holy priests, whether under promises of celibacy or not. I did not mean to convey the impression that celibacy is a determinator of whether or not a man is willing to respond faithfully to his responsibilities as a priest, but rather how difficult it must be, with something so contagious and deadly as COVID-19, for a priest who is married, and with significant responsibilities to family, to also recognize the impact of his decisions on those closest to and most dependent on him.

    What this COVID situation has brought home to me, in considering the refusal by some prelates to allow their priests to attend to those suffering from this plague, is that what a life long Catholic might be expecting at end-of-life may actually not be there for them when the end is near.

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