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Updated: May 08, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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Amid the Thai government´s war on illegal drugs, the president of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of Thailand says the Church will refuse funeral Masses to Catholics who produce or sell drugs.

Conference president Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu of Bangkok explained the pastoral policy concerning illegal drugs to some 100 priests of Bangkok archdiocese during a meeting April 28-30. The bishops agreed on the policy during their plenary meeting in March.

"If Catholics who die are found, with convincing proof, to have been producers or dealers of illegal drugs, they will incur a Church penalty. Priests must not say a funeral Mass for them and must not allow them to have a Christian wake at a church hall," Cardinal Michai said.

The cardinal explained that these are "people who destroy society," especially the lives of children and young people. Their drug dealings are "the acts of indirect murder" of innocent people, he said.

According to the Church leader, the seriousness of the illegal drug problem in the country prompted the bishops´ conference pledge its support to the government´s anti-drug campaign. Delegates from the bishops´ conference joined other religious representatives in March at the pledge function.

Canon 1184 of the Code of Canon Law says Church funeral rites are to be denied to "manifest sinners to whom a Church funeral could not be granted without public scandal to the faithful." Nevertheless, the Church allows the remains of the deceased to be interred in a Catholic cemetery.

Thailand´s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra initiated a nationwide "War on Drugs" Feb. 1 to eradicate the use of illegal drugs, primarily amphetamines or "ya ba" (crazy drug) as they are known locally. He said they cause great damage to society and appealed to religious and civic groups to join the government in its campaign through Dec. 2, with the goal of presenting its success to King Bhumipol Adulyadej on his birthday, Dec. 5.

The Church policy asks "all pastors and the lay faithful to make Catholic communities, churches and schools throughout the country a drug-free zone."

Bishop Joseph Sangval Surasarang of Chiang Mai told UCA News he also made the conference´s pastoral directives known to his priests. But he added he is not aware of any Catholics involved in the illegal drug trade.

The diocese based 700 kilometers north of Bangkok borders Myanmar, from where 700 million tablets of amphetamines reportedly came into Thailand the last year, mainly for domestic consumption. It also borders Laos. The mountainous area where the three countries meet, home to many tribal groups, is known as the Golden Triangle, the most well-known source of opium and heroin production in the world.

Chiang Mai diocese has a pastoral policy that tribal people who wish to receive Baptism must pledge not to use heroin.

Monsignor Pradit Vongvari, vicar general of Ratchaburi, told UCA News that Bishop John Bosco Manat Chuabsamai also informed his priests there about the new policy. The diocese 80 kilometers west of Bangkok also borders Myanmar.

The vicar general said priests in the diocese are "uneasy" about the policy, which they feel may be too "severe" against the living relatives of the deceased. He added that the diocese already imposes a penalty in such situations by allowing only one priest to say the funeral Mass. "Catholics will know this is a penalty," he explained, "because usually many priests concelebrate at a funeral Mass, especially for a reputable people."

Father Chatchaval Supalak, a parish priest in Klong Toey, a drug-infested slum area of Bangkok, told UCA News he previously denied a funeral Mass for a Catholic known to be a drug dealer who was killed. The priest said he held a prayer service and the family took the remains for burial.

Prime Minister Thaksin told the press that three months into the War on Drugs, 2,582 people had been killed, 66 of them by police, and 58,000 arrested. Government and police officials claim nearly all fatalities are due to drug traffickers killing other traffickers to prevent them from becoming police informants. However, human rights and some Church groups have voiced concern about the number of killings in the war on drugs.

Government information also says more than 1.2 billion baht (US$28.2 million) in property and drugs have been confiscated.

Redemptorist Father Joseph Maier, director of the Human Development Foundation in Klong Toey, told UCA News he wishes the government would use the confiscated money to help poor children. He says poverty is the root cause of the drug problem and needs to be addressed.

The Thai Catholic Church runs a number of centers around the country to rehabilitate drug addicts.


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