Earlier this month it was reported that eight priests in Ireland had committed suicide in the past 10 years.
The Association of Catholic Priests blamed the phenomenon on a collapse in morale among the country’s clergy, describing it as a mental health crisis.
“Our morale is affected because we are on a sinking ship,” said one participant in a recent meeting. “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 suicide rate among clergy is still, thankfully, very low, yet the figures from Ireland raise many questions, one of which is: what pastoral and moral support do priests actually receive?
Traditionally, larger parishes could have multiple clergy living side by side, while smaller ones would at least have had a housekeeper to look after the parish priest. Now, as vocations and Mass attendance decline, many priests are finding the job more and more lonely. One place where this is especially true is in retirement.
In a widely read blog post, Fr Ray Blake of St Mary Magdalen parish, Brighton, wrote about how he considered retirement after a recent illness.
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