ROME — A leading Vatican official says he would “hold the hand” of someone who was dying from assisted suicide, even though he considers it wrong, because “no one is abandoned” by the Church.

Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia was speaking on Tuesday during the presentation of an upcoming symposium on end-of-life issues co-sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, which he heads.

“I believe that from our perspective, no one is abandoned, even if we are against assisted suicide, because we don’t want to do death’s dirty job,” the archbishop said, when asked about one bishops’ conference’s directive that a priest not be in the room if euthanasia or assisted suicide is performed.

“To accompany, to hold the hand of someone who is dying, is something that every faithful must promote as they must promote a culture that opposes assisted suicide,” Paglia said.

But regardless of a willingness to accompany a person through such a decision, the archbishop said Catholics should continue to fight against a “selfish” society that labels the elderly, the terminally ill and others as “not good enough” and a surplus to the world.

Suicide – in whatever form – is a “defeat” for the rest of society, Paglia said: “We can never transform it into a ‘wise decision’.”

However, he admitted he always celebrates the funerals for those who take their own lives because he sees suicide as “a great request for love that was not satisfied. This is why the Lord never abandons anyone.”

Paglia was speaking with journalists at the presentation of a Dec. 11-12 conference on Religion and Medical Ethics: Palliative care and the mental health of the elderly, which is being co-organized by the British Journal of Medicine and Qatar’s WISH foundation.

The archbishop told reporters that even though they were looking “for a rule,” the principle of never abandoning anyone is not a matter of law for him.

“In this selfish society, we don’t need new laws. We need a love supplement, a co-responsibility supplement,” Paglia said.

“We are all necessary, with no one to spare. A society that runs towards a perspective of justifying suicide or leaving behind those who are not ‘good enough’ is a cruel one,” he explained.

“For me, a person who takes their own life shows a failure of society as a whole,” the prelate insisted.

“But it is not a failure from God. We are each children of God. Can a mother abandon her son?”

Paglia noted that the Church says there’s no certainty that even the apostle Judas, who betrayed Jesus before killing himself, is in Hell.

“For a Catholic to say so, it’s heresy,” he said.

The bishop was also asked to share his thoughts about Italy’s growing anti-Semitism, where Senator Liliana Segre, an Auschwitz survivor and a member of the Italian Senate, now travels with a policse escort due to anti-Semitic threats.

Paglia said that a leap of conscience is important, so that the word “‘race’ is banned, and the words ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ are used instead.”

He said that open demonstrations of support for people like Segre from other Italian politicians are indispensable because “there is a surge of anti-Semitism. We see it almost daily, and the Internet favors its growth.”

Paglia also said that it’s important not to forget Pietro Terracina, one of the last Italian survivors of the Holocaust, who died on Sunday.

“Those who forget will repeat, and those who pretend not to remember, risk these tragedies being repeated,” Paglia said.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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