Friday, February 24, 2006

Something To Think About

You'll have to forgive me -- I'm being a bit of a clericalist today. It's out of character, I know, but still....

One of the major problems I've seen in the American Catholic landscape of the present is the crisis of priestly morale. It's not the sexiest thing to write about so, ergo, it doesn't get much coverage. But it should really concern us all.

We're so used to the almost-superhuman work ethic of so many of our priests that we expect them to do it, everyday, and be fine. Too much in these days, that isn't the case, and the strains of ministry are greater in so many places than they've ever been before.

And, thing is, the ones suffering the most aren't asking for much. I called a friend in a diocese where the clergy are just dropping like flies a couple weeks back, priests asking for and thinking of taking leaves of absence left and right as they're just overwhelmed, burnt out, and need to recharge in order to give even more of themselves -- and they're already going over and above the call of ministry.

I asked what it would take for that presbyterate to start feeling better. The answer was simple: "If only [the bishop] would bring us together and ask us, simply, 'How is your life?' And if he would just listen to what we had to say -- and if he would do something about it."

Regrettably, "How is your life?" isn't a question many of our priests are hearing these days. And the consequences of not thinking about it can be devastating. I was just reading last week's bulletin from the National Federation of Priests Councils (NFPC) and found this letter in it....
Dear Friends,

August 11, 1992,
December 30, 1996,
February 5, 2002,
April 4, 2005 and
July 3, 2005.

Do these dates mean anything to you? No, they probably don’t at first glance. These are dates on which some of our priests died by suicide. And there are others. No words of distress can adequately express our dismay and sorrow over such horrendous deeds. Suicides among clergy and religious men are rare and oftentimes unexplainable. It is true that some of these fathers and brothers were accused, and possibly guilty of serious misdeeds, but not all of them.

These men sometimes suffered from depression, mental illness, or loneliness. The burdens of priesthood and religious life are much heavier today than in the past when your numbers were greater and your burdens were shared with coworkers.

Today, many of you are often responsible for multiple parishes. You not only say Mass and administer the Sacraments; you must also catechize, visit parishioners, fund-raise, and be the “all around caretaker” of the properties, most of which you were not prepared for in the seminary or novitiate. Our Religious who live in Community need support and strength from their brothers, but are often sent to missions where the numbers are few, unrealistic demands are made, and the sources of personal fulfillment are drying up.

Many of us know that you, our religious ministers, our priests and brothers, are in crisis. To whom do you turn when you need help in keeping yourself together? Your natural support system, your Bishop or Religious Superiors, are themselves being attacked on every side and often cannot give full attention or time to the needs of every individual in their care. Certainly they mean well when they claim to be always available to those priests and brothers under their care. But it is naïve and unrealistic to think they can be available to you 24/7. They can’t work all day and be available all night. To go to a therapist is not feasible for several reasons and to confide in another close friend is not always possible or appropriate.

To whom, then, can you go? If your response is, “Well, surely we can find some one in whom to trust,” then why do we still have our men depressed, confused, and disillusioned with their life and ministry?
Apparently, there's a hotline which priests who find themselves overburdened or down can call to either unload or, if necessary, find help. This is a service in these difficult times. And it's so good to know that something's being done about it.

Please keep our good guys in your prayers.