Vatican: Cremation ashes must not be scattered or kept at home

Ruling says deceased’s ashes should be stored in ‘sacred place’ such as a cemetery or church

The Vatican has said that Catholics who want to be cremated cannot have their ashes scattered or kept at home.

Rather, the deceased’s ashes are to be stored in a “sacred place” such as a cemetery or a church.

Tuesday morning’s ruling came from German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine Of The Faith (CDF), the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog.

Speaking at a Vatican news conference, Cardinal Muller said that in recent decades there had been a huge increase in many countries, both in the practise of cremation rather than burial, and in the “domestic” conservation of the ashes of the deceased.


“We come from the earth and we shall return to the earth,” Cardinal Muller said, confirming the church’s preferernce for burials.

“The church continues to incessantly recommend that the bodies of the dead be buried either in cemeteries or in other sacred ground.

“In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, burial is the most appropriate way to express our faith and hope in bodily resurrection,” he said.

Cardinal Muller did however acknowledge that cremation is nonetheless "not prohibited" by the Catholic Church.

For most of its 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church only permitted burial, arguing that this best expressed the Christian hope in resurrection.

In 1963, however, the Vatican allowed cremation as long as it did not suggest a denial of faith about resurrection.

Tuesday’s ruling has reiterated that teaching but has issued new guidelines for the conservation and treatment of the ashes of the dead.

Having consulted with the relevant Vatican congregations as well as with bishops’ conferences all around the world, the CDF concluded that the ashes of loved ones must be kept “in a holy place, that is a cemetery or a church or in a place that has been specifically dedicated to this purpose”.

“The conservation of ashes in the home is not allowed. Furthermore, in order to avoid any form of pantheistic or naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding, the dispersion of ashes in the air, on the ground, on water or in some other way as well as the conversion of cremated ashes into commemorative objects is not allowed,” Cardinal Muller said.

Speaking at the news conference, Msgr Angel Rodriquez Luna, a “consultor” with the CDF said that while some people might argue that the choice to preserve a loved one’s ashes comes from wishing to remain close to them in memory and prayer, “it must be observed that the deceased faithful form part of the church, they are the object of prayer and of the memory of the living and it is only right that their remains be received by the church and looked after with respect.”