Q — My father died and his body has been cremated. He loved his cats, and he wanted his ashes in the backyard where his cats are buried, so he could be with them. He was not a Catholic (an avowed atheist, in fact), but I am. Would it be a sin for me to honor his request? (Carrollton, Georgia)

A — In 2016, the Vatican clarified the remains of the deceased should be treated with respect and laid to rest in a consecrated place. That is because the human body constitutes an essential part of a person’s identity and will one day be reunited with the soul.

This instruction simply reinforced the Catholic Church’s position. (In 1997, an appendix to the church’s Order of Christian Funerals explained “the practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the church requires.”)

But your father, a non-Catholic, was not bound by the church’s guidelines; nor do I think he meant his wish as a public repudiation of the church’s belief in a bodily resurrection. So I would say that you are free to honor his wishes. (And I know when you visit his backyard you will remember to pray for his eternal happiness in the company of the Lord.)

Q — I want to donate my remains to medical science. Does the church approve or disapprove? (Chesapeake, Virginia)

A — The church not only allows this but encourages it. Your donation could enable doctors, nurses and medical researchers to save lives in the future.

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ policy document Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services states that Catholic health care facilities should provide the means for those who wish to donate organs and bodily tissue both for transplant and for research (No. 63).

Likewise, St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life” called organ donation an act of “everyday heroism” that nurtures a genuine culture of life (No. 86).

A couple of cautions: First, a funeral Mass should still be held, even without the presence of the body (i.e., a memorial Mass), to entrust the deceased person to the Lord and to allow the family to mourn and pray together.

Next, following the medical research, any bodily remains should be entombed or buried in consecrated ground.

And finally, it is wise for someone intending to donate his or her body to communicate that desire to family members well in advance to avoid surprise or family friction at the time of death.

The writer is based in Albany, N.Y. Questions for him can be submitted at catholicsentinel.org, or emailed directly to sentinel@catholicsentinel.org.