Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Christmas Tragedy

A New York Redemptorist who battled clinical depression jumped to his death yesterday:
The Rev. John Kiwus, [70], a Kingston native, was dead when he was recovered from the Hudson River by a crew from the Ulster Hose fire company, said Bill McDermott, chief of the East Kingston Fire Department. Rhinebeck is approximately 92 miles south of Saratoga Springs.

Kiwus, a Redemptorist priest, was stationed at the St. John Neumann Residence on Lake Avenue in Saratoga Springs, said the Rev. Patrick Woods, provincial of the Redemptorist order in Brooklyn. Woods said Kiwus suffered for many years from clinical depression and had undertaken many efforts to treat the condition. Kiwus left no suicide note, Woods said. A priest for 42 years, Kiwus trained as a missionary at Mount St. Alphonsus Seminary (now the Retreat Center) in the Ulster County town of Esopus, Woods said. Kiwus spent much of his priesthood in Campo Grande, Brazil, and left missionary work several years ago to return to the United States.
Within the next few days, you'll likely be seeing a gradual ramp-up of stories to mark the fifth anniversary of the first revelations from Boston which gave birth to a continuing national scandal. More about this as we get closer, but for now, in light of this story, let us be reminded of the effect the vicious cycle of the last half-decade has had on many of those priests who remain in ministry in our midst.

We've all heard a lot about the accused and the survivors, and rightfully so. But one of the less reported-on effects of the abuse crisis has been the immense shock and sorrow that the rank-and-file have had to absorb, on top of an even more expedited increase in their workload, waves of closings/mergers and keeping at the leadership of a people feeling bruised and enraged at the years of disclosures only now coming to light.

As many of the guys will tell you, in many ways 2002 marked the sudden arrival of a new world, a changed reality where even decades in the trenches often hadn't prepared them to deal with the new challenges which, so it seemed, had practically manifested themselves overnight.

The state of priestly morale in this country is such that, earlier this fall, the Pope was said to be "very concerned" about it. The new state of things has been dealt with in various ways; many priests have turned to therapy and found it more a renewal experience than they ever imagined. Others have found a renewed camaraderie with the only other people who can truly understand the ins and outs of their daily lives -- i.e. among themselves. And others still have discovered that a recharge of six months or a year away has been the optimal means of taking care of themselves so that, on their return, they could continue an exemplary level of work. (In many dioceses, the waiting list for this latter option is quite extensive.)

However, there are some among the brethren who, despite bearing the best and noblest of intentions, continue to suffer in ways they feel are beyond their control, but which could easily be remedied. While these great and good souls feel that they'd be selfish, ashamed, or needlessly drawing attention to themselves by seeking out some sort of aid beyond the spiritual, that's absolutely, absolutely not the case. If anything, the health and nourishment of the People of God hinges greatly on the health and nourishment its ministers maintain for themselves, and taking care of oneself in whatever way necessary is an important component of better, richer and more fruitful service.

Bottom line: gentlemen, take care of yourselves and keep an eye out for each other. If any of you has felt the need to seek out some kind of help but hasn't yet done so, please take the step. Even now, and possibly now more than ever, more of our people look to you and rely on you than you probably realize, and whatever it takes to restore some peace in your own soul would have a richer yield than you'd think, not just for your own journey, but also for those of the people entrusted to your care.

No matter where you are or what kind of moment you find yourself in, all you lot have a place in my prayers... and I know I'm far from alone in that.