Friday 24 January 2020

Calls for increased mental health support after its revealed that eight priests died by suicide

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Rebecca Lumley

Irish priests have called for increased mental health support services to tackle falling morale in the clergy.

Priests have been "floored" by “wave after wave of assaults and negativity” in recent years, following a number of sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

According to Roy Donovan, a priest from Caherconlish, Co Limerick, the shift in attitude towards the priesthood has taken a toll on priests' mental health.

"Collectively priests have been hit very hard. You know, there is a very negative view of priests but at a parish level, quite a few priests are doing good work," he said.

"There’s a lot of good work being done but I think all that is lost collectively. Collectively a lot of priests feel wave after wave of assaults and negativity. A lot of priests are kind of floored by all that. It's one hit after another and it’s hard to keep the head up. "

On June 7 an Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) regional meeting, held in Kilmore, Co Cavan, heard that eight priests have taken their own lives in the past 10 to 15 years in Ireland.

The issue was again highlighted at a meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests in Limerick last week, where calls were made for the establishment of a new national confidential priests' helpline.

Fr Donovan, who hosted the meeting, said the proposal arose because a number of priests were not "coping very well."

"So many changes have come about from the old style of church where priests were in control, to the new style of church where it’s about letting go and working with people as a team effort. A lot of priests aren’t coping very well with the changeover of style and a lot of priests are more isolated and the workload is bigger," he said.

Minutes of the meeting report one attendee saying: “ 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 to unmask and say ‘I need help!’ There is a great sense of ‘being alone,’ making our own way in the diocese. We need a National Confidential Priests Helpline. We’re slow to look for help.”

Fr Donovan said that while priests require greater support, he does not consider a national helpline to be a “proactive” solution.

“I personally wouldn’t be in favour of a national helpline for priests solely,” he said.

“I myself consider that it would be better to have somebody, a lay person maybe, employed between a couple of dioceses that goes around and knocks on priests’ doors and asks how they are and allows them to talk in confidence.”

He added that priests can avail of pre-existing national helplines, such as Samaritans.

The meeting was attended by 22 priests from the diocese’ of Cashel and Emly, Killaloe and Limerick. It was chaired by Fr Gerry O’Connor.

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