The University of Portland’s newspaper, The Beacon, published an article last week about the death of a student at the school. Their choice of headlines: “Suicide claims UP senior” got the newspaper pulled by university administrators.
By all accounts, it was the headline not the article that got the newspaper pulled. Indeed, the article itself describes the senior as well-liked and upbeat and quoted a number of his friends describing him in a positive manner.
While no one disputes the right of the university president — who is after all the publisher — to remove the paper from the newsstands, it was an unfortunate choice based on an aged Catholic theology that no longer applies to today’s Church and that no longer resonates with those unfamiliar with pre-Vatican II thinking.
Historically, suicide was considered by the Church to be a sin. Someone taking his own life was thought to be throwing away God’s greatest gift, and therefore ineligible for entrance into heaven. The Church believes now that anyone committing suicide is not of their right mind because no sane person would choose that course of action. In other words, without free will there is no sin, and in suicide we find a person who is exhibiting some manifestation of a mental illness which bars full freedom of choice. (Euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are a related but separate matter.)
Today’s university students do not have the historical or theological memory of pre-Vatican II teaching. In fact so much of American society is a society of death and moral relativism that one could almost understand who some could view suicide is just one more choice. I am not saying that that is the position of most university students and I am certainly not saying that was the mindset of the editors who wrote the headline to this story. But it is true that suicide does not carry the same stigma that it once did and what we’re left with is unfortunate censorship.
Censorship in this context is doubly unfortunate because of the long-standing problems with the Catholic hierarchy and secrecy and because it is in this case a direct denial of the truth. The university would do well in the future to remember its own motto.