Father Michael Rennier, a former Anglican who is now a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, shares some of his impressions of how the Catholic priesthood is lived today — and the resulting feelings among some priests of isolation, anxiety, stress and burnout.
From Crisis magazine:
It’s an odd complaint to say that priests suffer from isolation. After all, we are literally surrounded by people all the time, typically parishioners who like us very much and treat us better than we deserve. The problem isn’t the parishioners; mine are delightful and I’m sure other priests would say the same about theirs. It’s the expectations that form the context of our relationship. I don’t blame the parishioners themselves for this; I’m far more suspicious of the way that priests are formed for their vocation and the way the laity have been taught to interact with their priests. Here’s what I mean: there is a specific understanding of a priest that forces him into the roles of problem-solver, counselor, advisor, CEO, and charismatic leader.
This is wrong-headed.
…If a successful priest is defined by these functional roles, however, he will quickly find the task to be overwhelming. Every interaction with a parishioner would be marked by what the priest can offer, what he can give, or how he can solve problems. Priests are often made anxious over the question of what more we can do, what we can do better, or what we may have done wrong. This is why many men are happy to be active priests but hesitant to become pastors.
Here’s where I’ll get personal. Yes, I’m a married man and have a family to share the burden, but even I—a man who could not be happier to be a priest or more thrilled to have discovered my vocation—have moments when I’ve been caught breathless with the crushing realization I may never retire. It isn’t that I object to saying Mass or providing the sacraments. I hope to offer daily Mass until my dying day, but seeing no end in sight to the administrative task of running a parish is apparently a growing and common concern among the clergy. In fact, it’s cited as a major factor in the rising rate of suicide among Irish priests.
He has some suggestions on how parishioners can help.