Wednesday, November 22, 2023


 Crux has an article of the high number of priests who have committed suicide in Brazil. I think the article is a mixed bag of truths, half-truths and using this horror for ideological synodal purposes. 

You can read the Crux article in full HERE.

Last week, I offered a Requiem Mass for a 17 year old boy who committed suicide on Hilton Head Island. He was soon to graduate High School and begin college in January at the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design. The reason he committed suicide was due to clinical depression and anxiety exacerbated by issues at school along with other issues. 

Most priestly suicides find as its source the same thing. A complicating factor, though, would be illegal moral sexual disorders that are acted out and once caught, the priest feels he has no alternative from prison and public humiliation and derision than to commit suicide. 

In both cases, that of mental and moral disorders, vocation directors and bishops should screen as best as possible candidates for the priesthood who are physically, mentally and spiritually compromised and who might have a history of immoral behavior as it concerns sexuality or other crimes. 

This is an excerpt of the Crux article with my comments embedded in the text in RED:

The building of a more synodal Church, one that can reduce historical problems like clericalism and ecclesial authoritarianism, was highlighted as a possible solution for the disturbances behind the suicide of priests. (I doubt that syndoality can address any of those things!)

“There are a few factors that increase the risks of a priest committing suicide. All of them are somehow connected to clericalism, a problem many times mentioned by Pope Francis,” said Father Lício Vale.
One of the major drivers of emotional distress among priests in Brazil is occupational stress, he said. The country’s total of 30,000 priests is considered strikingly low relative the overall Catholic population, with some experts claiming that Brazil would needs at least 80,000 priests to sustain the current ecclesial model.
(Yes, overwork and “workaholism” can contribute to suicide, but the issue is anxiety and depression which these exacerbate. Pope Francis is not a good example of recommending that priests not be “workaholics”. Unlike his predecessors, he never goes to Castlegandolpho for vacations or time away. I am not sure he has actual friends, or leaves the Vatican at all for time off! A lack of priests can cause priests to work too much. Living in one’s office, literally is a disaster! Priests need separation from office/church campus to a separate place to live that in a communal setting is large enough for privacy and the ability to take the day off without be called upon by anyone to do something on their day off! Many priests have to go somewhere else, rent of motel or hotel room to get some peace and quiet. That is wrong, but I don’t think this causes priestly suicides something else does as I have already written!)

“We work too much. You’re not only in charge of giving the sacraments, but you also need to work as a psychologist, a community organizer, a social worker, and so on. So much stress can rapidly become burnout syndrome,” Vale said. (Bingo! Pope Francis has recovered the idea that a priest being a counselor or a social worker is more important or equal to his priestly functions. There is no reason that a priest should be expected to be a psychologist, a community organizer, a social worker or whatever. As a pastor, he needs to coordinate this works, and find qualified lay or religious who can carry out these functions. A priest does not need to be a social worker! Many priests think they aren’t Christian enough if they aren’t at a soup kitchen, a social just rally or some such other thing. It is very 1960’s and the root of it is a loss of the priestly and cultic ministry of the priest! That is is primary role, to pray, to offer sacrifice, preach, teach and rule, based on the Sacraments, Scripture and Tradition! Everything else can be done by religious and laity! Recovering priestly identity is the key!!!)

Another central problem is loneliness. Most priests come from other cities and live alone at the rectory, without contact with their families and without real friends, he said. (Yes, this is a problem. Also a problem is the unhealthy living in rectories. There are no longer full time housekeepers to clean the house, and provide meals. Thus priests eat unhealthy things, taking the path of least resistance by purchasing fast food and junk food and processed foods. Even if a priest lived alone, to know that someone is caring for his home, preparing his meals and providing laundry care is a wonderful gift and a quite healthy one to say the least. Stop criticizing the perks that priests have that help with isolation and horrid living conditions!)

“Especially for diocesan priests, ecclesial life can be an experience of living alone. Lay communities have difficulties to grasp the priests’ humanity. People would rarely invite their priest to take a beer. Most of them demand a certain attitude of correctness from him,” he said. (As I got older, and this is because I am an introvert who has to work hard at being extraverted, I did not want to be going to meals in too many different parishioner’s homes. One or two good friends, either priestly or laity, is plenty for me. But each priest has different needs. The key is to have good and healthy friendships, which is learned and an art and sometimes mistakes are made in who is chosen.)

Priests end up assuming a superman attitude, Vale pointed out, requiring from themselves an almost unreachable individual level of moral faultlessness. (True for some but not all. Some priests are quite lazy actually and that is a separate conversation.)

“All those aspects are reinforced by clericalism and can damage mental health,” Vale said.
He argued that in order to enhance the clergy’s quality of life and avoid mental health issues, the Church needs to implement changes in its ecclesial model. (Recovering some pre-Vatican II elements of priestly life would help too. Diocesan priests need a kind of rule of life. Housekeepers to keep the rectory clean, provide meals and priests expected to eat together. If a priest lives alone and there are other parishes in a city or nearby, should get together for common meals throughout the week.)

“Synodality is a key element in that process, because it generates closeness. Walking side by side, the priest and his community are closer and his humanity is more easily recognized and experienced,” he reasoned. (B and in Bull and S as in Crap! Synodality is a contrived walking together. It might be needed for the priest who rules the parish to have a good staff, paid and volunteered and others assisting him through pastoral councils, committees and the like, but it doesn’t generate closeness. That happens naturally and by the priest making good decisions aboout his priestly health, physical health and spiritual and psychological health. He doesn’t need a synod of people, like helicopters, hovering over him! Bishops should help priests to live healthy lives and screening for healthy men to become priests is an absolute necessity too!)


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

"Many priests think they aren’t Christian enough if they aren’t at a soup kitchen, a social just rally or some such other thing."

On the other hand, if a priest says to this congregation, "You should go work in the soup kitchen or attend the social justice rally or take part in the annual Life Chain in our community," but never shows up, even if infrequently, there's a problem of credibility.

Should priests and bishops stop going to the March for Life in Washington? Should the priests who took part in the Civil Rights marches in the South in the 60's not have done so?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

A priest should show up at his school, CCD programs, outreach ministries and public rallies. He need not do so every day, he need not organize these things or usurp the roles of others in charge. he need not go to every rally or demonstration. He should, though, make sure someone goes.

In other words, teach, rule and sanctify as a priest is ordained to do and delegate the rest to others including the administration of the parish. He need not micromanage construction, personnel and the rest of that sort of thing.

Sophia said...

Sophia here: Father you have nailed the essential, contributory factors of this unfortunate reality. Your incisive commentary, informed by your years of observation and experience, could be used as a mini tutorial in Seminaries. Maybe you could be a guest speaker on this topic! This reminds me that several years ago I gifted a previous Pastor- or at least my Parish- with a copy of the book entitled "Priests are People Too".
Even though you applied your assessment to the unique circumstances of the Diocesan Priesthood, the most important of these factors are also relevant to suicidal behavior in the general population.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Sophia - Really?