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Guidance for the Protection of Places of Worship
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Rise in priest suicides
prompts call for helpline in Ireland
Article contributed to
The Catholic News Agency
With Personal Comments, Reactions and Reflections
Contributed by; CCGPC Columnist and Blogger Bishop Elect +Benito P. Sagra
Dublin, Ireland, Jul 3, 2017 / 04:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Besides a shortage of vocations, Irish priests are facing an even more harrowing kind of crisis.
At least eight priests in Ireland have committed suicide in the past 10 years, according to recent reports given at meetings of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), and many priests are sounding the alarm about a severe dip in morale and a mental health crisis
among the country’s clergy.
The drop in priestly morale has clergy calling for a confidential helpline to be set up
for priests needing support.
At a recent ACP meeting, an attendee reiterated the request: “Our morale is affected because we are on a sinking ship. When will the ‘counter-reformation’ take place? We’re like an All-Ireland team without a goalie. We need a national confidential priests’ helpline.
We’re slow to look for help.”
The concerns of a severe dip in the morale and well-being of priests in the country have been raised by the 1,000-member clerical group in at least three different meetings in the past few months.
Fr. Roy Donovan, a spokesman for the ACP, told IrishCentral in May that besides the priests who are speaking up, he believes many more elderly churchmen are suffering in silence, and don’t know where to go for help.
The factors for the crisis in morale and mental health are several-fold, priests have said.
Like much of the world, Ireland, once a thriving Catholic country, is facing a serious vocations crisis. In 2004, Ireland had more than 3,100 priests. By 2014, the last year data is available, the number had declined by more than 500, with 2,627 priests in the country, though the number of active priests is likely closer to just 1,900.
This shortage leads to a phenomenon called clustering, where several parishes are combined into one for lack of leadership, increasing priests’ workload and subsequent stress, and forcing many priests to work well beyond retirement years because of the lack of new vocations.
“These men lived through a time when there were plenty of vocations and their churches were full at Mass, so there's a loss of esteem. Also, in the past they would have had live-in housekeepers. Now most don't and are on their own and so feeling a lot more isolated and lonely, as well as feeling nervous and more vulnerable,” Fr. Brendan Hoban, one of the founders of ACP, said during a meeting in November 2016.
Also, starting in the 1990s, the Catholic Church in Ireland was rocked by a sex abuse scandal that resulted in a massive decline in both vocations and in the faith of the laypeople.
Priests reported being disheartened by the declining faith in the people they serve, “who have so little contact with the church from First Communions to funerals,” according to minutes from the meetings.
Priests’ confidence “has been eroded when we see so many people going through the motions of faith,” they said.
Recently, the Church in Ireland has also been rocked by negative press regarding the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, and the Sisters there “did a disservice by not clarifying exactly what happened. They need to do so immediately. It makes our job impossible, especially as we face a storm on abortion next year,” the priests noted at a meeting.
Their requests included the hiring of a media person who could speak clearly for clergy and bishops in times of crisis. The country is also facing an ongoing, heated debate about whether or not to legalize abortion.
The priests also acknowledged that they need to be better about asking for help when they need it.
“We need to unmask and say ‘I need help!’ There is a great sense of ‘being alone,’ making our own way in the diocese. There is a lack of dialogue among priests in the diocese. Yet, people are fantastic and generous in parishes, if given half-a-chance.”
Personal Comments, Reactions and Reflections…
It is very sad and disheartening to note that the priests who are expected to be the leaders and example of faith and morals will the ones to lose faith and heart in the grace and dignity of their priestly office and commit suicide as factually reported by the article. This only attests to the reality of a serious crisis in the Catholic Church, especially in the Holy Office of the Priesthood. In the Gospel of St. Mathew Chapter 5 Verse 13, "
Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored?" We cannot deny the situation in our world today of priests being less popular as before and being marginalized in a fast changing society especially in the field of social media communications. For priests to stay happy and zealous in doing their ministry, there is a great need for a new cultural adaptation to transcend low morale and stressful demands of their discipleship in the modern era.
Having lived the life of a priest for 27 years now I recommend the following measures:
1) Going back to the basics. The priest is an "Alter Christus" or "Another Christ" in the midst of the world. The priest must go back to the life of being Christ centered and daily motivated by prayer and the Word of God. The priest must also go out of himself and his own comfort zone and walk the streets as Christ did, looking for the lost sheep, feeding the hungry and thirsty not just for food and water but most especially for love and kindness.
2) Reaching out to fellow priests and establishing support group or community with them. When Jesus formed his first community of apostles, He called them together to form a bond of brotherly love and friendship. It is the same with priests today. Christ called them together to have fraternal unity and bond of charity among them.
3) The priest has to have an honest and heart to heart relationship with his bishop to whom he owes total obedience and allegiance. The Bishop, who has the fullness of the priesthood, must also communicate and visit his priests regularly to ensure their safety, holiness and mental health.
4) The priest who is always overburdened with the loads of ministry must find some time to relax and enjoy a good recreation. A short vacation is necessary or a day of quiet prayer and recollection can help rejuvenate the zeal for ministry.
5) The priest must be a man of the times. He must listen daily to deepest longings of the hearts of the people for God, for justice, for a safe haven, for a home, food and security in the midst of an often cruel, indifferent and hostile world.
CCGPC Columnist and Blogger
Ministry of St. John the Evangelist
Bishop Elect +Benito P. Sagra
o.s.p., m.s.j.e., s.o.e., s.o.s.b.n.b.