SEATTLE, Wash. — A priest who was photographed blessing a man who planned to commit suicide said Friday that he was unaware of the man’s intentions, and that if he had known what the man was planning, he would have acted differently.
“I believe that life is a gift. I believe that it is a gift from God and an opportunity every day to learn from God and love as God is trying to teach us to love though scriptures and the examples of Christ and the saints. I feel terrible that there is an insinuation that I, or a member of the clergy or religious order or this archdiocese, would think otherwise or would make a public statement otherwise,” Father Quentin Dupont, SJ, told America magazine Aug. 30.
Father Dupont is a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, and periodically celebrates weekend Masses at St. Therese Parish in Seattle.
A photograph of the priest was part of an Aug. 26 Associated Press story profiling Robert Fuller, a St. Therese parishioner who committed medically assisted suicide May 10.
On May 5, Father Dupont, along with the parish community, blessed Fuller at a Mass he had announced as his last.
Father Dupont told America that when he conferred the blessing, “I was absolutely, unequivocally unaware of Mr. Fuller’s intention [to kill himself]. I’m not part of the conversations that happen in [the St. Therese] community all the time. I was given very limited information, and I had very limited knowledge about Mr. Fuller’s situation.”
“I did what I thought was pastorally expedient with the knowledge that I had. And it turns out I did not have key pieces of the story, otherwise I would have reacted completely differently.”
Members of the St Therese parish community were aware of Fuller’s plans at May 5. He had by then announced that his funeral would be held at the parish May 17 and arranged for a parish choir to perform at the “end-of-life” party he threw in the hours before his suicide.
Father Dupont, however, told America that he was not told of those plans when he arrived at the parish May 5.
“I arrived at church and I saw a parishioner there and I asked how he was doing. He said, ‘Well, this is Bob Fuller’s last Mass,’ and I was puzzled and so I asked him what he meant. He said, ‘Well, Bob is going to die.’ I didn’t know much about Mr. Fuller. I knew he was very ill and I thought that meant that his treatment had run out, that he was getting off treatment and that Mr. Fuller knew he had days to live. And I continued my way to the sacristy and I met another couple of parishioners who said likewise, that this was Bob’s last Mass. Through those conversations, I became aware that this man that I knew was very ill would like a blessing.”
“So we talked about doing a blessing at the end of Mass. We had Mass and at the end of Mass we blessed him.”
“I thought the pastoral situation I was walking into was with this very ill man who knows he’s about to die. I wanted to make sure he felt cared for by the church.”
Father Dupont said that he knew a television camera was at the May 5 Mass “because Bob was there. I didn’t probe what story they were writing. I thought they were making a story about this man who was facing great health difficulties and who had a life of faith, which I assumed was an interesting story to tell in a day and age which is heavily secularized.”
“There was a photographer there. I do not at all remember being introduced to this photographer as a member of the press. I was never asked for an official release about images that would be taken of me or photos that would be taken of me. I thought that this photographer was there because this was [Mr. Fuller’s] last Mass and he wanted a memento, a memory, of this Mass, this community, this time, when later he would be gravely ill in bed and he wanted to feel the strength and the love of the community with him. And I thought this was a professional photographer that he had hired to take some pictures to have them as memories and souvenirs for himself,” he said.
The priest said that a parishioner told him about Fuller’s suicide plans shortly after the Mass, at the parish social hour.
“I had absolutely no idea what his intentions were before that. The moment I learned about his intentions, I was completely stunned. I was shocked; and I was just really really puzzled. I remain very puzzled,” the priest told America.
Father Dupont addressed a March 16 post in which Fuller claimed that he had the approval of a priest to end his own life.
“I have absolutely no reservations about what I am doing,” Fuller wrote in that post. “And my pastor/sponsor has given me his blessings. And he’s a Jesuit!!!”
Father Dupont said that he was “absolutely not” the Jesuit priest Fuller referenced, and that he did not know who the priest might be. Neither the Archdiocese of Seattle nor the West Province of the Society of Jesus have indicated what priest Fuller might have been referencing, or if the matter is under investigation.
Nor has the archdiocese addressed questions related to the parish choir’s performance at the party Fuller hosted leading up to his suicide.
The archdiocese has addressed Fuller’s funeral, which he scheduled with the parish prior to his suicide.
In its Aug. 28 statement, the archdiocese said that when Fuller discussed his desire for a funeral with his pastor, Father Maurice Mamba, the priest discussed the gift of life and tried to convince him to change his mind. He made it clear that neither he nor the parish could support his plan to take his own life.”
After it was clear Fuller would continue with his plans, Father Mamba contacted Archbishop Sartain, who agreed that “it is the church’s responsibility to pastorally care for those who mourn. With this in mind, the archbishop gave permission for the funeral with certain conditions to ensure there was no endorsement or other perceived support for the way in which Mr. Fuller ended his life,” the archdiocese said.
Fuller announced the arrangements for his own funeral one week before he died, and days before the parish blessing. He scheduled the funeral for May 17. The archdiocese did not indicate when Sartain granted permission for the funeral, or when Father Mamba requested it.
For his part, Father Dupont said that he feels “shocked” by the attention the story has received.
“I feel absolutely terrible about the confusion that has arisen out of this story,” the priest told America.
“The last thing I want to do is be part of a confusion, and I certainly have no desire to question the church’s teaching on the sanctity of life.”