The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“Do not leave our priests alone at the altar”

A priest friend in Ireland alerted me to this — and it’s worth reading and praying over, for it reveals a side of the priesthood many of us never hear about.

From the Irish Times:

The Italian alpine village of Villaretto was drowsing under its blanket of snow when, on January 26th, 1985, the parish priest hanged himself, just before the Saturday evening Mass. He left three farewell letters, one addressed to the altar servers. It read: “Be more friendly and generous with your next priest: do not leave him alone at the altar.”

Those words have haunted me for years, for we do leave our priests alone at the altar and the loneliness of many a priest is a crucifixion.

I know, for I once was one. I left and am no longer lonely, but many truly heroic men have stayed and live their crucifixion daily, a far worse one than I ever had to endure.

The loneliness of many priests today is infinitely crueller than anything I experienced 30 years ago. Just to give one example: last month a priest friend of mine in Dublin was talking to a boy after Sunday Mass, when the boy’s father came up to him and said: “Father, I’d rather you stayed away from my son.”

The tiny handful of evil-doers among the clergy, along with the incredibly crass, self-protecting decisions of church leaders, all the way up to the Vatican, have made life hell for many priests.

Have you noticed how few black suits and Roman collars you see on the streets today? Understandably, for no one wants to be spat at and there are some among the public who would just do that.

“Many priests I know are currently short of hope,” writes Fr Tom McCarthy OP in Religious Life Review . “I have spoken with some, still active in ministry, who describe the situation in which they find themselves as ‘hopeless’. Yes, they frequently say Mass and hear confessions just occasionally, but they speak of being aware something is badly broken in the church. And they are not sure it can be fixed.”

Check out the rest. And pray for priests.

Comments read comments(17)
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Deacon Norb

posted August 31, 2010 at 6:45 am

Blessings on you brother for posting this. I found it the first thing this morning and promptly forwarded the link to a half-dozen or so good friends who are priests!

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posted August 31, 2010 at 10:02 am

There is a commenter on the original article, “Malleus Malleficarum”, who said almost precisely what I was thinking as I read the article.

Incidentally, how dare any man taking his own life attempt to cast the responsibility for his decision onto the shoulders of children!
How sad that suicide should be used as an offensive weapon against the innocent.
How telling that Mr Rice cannot see this self-pitying vituperation of the blameless for what it is.

What I saw in Rice’s story of the Italian priest was the toxic stew that underlies so much of the evil in our world: 1) self-pity; 2) a sense of entitlement; and 3) the dehumanization of other people.
And, yes, it terrifies me that so many in the Church — the very people who I expect to “have my back” as I confront sin and evil in my daily life — are completely unable to recognize such vicious evil when they see it.

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Joseph McLaughlin

posted August 31, 2010 at 10:27 am

All the more reason we should pray for our priests and healing for our church. While the sex abuse scandal was, I believe, the lowest point in Church history, it can be turned into an opportunity for grace by admitting our lowliness before God and our powerlessness in the face of grave evil. GOD HEALS ALL WHO ASK, (but does not necessarally cure), and a devotion to the rosary and the conforming of our wills to the will of God is the way to go. PRAY for your Priests and be their friend in Christ. NO Priest, NO Eucharist, No Priest, No Reconciliation, NO Priest , No Confirmation. WE NEED OUR PRIESTS.

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Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher

posted August 31, 2010 at 10:34 am

The priests in Ireland are experiencing what the priests in the US went through when news of the clergy sexual abuse crisis broke here in 2002. There was a similar outcry among the priests in this country: “We can’t hug a child or pat a child on the head without fear of being accused. This has made everyone suspicious of all priests, etc.”
The Charter and Norms put into place at the USCCB meeting in Dallas had resolved some of these issues, with clear guidelines for behavior of priests and diocesan personnel, establishment of diocesan review boards, and education for parents and children. I am assuming similar measures will be made in Ireland. Eventually the furor will die down there as it has in the US. Hopefully the Church there will not become complacent and will continue to implement the necessary safety measures.
I agree that to leave a suicide note blaming children, as the priest mentioned in the article did, is unconscionable. What a burden to place on very young shoulders.
Thousands of young people have suffered from the effects of clergy sexual abuse. Rather than becoming surly and defensive, the priests of the world, even those who are completely innocent, should be humble and repentant as should the bishops, even those who did not move offending priests around or hide their crimes. This is a sin of the whole Church, perpetrated by some, known and hidden by others, resulting in a legacy of depression, loss of faith, low self esteem, anger, sexual dysfunction, anxiety and even suicide among the victims. There has been an unfortunate tendency to blame the victims of this crime, for parish closures, diocesan bankruptcies, and even for the removal of offending priests.
To the priests of the world, Ireland and the United States included, I say, my prayers are with you. I also pray for justice for perpetrators, reconciliation, understanding and healing for parishes affected by the crisis, and peace for all those who have been harmed.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 11:04 am

My pastor just came back from Ireland. He said much of what Pauls and others have said. with one difference; Clergy are being abused by children and teens and the parents are allowing it and of course the priests are taking it. They HAVE to get to the point where the order of the church is restored. Heaven only knows when that will be. In the mean time – PRAY.
Peace to all

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posted August 31, 2010 at 11:32 am

Another little detail I didn’t catch on the first go through… The priest hanged himself right before the Saturday mass — he intended for the server(s) to be the ones who found his body! (I can only pray that it was actually an adult who happened to go looking for Fr when he didn’t show up for mass.)
My mother-in-law has a friend whose husband killed himself while the wife was in the next room. He left behind a note blaming his wife. Without having seen it, you simply have no idea of how devastating, destructive, evil this is.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Rather than becoming surly and defensive, the priests of the world, even those who are completely innocent, should be humble and repentant as should the bishops, even those who did not move offending priests around or hide their crimes. This is a sin of the whole Church, perpetrated by some, known and hidden by others

I’d go even further, Paula. As you say, this is a sin of the whole Church. Every case was a bit different on the details, but it is pretty clear that there were many parishes where there were dozens (if not hundreds) of parishioners who knew that their priest was abusing kids, who did nothing but complain to the bishop, and then when the bishop transferred the priest they gave not a moment’s thought to warning the people in the next parish. “We got rid of him; we solved our problem” seems to have been a pretty common reaction of Catholic laypeople.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Let’s be honest here. God is purifying his Church into a Holy, and faithful remnant. Christ is allowing Catholics to defect from Him. And He’s “thinning out” His Church. That is to say, he’s letting the grapevine “pune itself”. He’s allowing the deadwood, the fruitless, and the diseased branches to simply have things their own way, and arrive where they have wanted to be.
We have three types of Catholics.
-“Cafeteria” Catholics: I’ll-Pick-And-Choose-What-I-Want-In My-Catholicism Catholics.
-“CAPE” Catholics: “Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday” Catholics.
-“Whitewashed Tomb” Catholics: Whose faith and/or morals are apathetic, merely token, or blatant ly opposed to Christ’s Example and Teachings as communicated through the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.
These branches are pruning “themselves” off His vine. Our Lord sadly stands aside, respecting their free will choices, allowing them to have things their way, not His Way. They’re allowing themselves to be cut off from the True Vine, Jesus Christ! Sad.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Which one are you, roman ?

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posted August 31, 2010 at 2:04 pm

In the King James Bible
John 3 3 has the answer

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posted August 31, 2010 at 2:05 pm

This is not a problem that goes just back to when abuse scandal broke, but long before. As vocations have decreased, more and more priests have found themselves alone in rectories. With more responsibilities, less time, and no built-in community, they are more and more likely to become isolated and alone. As more and more has happened to strip their lives of the joys of celibacy, it should not surprize us that more and more priests are going unfulfilled and turning to self destructive actions .. substance abuse, illicit relationships, even suicide.
Our priests need more than our prayers, they need us. They need us to give to them and not just take. They need relationships with us that go beyond a handshake after mass. We should all ask ourselves some hard questions. Do we even know Fr. Bill’s last name (or Fr. Johnson’s first)? When was the last time we invited a priest over for dinner? or out to lunch? Did our parish celebrate the anniversary of his ordination or his birthday?
And to tie this back to the abuse scandal, this is one of the big places where the complicity of the laity comes in. We don’t treat our priests like fellow human beings, so we don’t bother to get to know them. When we don’t get to know them, then we never see worrying signs, or learn worrying stories from the past. When we don’t engage them as fellow human beings, we deprive them of the accountability that those relationships create.
So certainly pray, but do more than just pray.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I recall shortly after the scandal broke in ’02 that our associate pastor became suspect in the mind of one of our parishioners on no firmer ground than that it seemed to her that he more easily remembered the names of the children in the parish than the names of the parents. Happily, nothing came of it, and I don’t know that the associate pastor ever learned of the woman’s suspicions. How horrible to live and work under such a burden.
This has been a tragedy on so many levels. Reforms must be taken seriously, and at all levels of the Church. Recently, a priest was removed from our former parish for soliciting the married male music minister. Yes, he’s not in our parish or diocese anymore, but I learned that he’s back in active ministry. What’s up with that?
Reforms need to be initiated at the societal level, as well. Our diocese recently went through the trial of a popular priest being accused by a man of having been abused back in the 70s. No one knew until a couple of months ago. The bishop and chancellor confronted the priest, who admitted the abuse. Immediately, he was removed from the priesthood and the authorities notified. The bishop was lauded by all, including the victim, for his quick and compassionate response. But, when the now former priest went to trial in North Carolina (because he had taken the boy across the state line), he was given 24 months probation! Not one day in jail for his crime. Some one tell me how that protects children.
As a pediatric nurse, I see cases of abuse all the time. How often are these children removed from the families where they’re abused and the abuser incarcerated? Sadly, it has a lot to do with what social class the abuser belongs, what connections they have and, believe it or not, how well educated and physically attractive the abuser is. Anyone care to guess how often white, upper middle class, beautiful women go to jail for their crimes of abuse vs. poor, black women who are high school dropouts and missing a few teeth? We’ve had too many cases here in east Tennessee of attractive school teachers abusing their students (waaaaay more than priests or ministers). How many go to jail?
Back in the 60s and 70s, there were hundreds of new cases of priestly abuse in the U. S. every year. Last year, 2009, there were six. Over the last ten years, there has been an average of less than two new cases of abuse by Catholic clergy each year. This is the result of the reforms initiated, not only in 2002, but in the seminaries back in the late 70s, early 80s. Had any other institution experienced such a reversal, every other institution would be knocking down the door to learn what they had done to achieve such a remarkable turn around. But, because it’s the Catholic Church, the media isn’t telling the story. And because most people are focused on the Church, the public schools, USA Swimming, other religious denominations and youth organizations aren’t feeling the heat, so they’re not motivated to initiate reforms. Too bad they’re not motivated by actual concern for the children. But, I learned a long time ago that, when it comes to society’s response to the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children, it’s rarely about protecting the children.

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Gerard Nadal

posted August 31, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I too was struck by the suicidal Priest placing the burden of his decision and loneliness on the shoulders of children. WHY did they leave him alone at the altar? The hint is in the self-destruct mechanism that leads people to suicide. No doubt the poor man was tortured, and no doubt the children were affected by his emotional instability. We had a young priest, the brother of one of my seminary classmates, hang himself in the rectory of our parish five years ago.
Cathy, I think it may be too harsh to judge someone who has committed suicide, given the horrifically distorted perceptions that give rise to that behavior, and given the recent findings in neurpoharmacology that indicate increased suicidal ideation and behavior in people who take certain prescription drugs for anxiety and ADHD. Clearly there are biochemical mechanisms that we in science know nothing of at this point.
Getting to the heart of the author’s contention, I am walking the road with Priest friends who struggle with loneliness. I also walk the same road with married friends. Some of these friends go to bed at night and lay themselves down next to the spouse with whom they used to make passionate love and feel like they are all alone on a raft at sea. Some feel trapped by the responsibilities of parenthood in lifeless, loveless, arid marriages.
So marriage is no insulation from loneliness, though it may seem to be from the other side of the fence.
When I was a seminarian, I was taught ascetical theology by Father Benedict Groeschel. One day he was addressing this very topic when he said:
“If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence fellas, it’s because the guy over there waters his. So break out the hose.”
Yes, our priests aren’t very popular today. They are reviled by many. The persecution is growing here, but in other parts of the world our priests are hunted down and slaughtered, their churches bombed and burned. They are beloved by their people because they are out there preaching the gospel fearlessly. I also know what it’s like to be reviled, as not a few fellow scientists regard me with disdain for being a pro-life editor, columnist, public speaker and blog author. I’ve been spat upon on the blog, derided in public. It stings at first, but it’s ultimately all about priorities—eternal priorities.
What I’ve lost in relationships in the scientific community, I’ve picked up tenfold in the pro-life community. We are as lonely as we allow ourselves to be.
As for many guys feeling the sting of not being popular because of their station in life, job well done! We’re supposed to be signs of contradiction: laity, religious and clergy alike. That’s why Jesus didn’t tell us to carry our laurels daily and follow Him. We were told to pick up our crosses daily and follow Him.
St. Paul offers us the best advice. Rejoice, REJOICE in our sufferings for the sake of the Kingdom, Run the good race. Fight the good fight. Keep our eyes constantly fixed on the laurel that awaits in Heaven.
As for the empty churches and confessionals, the days of the people streaming in are over. We live in a pagan world now, so there needs to be a major paradigmatic shift from maintenance mode to Apostolic preaching on the highways and byways. Time to visit the bars in those Roman collars, to get out where the people are. Their respect will grow in proportion to the abuse and insults absorbed and the tenacity demonstrated.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Gerard N. This is one pagan who is happy in her world.:0) Thanks for your post. You are a compassionate man. (which I knew anyway from some of your other posts).
I need to ask in all seriousness, someone who posts here, or perhaps Deacon Kandra. If I understand correctly, suicide is considered a sin in the Catholic Church. Since this was a priest who took his life, how would it be handled? Was he allowed a Catholic Mass etc.?

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted August 31, 2010 at 7:58 pm

At one time, the Church denied a Catholic burial to people who committed suicide. But no more. Catholic funerals are now allowed.
While the Church considers suicide sinful, it also teaches that we cannot know the person’s state of mind when he or she commits such an act.
The Church advises compassion, prayer and charity toward all those affected by suicide — the life that is taken, and the lives that are left behind.
Dcn. G.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Thank You Deacon Kandra, for your response. Appreciate it. Am glad to know the Church now allows a Catholic funeral for a person who has taken his/her own life. Those left behind suffer horribly when this situation is the cause of a death. Certainly the families can get some comfort from the current attitude of the Church. Thanks again.

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Gerard Nadal

posted August 31, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Pagan Sister,
No offense intended in my comment on this being a pagan world ;-( I’m glad you’re happy in tours :-)
Actually, it’s really inacurate to call western society (especially Europe) pagan, as pagan is too good a description. We tend to equate the word pagan with godlessness and licentiousness. In the time of Jesus, pagans were quite religious people. It just happened to be a term used to describe those who did not believe in the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Saint Paul, when visiting Athens, stood and addressed the elders:
“So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs–for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.”
—Acts 17: 22-25
I miss speaking with you as frequently as we did at Waldman’s blog, Pagansister. Be well.

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