The risks of stress and mental illness for priests

Clergy vulnerable

In a recent article in The Times on the difficulties faced by many Anglican clergy, the wife of a London vicar said she believed priests suffer from stress far more than many other professionals, and have a higher incidence of mental illness as a result.

- Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, The Catholic Herald

One must assume that, as a vicar’s wife, Mrs Anne Atkins knows what she is talking about, and this leads me to wonder – are Catholic priests more prone to stress, and all the things that go with it, than the normal run of people? My answer, based on being in the midst of the clergy, thus purely on anecdotal evidence, is in the affirmative, though the Catholic case differs from the Anglican one in several important respects.

Firstly the matter of pay: Mrs Atkins describes how her own family were quite often strapped for cash, and what a strain this put on them, which one can well understand. Catholic priests are not 'paid' in the same way as vicars – if you want to know how they are remunerated, there is an excellent description here.

No Catholic priest is income-rich, as far as I know, but almost all are well looked after; the only exceptions would be those priests serving very small parishes, for whom, I believe, some extra provision is often made. So, as far as I can see, money worries do not haunt the Catholic clergy, though I am willing to be corrected on this.

Secondly, Catholic priests are celibate. They may have to worry about themselves, and that may be destructive, but they are spared worrying over the well-being of spouse and children, which, while being a great joy in many circumstances, might also be a huge burden. I should imagine undergoing marriage difficulties, let us say, while trying to run a parish, would be an intolerable strain.

It has been said that a great burden on the Catholic clergy is loneliness (there was an article about this in The Tablet recently). Here the picture should be seen as nuanced. Many priests have family members living close by; they also have the company of their parishioners; and of course they should, indeed must, have friends. They do live on their own, but that ought not to mean isolation per se. It is really important, I think, for laypeople to show their support for their parish clergy. And indeed so many of them do.

FULL STORY Are priests more prone to stress and mental illness? (The Catholic Herald).

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