We need to talk about priests

By Michael Kelly

The death by suicide of Belfast-based Fr Matt Wallace has stunned many people. He is the third Irish priest to take his own life in the last 18 months. People are understandably shocked by the particular circumstances of each tragedy. But when the dust settles around the death of Fr Wallace, and his brother-priests and parishioners begin to pick up the pieces, it’s vital that some good can be brought out of this tragedy. There is a danger that when the shock dies down, we all get back to business as usual and there is no discussion about the wider questions.

For a start, we need to talk about the pressures facing priests in ministry today. Parishioners and bishops need to think seriously about expectations. Many priests are at breaking-point simply keeping the show on the road and there is little or no thought about realistic reform of parish life. While the number of priests serving in many parishes has fallen sharply in recent years, the expectations largely remain the same. In most dioceses, the (usually unsaid) advice is simply to keep one’s head down and get on with things. A culture of deference means that most priests won’t tell the bishop when they’re in trouble and need more support. There’s also a culture of not wanting to bother those in authority. Where problems arise, the solution is often short-term or little more than a sticking-plaster.crisis

Priests are used to biting their lips. They often proceed without complaining. Interactions with their bishops rarely go beyond superficial chit-chat about football matches. There’s usually little room for real talk about pressures in ministry.


Many priests are lonely. Loneliness, of course, is part of the human condition. But do priests have someone to turn to? Do they have friends with whom they can experience the human need for intimacy and to know oneself to be loved?

Fr Thomas McGlynn put it well at Fr Wallace’s funeral when he observed that more priests face burnout and struggle with loneliness and the realisation “that we belong to everyone and to no one, even though we have the positive and affirming love of families, friends and parishioners”.

Fr McGlynn went on to point out that a “life of service in a bruised and wounded Church can be challenging and is both physically and mentally demanding. It is a hard truth and one that cannot be denied or dismissed and for some it has become intolerable or very difficult to bear”.

Some Catholics have tended to see their priests as Superman-like figures without the same feelings and emotional needs of others. It’s as if the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders overrides all human issues. But it doesn’t.

Too many priests are over-extending themselves. Catholics need to question the notions of priesthood that we have created. Is it really healthy that that the men who spend every waking moment running from pillar to post attending meetings, functions and calling bingo numbers are the people we admire as model priests?

Are we forgetting that unless a priest is himself nourished in body and soul, then he will have nothing to give? Sadly, we can all think of examples of priests who appear bitter and resentful, or are simply weary and running on empty having long-since spent themselves in the service of the Lord with little else to give other than a round of constant busyness. How many Irish Catholics are unwilling to approach their parish priest about anything because they don’t want to overburden a man whose life is marked by an almost frantic desire to keep everything going? At the same time, there are many parishioners who keep a vigil-like eye on their priests: “He has a nice sun tan” or “he likes his golf” which are generally offered as stinging critiques rather than casual comments.

Many priests are also over-burdened by expectations of nominal Catholics who no longer attend Mass or practise their faith. While not regular Massgoers, most Catholics in Ireland still want their children baptised, want to get married in the Catholic Church and want a Catholic funeral. Most of these people have little or no awareness of the challenges facing the local priest since they rarely – if ever – darken the door of the church. Yet, the sense of expectation that a priest will be available at a moment’s notice is palpable. Many parishes are also under financial pressure since many of those who avail of the services on an infrequent basis don’t contribute to the parish.


We need to be realistic and name the fact that the last number of years have been very demanding and demoralising on priests. Many are subject to constant carping and criticism: there are not enough Masses, there is not enough home visits, there needs to be something more for young people…and it goes on.

Since Vatican II we have increasingly talked about co-responsibility between people and priests for the future of the Church. While it’s true that some priests are resistant to this, too many parishioners are also content to be passive. They look on at the increasing workload of priests and the declining numbers as if they are mere observers rather than people empowered by Baptism to take responsibility for the Church.

The issue of clerical sexual abuse and the disastrous handling of allegations by bishops and religious superiors has also had a devastating effect on priests. Many feel subjects of public suspicion and a sense of being sitting ducks vulnerable to false allegations and rumours. Research shows that the general public vastly overestimates the number of priests who have abused children. This is very wearing. Many priests feel demoralised by the fact that they were not responsible for any mishandling of abuse, but live now in the knowledge that bishops are so keen to be seen as squeaky clean on the issue, the last place they will get support from in dealing with a false allegation is their bishop.


Priests have also become constant subjects of ridicule for comedians and commentators. It is taken for granted in many so-called ‘enlightened’ circles that priestly celibacy automatically produces weirdoes. Earlier this year, best-selling author Marian Keyes proposed a “National Throw A Stone At A Priest Day”. Can you imagine the absolutely correct furore if, say for example, she used ‘Jew’ or ‘gay’ instead of priest?

Ms Keyes then posted a message to social networking site Twitter stating: “no matter how ‘nice’ a priest is, no matter how many raffles he runs, he is still a foot soldier for a f*cked-up misogynistic regime”.

And so it goes on.

Many priests no longer have a regular day off each week. Or, if they do have a day off, they have to scramble around to get cover so they can get away from the parish. And yet, there seems little cognisance of this from parishioners. Priests are expected to share in the joys and sorrows of the parish community, which they do often with heroic fortitude. But this also takes its toll. A priest told me recently about a devastating death by suicide of a young man in his parish. He journeyed with the family through the days of the wake and funeral trying desperately to offer words of comfort and consolation without wanting to give the impression in his homily that suicide is ever a solution. Three hours after the funeral Mass, attended by large numbers of bewildered young people, he was celebrating the wedding Mass of a young couple of the happiest day of their lives. At both of those Masses, the priest had to share in the emotion of the people there: from stark devastation to hope-filled joy.

When it comes to the running of schools, priests are sometimes called upon to intervene in serious human resources issues that would test the competence of even experienced lawyers. And if the priest makes a wrong call in good faith, it will all blow up in his face.


Many priests also acutely feel the pain of their parishioners in the midst of the recession. It comes as a surprise to many Catholics that priests are not well paid, many live from month-to-month grateful for the odd donation they receive to tide them over.

Priests need support. For some this will take the form of structured support such as pastoral reflection groups while others will prefer informal support by spending time with friends or family. Bishops need to ensure that priests have the space that they need to recharge their batteries. Priests also need to be aware that there is support that they can access when they feel under pressure. Parishioners will also need to be aware that priests, largely due to falling numbers and an aging clergy cannot be as present as they once were.

Complete Article HERE!

UK’s most senior Roman Catholic steps down

Another vociferous marriage equity opponent (and closet case) bites the dust!

By Mure Dickie

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic priest has pulled out of the conclave to elect the next pope, citing concerns about media attention after he was accused by fellow priests of inappropriate behaviour.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the 74-year-old leader of the Scottish Catholic Church, was to have been Britain’s only representative in the election for the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Keith O'BrienThe cardinal has contested the accusations from three serving and one former priest, reported in the Observer newspaper at the weekend, that he committed “inappropriate acts” dating back to the 1980s.

In a statement on Monday, Cardinal O’Brien did not directly refer to the accusations, but asked for God’s blessing on fellow cardinals who will choose a new man to lead the Catholic church after Pope Benedict steps down on February 28.

“I will not join them for this conclave in person. I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor,” Cardinal O’Brien said.

The statement also announced the pope had “definitively” accepted Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation, which had been tendered months previously because of his age, saying the decision had been made on February 18 because of the “imminent Vacant See”.

A Vatican spokesman said: “I do not enter in the merit of the [circulated news]. I only stand by the communication of the decision,” and refused to comment further.

Cardinal O’Brien will reach the episcopal retirement age of 75 in March.

It was not immediately clear if the announcement of the decision had been affected by the allegations from the priests from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who had demanded the cardinal’s resignation.

The Scottish Catholic Church said at the weekend that he contested the allegations and was taking legal advice.
In Monday’s statement, he said he had valued the opportunity to serve as a priest in Scotland and overseas.

“For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended,” he said.

Cardinal O’Brien stepped back from some of his responsibilities last year in the run-up to his retirement. He had been an outspoken opponent of same-sex relationships, opposing Scottish government proposals to legalise same-sex marriage.

Stonewall, the gay rights charity, last year named him its “Bigot of the Year”, sparking complaints from the Catholic church.

In an interview with the BBC last week, Cardinal O’Brien said priests should be allowed to marry and have a family, as many struggled with celibacy.

Complete Article HERE!

US Catholic bishop with secret family, Gabino Zavala, quits

A Catholic bishop who fathered two children has stepped down.

Pope Benedict has accepted the resignation of Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, the Vatican said.

The Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, wrote in a letter to worshippers that Bishop Zavala told him in December that he was the father of two teenage children.

The children, who are minors, live with their mother in another state.

Archbishop Gomez said that the archdiocese was offering the family “spiritual care,” as well as funding to help the children with college costs.

In his letter he described the news as “sad and difficult” and said Bishop Zavala had been living privately and not participating in ministry since resigning.

Bishop Zavala is 60 and was born in Mexico. He has campaigned against the death penalty and for immigrants’ rights.

The Vatican did not spell out the reason for Bishop Zavala’s resignation in its statement, but made reference to canon law which allows bishops to step down before normal retirement age if they are ill or unfit for office for some other reason.

The Pope has shown no sign of relaxing the Roman Catholic Church’s rule on priestly celibacy, which has been in place since the 11th Century.

In March 2010 he described celibacy as “the sign of full devotion, the entire commitment to the Lord and to the ‘Lord’s business’, an expression of giving oneself to God and to others”.

Priests are not allowed to marry but married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism are exempted from the celibacy rule.

Two days ago Pope Benedict appointed an American married priest to head the first US structure for Anglicans converting to Roman Catholicism.

Complete Article HERE!

Accused of being gay, Spanish priest challenges Church to measure his anus

WITH no apparent evidence other than a photograph of Spanish priest Andrés García Torres hugging a young Cuban seminarian, the Catholic bishop of Getafe has leapt to the outrageous conclusion that there is something gay about two topless men in a warm embrace.

According to this report, the bishop now wants the priest to abandon his parish in the Madrid dormitory town of Fuenlabrada, undergo a psychiatric cure, and take an HIV test.

Torres responded by saying he intends going to Rome to show that he is being expelled from his parish unfairly.


The priest, who insists that her and the 28-year-old with whom he was photographed on a trip to Fátima are just good friends, and threw down this challenge:

Let them measure my anus and see if it is dilated.

He said his mum hadn’t stopped crying over what has happened.

Locals say that the priest is a very humane person, dedicated to helping others. More than 1,000 signatures have been gathered in his support.